When you’re faced with a choice and there are way too many options, what happens?
One of two things: either you freeze and choose nothing, or you make a choice without feeling like you really knew it was the *right* choice for you.
This is definitely a big problem when you’re looking for the best learning management system (LMS) for your online course.
Your choice of LMS is important, because it isn’t just a software app that lets you organise your course content, present it online, and manage student quizzes and assignments. Your LMS influences your experience of course creation – as a frustrating struggle or a fun adventure – and it has a huge impact on your students’ experience of learning from you, too.
But when I started looking at LMS providers, I found several hundred options. There were so many options, I hired a virtual assistant to help me with hours of research and we still couldn’t cover them all. That’s without even looking at the alternatives to a full LMS, such as WordPress plugins or online course marketplaces.
If you’ve been staring at pages of Google results or software reviews, wondering how the heck you’re supposed to figure out which learning management system to use, I’ve devised a decision-making system you might find useful. It will help you narrow down your choice to just a handful of learning management systems.
First, Choose Your #1 Priority Outcome
If you know what you want to do with your course, you can immediately exclude any LMS that doesn’t seem likely to help you achieve that outcome.
To make this first step easy, here are four statements to help you figure out what your course-building priorities are. Read all four statements:
- “I want to experiment with course building and try out some ideas.”
- “I want to create a course that earns me a fair income without too much effort.”
- “I want to launch a course without worrying about technological hassles.”
- “I want to create a course my students will complete and benefit from.”
Now pick one.
Just one. The one that fits the best with how you feel and think about building your online course.
Yes, I know you probably want to agree with at least two of those statements – if not three, or maybe even all four of them. But stick with only one – THE most important one.
Now Identify Your Top Priority Features
Let’s focus on these six key things a smart course builder might look for in a learning management system:
- How much it costs
- Whether the LMS helps you market and sell your course
- Whether they provide support and customer service for you and your students
- How steep the learning curve is
- What kind of analytics and reporting the LMS offers
- Whether a free trial or “forever free” plan is available
All six of these criteria are important, but some are less important than others for your specific situation and your priority outcome. (You know, the one you chose a few paragraphs up the page. Didn’t choose one? Scroll up and join in!)6 features to keep in mind when looking for a learning management system. Click To Tweet
Quick Tips About Costs
The only one of those six points that’s *always* a high priority for pretty much anyone who’s looking for a new LMS is the free trial or forever free plan, because it makes your final decision much easier if you can actually try out the LMS you’re considering.
But even if there’s no free trial, some LMS providers offer live demos to show you what they can do. Others have monthly plans with low costs, so don’t discount the idea of paying a token fee for a month to find out what’s inside the best-looking LMS.
One other thing you need to know about cost is that different LMS providers base their pricing structures on different things – some may charge according to the number of students who’ve accessed your course in a 30-day period, others may look at how many students have been active in the past year. Each LMS seems to make up its own name for this, but it’s typically called something along the lines of “active student” pricing or “access based” pricing.
You’ll come across other pricing models, too, such as registration-based (which means that if one student registers for three different courses of yours, that counts as three registrations on your bill) or simple student count (so that if you have 50 registered students, you’re billed for 50 regardless of whether they’ve accessed the course or not – or even accessed multiple courses). Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some LMS providers offer a choice of pricing methods so that you can pick whichever works best for you.
OK, now we’ve looked over those 6 criteria, we can hold them up against your priority outcome and see what are the most important features you’ll want in your LMS.
Experiment with Course Building
If your priority is experimentation, you’d be smart to look for an LMS that has a free trial or forever free plan so that you can tweak and test without spending money. And the scope of that free access matters – you want a full-featured LMS to experiment with, not a limited trial account with most of the exciting features missing!
With paid plans, consider the cost of running a small pilot course – how many students would you want to include in your experiments, and how much are you willing to pay for the right learning management system? The cost of larger courses doesn’t matter too much while you’re still in the experimentation phase, but it’s worth noting for later.
The learning curve is important when you’re experimenting, because you need to get to grips with how the LMS works enough to understand *what* you can test and *how* you can test it. Nobody wants to spend months learning how to use their LMS before they can start trying it out! You’ll also want to feel confident that the LMS provides enough support to help you carry out your experiments – and of course, to know the results you’ll be looking for an LMS with useful, clear analytics.
But for experimenters, it really isn’t very important whether your LMS includes features like sales pages, integrated payment processing, or an all-singing all-dancing marketing system. You only need a few students for a pilot, and on that small scale you can contact them individually and collect their payments by whatever method is easiest.
You may be interested in exploring open source LMS software, which lets you download the full source code so that you can change it as much as you like, adding features and functions that never existed before. Open source software is free, but you might need extra services to support you in using it – for example a programmer to edit the code for you, or an installation service to get it set up on your website.
Earn a Fair Income
If your top priority is using your course to generate revenue, look at the cost not only for your first pilot but also for greater student numbers, as you’ll make more money by enrolling more students! And when you look at analytics and reporting features, ask yourself if the insights they give you will help you see how to improve your revenue or profit margin.
The main feature that’ll interest you if your priority is sales, though, is the usefulness of any marketing or sales tools the LMS offers. This could be anything from a built-in landing page creator to handy integrations with the sales and marketing tools you already use. So find out if the LMS offers a built-in store, an affiliate network to help get new eyes on your course, and so on – and be practical about which of these tools you’ll actually use.
Launch Without Tech Stress
No matter whether you’re technologically inexperienced or simply want to avoid tech hassles in your course launch, the key things to look at here are ease of use and the level of tech support the LMS provides. Open source software isn’t necessarily any harder to use than traditional software, but it *can* be more difficult to get it installed and running if you’ve never done it before – so if you choose open source, look for a knowledge base or tutorial videos on the LMS website and note the process to follow when you need technical support.
To minimize your tech stress, find out what content formats and sources the LMS lets you use in your courses. Does it host files for you? Can it embed a YouTube video from the URL? Does it provide online classrooms for live training sessions, if that’s something you want in your course? And of course, if the LMS offers sales and marketing tools, that’s great – but check them out and make sure they do the things you want them to do without requiring a ton of customization work.
Help Your Students Thrive
If your top priority is student success, then the key ingredients are engagement and course completion. So watch for features that will help keep your students engaged – for example, chat rooms or forums, in-course blogging, gamification and plenty of feedback opportunities – and features that help you track student progress.
It’ll be helpful to at least track completion of each lesson or module, so that you can adjust the workload and difficulty if students tend to complete a specific component particularly quickly or slowly. You can track completion and check comprehension simply by setting a quiz or assignment at the end of each module, but see what other useful data might be available to you via the LMS reporting tools. Students learn best when they’re fully supported, so an LMS that offers customer service and technical support to your students (as well as to you) will be a good choice.
Some Learning Management Systems to Consider
OK, we’ve come this far. Now all that’s left to do is pick your favorite LMS – or your favorite few – and start trying them out.
To help speed you through this step, I’m gonna give you a list of learning management systems that the Mirasee team and I have either tried ourselves or heard good things about. You’re welcome. 😉Looking for an online learning management system? Here are some of the best to choose from. Click To Tweet
Remember, while you’re reading these LMS descriptions, keep your *priorities* front-of-mind!
(Seriously, if you haven’t chosen your #1 course-building priority and identified the most important LMS features to think about, then reading the information below will only be half as useful to you. Scroll up, invest two minutes in getting your priorities all set, and then come back down here.)
From $295/month to $745/month; no free trial; learn more here
Accord LMS gives you lots of reporting features and insight into your students’ learning experience, as well as gamification and social learning communities to help keep them engaged.
Its drag-and-drop tools mean that even technologically impaired trainers can easily create courses. But if you’re the techy type, there are plenty of advanced features to play with too, such as cloud storage integration, third party plugins, and single sign-on for students already registered as users of your website.
Aktiv Mind LMS
From $39/month to $349/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
This award-winning LMS is often used by companies creating internal training for employees, but is also suitable for building a course you intend to sell. The $39/month Standard plan is for up to 25 active students – and you can pay monthly or annually, with a discount of up to almost ⅙ off the cost if you choose annual billing.
When you open an Aktiv Mind LMS account, you’ll be offered an interactive tutorial that walks you through the process of uploading your content, creating student quizzes and so on to produce your course. You’ll also have access to their support crew via email and phone (email-only for the Standard plan), but primarily during the EST daytime and evening – so if you anticipate lots of support calls and you live on the other side of the world, take the time zone differences into consideration.
“Our platform is designed to be used by non-technical course creators that want a very easy-to-use platform in order to create courses quickly and efficiently.” – Rob MacLeod, Aktiv Mind LMS
From $1/month per student; 15-day free trial; learn more here
Pricing at CertSpring can be done whichever way you prefer: either $1 per student per month OR $15 per student as a one-off payment. In other words, if you think your students will stick around for 15 months or more then the one-off payment option might save you money in the long term. CertSpring also offers a forever free plan if you have no more than 5 students, so it’s good for a small pilot.
The interesting thing about CertSpring is its focus on bringing pre-existing content into your courses. no matter where the external content is hosted. If you want to pull in YouTube videos, recommend an ebook, or show your students vital diagrams, this LMS makes it easy – and CertSpring’s ecommerce engine will process payments for you, too.
Free; learn more here
Chamilo LMS is open source software, so you don’t need to pay anything for it, but you may need to pay service providers to help you set stuff up the way you want it. I love the way they describe open source on their website: “All the Chamilo software products are entirely free (as in freedom), free (as in beer) and complete, and are production-ready without requiring any type of payment.”
You can create courses, map out learning paths, deliver tests and assessments, run surveys and live chats, and check student progress with Chamilo’s built-in features. Handy plugins and integrations include PrestaShop for sales and OpenMeetings for videoconferencing, as well as Softaculous for easy installation on hosting with CPanel.
From $25/month to $699/month; no free trial; learn more here
DigitalChalk lets you guide your students along specific learning paths with prerequisites, tests and assignments – useful if you want to create a set of short courses for your students to progress through. You can brand your course with your logo and sell it through DigitalChalk’s ecommerce tools. Although DigitalChalk doesn’t offer a free trial, it *does* offer free demos to help you see how it works.
From $230/month to $600/month; 14-day free trial; learn more here
With Docebo the $230/month plan lets you have up to 50 active students, and you can choose annual billing instead of monthly to get a ⅙ discount. Some add-on features and third party app integrations carry an extra cost, so account for that in your budget if you think you’ll use those features – for example, a custom domain name or gamification options.
Among the more interesting add-ons is a blogging app (free) that lets your students write and comment on blog posts within the LMS. Another useful add-on is the E-Commerce app $39/month) that lets you create an online store with integrated payment processors – including PayPal, Stripe and Authorize.net – and extra features such as promotional voucher codes.
For analytics and student progress tracking, you can customize your dashboards and reports – and if you need help, Docebo’s users say the customer service team is attentive and quick to resolve support requests. To get a sense of how easy the software is to learn and use, check out this tutorial video on how to create a course in Docebo.
“Docebo is a very intuitive and user-friendly LMS for businesses, which makes it a good choice for people who aren’t tech-savvy, but it also has robust capabilities that can be leveraged by more advanced users.” – Alison Grenkie, Docebo
From $50/month to £300/month; free trial available; learn more here
EDUonGo supports live online classrooms – great for experimenters who want to test content and delivery on the fly. Their $50/month plan lets you have up to 10 students, and the $300/month plan covers up to 100 students.
EDUonGO also provides a course catalog page template that lets you showcase your available courses all in one place if you create multiple courses. If you want to market and sell your courses using a free-to-paid content model, you can use EDUonGo to create built-in enrolment pages for your paid course at the end of your free course.
From free to $2,000/month, 90-day free trial; learn more here
eTrainCenter, created by Creative Logic Solutions, is another LMS with built-in tools that let you price and sell your course. It also offers add-on services such as consulting or training in e-learning to help you learn to create great courses. Student chat rooms and message boards let you and your students discuss the course, or you can switch these features off if you prefer.
The pricing model lets you choose a free plan with up to 100 registrations, or you can opt for a range of paid plans based on registrations or active students – and save up to 25% by paying annually instead of monthly. With simple analytics and reporting, you get an overview of who’s studying what and how your students are doing in their assessments – and if you’d like to include other data in your reports, the support team can help.
“The eTrainCenter LMS has been on the market since 2004 and has a proven track record… We have flexible pricing models that allow for seat or registration pricing. Seat pricing is ideal for companies where users take many courses. Registration pricing is perfect for companies where users take very few courses per year.” – Niall Rochford, Creative Logic Solutions
From $299/month to $849/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
The key feature everyone emphasises about GnosisConnect is that it’s easy to use and customize – and when you’re logged in to GnosisConnect as a course creator, you’ll have access to plenty of tutorial videos to help you get to grips with the software.
GnosisConnect offers a discount of ⅙ off the cost if you choose annual billing; the $299/month plan lets you have up to 100 users in your course. Some reviewers say the analytics and reporting could be more in-depth, but whether that matters to you will depend on your specific priorities. To get a sense of what’s available, request a free demo and one of GnosisConnect’s experts will show you around the LMS live and answer all your questions.
“GnosisConnect is a simple and an intuitive LMS… We make it very easy for any user to use all the major functionalities they would use in their day to day life.” – Robert Velasquez, GnosisConnect
From $10/month; 14-day free trial; learn more here
This LMS includes ecommerce features such as sales pages, payment processor integrations and promotional coupons. The $10/month Starter plan allows up to 10 students. When you pass the 10-student line, you can adjust your plan and costs to cover any number of students – with a discount for paying annually.
Users say that interactivity and simplicity are the best points about GO1, but the company’s passion for doing good is also impressive. If you’re building a course for a non-profit or charity organization, you’re eligible to apply for a free GO1 portal. And GO1 promises that all funds received from Starter plan users are donated directly to organizations that help make the world a better place.
“GO1 is not just a learning management system, we also have a course marketplace of over 100,000 courses from some of the top content creators worldwide. This gives you the option of creating your own content, or selecting high quality pre-made courses, both of which can be managed from within the GO1 system.” – Scott Cooper, GO1
From $199/month to $1,199/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
Inquisiq, created by ICS Learning Group, has won awards for its user-friendly interface and is specifically designed for entrepreneurs and small to midsized businesses rather than academic institutions or vast corporations. The $199/month plan gives you space for up to 50 active students, and billing is monthly.
The LMS includes ecommerce features to help you market and sell your course, and you’ll have access to a US-based support team. You can also connect your course pages to Google Analytics to track your students’ activity. If you’re interested in Inquisiq, watch this video tour to see inside the software or request a live demo so you can ask questions along the way.
“Inquisiq is the ideal learning management system (LMS) for a course creator who values the learner experience and demands an LMS that allows their content to shine through.” – Miles Feldman, ICS Learning Group
From $129/month to $899/month; 14-day free trial; learn more here
Kajabi is a feature-rich LMS that’s been around for 7 years of iterative improvement, so you can expect a good experience with it. The system includes tools for marketing and selling your course, from a landing page builder to email marketing and even affiliate management for joint venture promotions. It’s customizable and integrates with most of the popular third party apps you might use, including Zapier for even more integrations and automations.
The analytics and reporting available from your Kajabi dashboard are detailed and useful, and you can hook up Google Analytics for more insight. You won’t need to worry about the learning curve too much, because you’ll get a lot of help through Kajabi University with free training to make the most of your LMS. To see Kajabi in action and judge the learning curve for yourself, watch this walkthrough video.
“Kajabi is designed from the ground up for course creators that want the simplicity of all the tools they need to drive 7-figure results, in one app, elegantly integrated.” – Joe Henschel, Kajabi
From $0/month to $19,200/month; learn more here
Don’t be put off by the $19,200/month price tag mentioned above! You’ll only pay that much if you have more than 40,000 active students – at which point your revenues should more than cover the expenses. In fact, Latitude Learning gives you a Forever FREE plan for up to 100 active students, so you can get started with no concerns about the LMS running costs.
And this LMS comes with a collection of ready-made courses that are free for you *and* your students to use, so if you feel your students will benefit from a course in, say, Communications, Sales, or Business Math, you can give them that extra training without creating it yourself. Win!
From $/199 to $549/month; no free trial; learn more here
This award-winning LMS has a ton of third party app integrations available, as well as built-in tools for marketing and selling your courses and other products (even physical products). Analytics and reports are customizable and LearningCart will let you connect Clicktale to understand your students’ actions better, as well as Google Analytics.
The $199/month Silver plan allows up to 100 active students but doesn’t give you phone support, custom reporting or a custom URL – if those features matter to you, the Gold plan includes them and costs $339/month. You’ll get a discount by paying annually instead of monthly. LearningCart may also charge a one-time setup fee for any plan, which varies depending on exactly what you want your LearningCart to do. To see some of what it *can* do, check out their demo video and demo site.
“Our focus is on providing all the tools needed to monetize training and content… With over 10 years of experience in this space, our platform’s features have evolved over the years based on our clients’ real world experience and feedback.” – Julie Campbell, LearningCart
From $165/month to $1,294/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
LearningStone charges based on “workspaces”, which is a little confusing but ultimately still means that your costs depend on your student numbers. The $165/month plan gives you 1 workspace with up to 5 active groups and a maximum of 250 students. If your student numbers are low, for example because you’re piloting or running coaching sessions, you can ask the LearningStone team for a coaching coupon that entitles you to a 50% discount. Or you could use the forever free plan which lets you have 1 group and up to 20 students.
The learning environment your students get with this LMS has a Facebook-style social timeline that makes chatting and collaborating easy, and you can add progress markers, surveys and tests inside your courses to let you see how your students are doing. Check out LearningStone’s tutorial videos to see it in action.
“LearningStone was developed with trainers in mind who need an easy to manage online environment to complement their training. The course timeline editor provides a powerful tool to manage events, content, assignments, video, forms and surveys and more.” – Michiel Klonhammer, LearningStone
Free; learn more here
This is one of the longest-standing LMS on the market, first released in 2001. Moodle is open source software that’s free to download and use – or if you’d rather avoid having your own open source installation, you can choose to use MoodleCloud hosting instead with a free plan for up to 50 students or paid plans for bigger student numbers.
To see how the open source LMS works, take a look at these Moodle videos and demo sites. Moodle doesn’t offer built-in marketing and sales tools, but because it’s open source you should be able to add or develop integrations with your preferred sales and marketing systems. Almost anything you need has already been done by someone in the Moodle community who’s willing to show you how. You can pick up free advice in Moodle forums or hire professional Moodle Partners for extra services.
“Moodle is currently working on a number of exciting releases, focussed on better user interface and experience and also meeting the latest need from educators, classrooms, organisations and institutions for enhanced and innovative learning experiences.” – Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder and CEO
Free; learn more here
Opigno is an open source LMS that’s free to download and use. It’s based on Drupal, so if your website uses Drupal for content management then this will integrate nicely. The software includes eCommerce features to let you sell subscriptions to your courses, using PayPal as a payment processor.
To help you learn how everything works, you can download an extensive user manual, watch tutorial videos, and check out the Opigno forums. If you decide you need extra technical support or services, the Opigno team is available for a fee. Or if you don’t want the full open source experience, you can simplify by using Opigno Cloud hosting (free for up to 5 students, paid if you have more students).
“Opigno is very flexible and will fit pretty much every use case; nevertheless, course creators expecting nicely customized contents, as well as a high level of flexibility, will enjoy Opigno the most.” – Axel Minck, Opigno
From $0/month to $40/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
Proffesso is a very affordable LMS that offers a lot of useful features even on its free plan, such as integrations with Zapier, PayPal, Stripe, Disqus, YouTube and Vimeo. With all plans giving you unlimited student enrolments and zero transaction fees, this could be a great bargain – however, be aware that support is limited to email with a 48-hour response window, which may not feel like enough support for you if you’re an experimenter or a technophobe.
From $29/month to $1799/month; 15-day free trial; learn more here
ProProfs offers a range of products, starting with “Training Maker” which lets you create courses and track student progress. You can add extra products such as Live Chat or Knowledge Base to extend the Training Maker’s features.
Pricing is a bit more complex than with most other LMS. There are 5 pricing plans – Free, Basic, Professional, Business and Enterprise – each with its own feature set. The Free plan stays free no matter how many students you have; the other plans increase in price according to your student numbers. So $29/month is the cost of the Basic plan for up to 100 students, $1799/month is the cost of the Enterprise plan with unlimited students, and there are lots of price points to choose from in between those two extremes.
From $99/month to $199/month; 14-day free trial; learn more here
Ruzuku is a popular LMS with a live webinar feature as well as built-in ecommerce tools that help you sell your courses and collect tuition payments via PayPal, Stripe, InfusionSoft or 1ShoppingCart. It also integrates nicely with Mailchimp for email marketing and student engagement emails.
Ruzuku promises to support your students in buying and using your courses, as well as support you in creating them. Choosing annual billing instead of monthly gets you a discount of up to $888 per year, depending which plan you’re on. The lowest-priced plan doesn’t include every last feature, but it does allow you an unlimited number of students.
“Ruzuku is best for course creators who love to interact and engage with their course participants in a way that’s social, supportive, and fun.” – Abe Crystal, Ruzuku
From $149/month to $249/month; 30-day free trial; learn more here
Schoox was created to help corporations train employees, but can also be used to build courses for other audiences. Its origins give it a more business-focused feel, and it includes robust analytics and reporting that lets you compare almost any metrics to your students’ course completion rates or exam performance.
The $149/month plan lets you have up to 25 students, with all the features of the larger plans other than slightly less storage space. To get a sense of the learning curve and the support available, check out the Schoox help center which contains lots of resources to help you out, from how-to videos to ebooks on training best practice.
“We believe training should be about results and we challenge the LMS status quo.” – Costas Vasiliou
From $125/ month to $333/month; free trial available; learn more here
Simplero’s plans determine what transaction fees you pay: 1.5% on the Basic plan, 1% on the Professional plan, or 0% on the Unlimited plan. (You can switch between plans easily, so choosing one isn’t a big deal and you can always change it later.) With built-in membership sites, sales pages, email marketing, course catalogs, and fancy features such as upsell offers and affiliate tracking, this LMS seems to be a good all-rounder.
From $39/month to $299/month; free trial available; learn more here
Teachable does a lot of important things for you – they’ll host your course content, publish your sales pages, process payments [for a small fee] and even pay your joint venture partners or course authors if you set that up through their payment gateway. With quizzes and forums, conversion attribution, email segmentation and built-in affiliate marketing, everything’s kept in one place for you.
Teachable doesn’t charge you for how many students or courses you have. The $39/month plan carries a 5% transaction fee on student tuition payments, whereas the $99/month plan has no transaction fees and a few extra features. Teachable also won’t charge you for courses you make available for free; so if you wanted to run a free mini-course to test the water for a new idea, you can do that here.
“What makes Teachable unique in the learning management space is we believe in focusing on the user experience of people that use our platform. Too many LMS’s try and compete on packing in the most number of features and winning feature matrix wars while we want people that use our software to be delighted.” – Angkur Nagpal, Teachable
From $0/month to $219/month; learn more here
Thinkific is another LMS that doesn’t charge you per student. Instead, all Thinkific plans allow unlimited students and unlimited courses – but the Starter (free) plan carries a 10% transaction fee and the Essentials ($39/month) plan carries a 5% transaction fee. From the Business ($79/month) plan upward, there are no transaction fees. Be aware that credit card processing will incur a separate fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, no matter what plan you choose.
The main benefit of Thinkific is that it’s designed to make course creation easy for people with minimal technical experience – so your course and its content are hosted by Thinkific, your marketing, sales, payment plans and processing are handled by Thinkific, your affiliate program is managed in Thinkific… you get the idea. That said, there are still plenty of advanced features you can dig into if you like getting your hands tech-y.
From $0/month to $990/month; learn more here
Thinking Cap is an LMS designed for teachers of all kinds, from entrepreneurs to higher education and big corporations. It offers all the essential features – and some that are more unique, like the ability to segment your students and show them different versions of your course. Pricing is kept simple, with a forever free plan that lets you have up to 10 students.
Now that we’ve taken a look at a few of the LMS available to you, you should have a better sense of the possibilities. To be sure you’re happy with the LMS you’ve chosen, take a free trial or buy a month’s subscription and test it out before you commit to it.
Remember to focus on your #1 priority when you consider how useful each feature of an LMS is for your online education business. This entire decision-making process is designed to make sure you choose the best LMS for your specific needs!
Alright, you’re up! Are you using, or have you used, any of these platforms? Are there any not on the list that you recommend?
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