9 Pros and Cons of Self-Hosted E-Learning

Where is the best place to sell online courses: your own website, or an e-learning platform?

For many online educators, the first decision they have to make is whether to build their new online course on a hosted e-learning platform such as Udemy or Thinkific, or host it themselves on their own website using a self-hosted solution such as LearnDash or some other WordPress-friendly LMS.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to each side, and individuals have become very successful using both solutions. However, navigating the right solution for your business requires careful thinking. Making the right choice for your e-learning course usually depends on what you hope to achieve, and how much control and responsibility you want over the final product. To help you figure that out, here’s a run-through of some of the top pros and cons of self-hosted e-learning.

Pro: You control the experience learners have on your website.

On most hosted e-learning platforms, your course has to conform to the structure of the host site. There’s little you can do to customize the experience or differentiate yourself from others on the site selling similar courses. Your control over things like refund policies or payment methods is limited.

But on a self-hosted website, all these decisions are yours, and you can make them freely according to whatever business policies seem best to you. You can sell e-learning however you like without having to jump through any hoops on the platform end.

Con: You have to do all the set-up work yourself.

Of course, building your own e-learning website comes with its own responsibilities, and not everyone is interested in the hassle of setting up their own site. If you don’t have the expertise yourself, you may have to learn it. If you aren’t much of a DIY-er, you may have to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. And if you don’t have the financial resources to hire someone, you may find that a hosted platform is a better option for you.

Pro: Your customers are your own.

On a hosted platform, your students are customers of the platform, not of you. This places restrictions on your ability to market to them and serve them effectively. Using an e-learning platform means you have full access to your learners. You can keep an eye on their metrics, market your new courses to them, and respond to any customer complaints directly.

Con: You’re responsible for your brand and marketing strategy.

Of course, hosted e-learning websites have a vested interest in selling courses. They’ve built an entire marketing strategy around it, and they have the brand recognition to back it up. In some ways, being associated with these brands is free marketing. But it comes at the expense of creating your own brand and business model.

If you want to take the back seat on your marketing, you can post your site on a hosted platform and wait for visitors to stumble upon it. But if you want to make your brand your own, a self-hosted platform will give you more control.

Pro: You keep the full profits.

Most e-learning solutions make their profits by taking a percentage of sales from courses launched on their platform. But when you host on your own site, all those profits are yours. No more paying a cut to the hosting platform.

Con: The overhead is all yours, too.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you are expense-free. On the contrary, there are still plenty of overhead costs associated with running a website, including the actual web hosting costs, domain name costs, security costs, etc. Again: you get to make your own decisions about these things, but then you may not want to.

Pro: You have full access to audience metrics.

Want to know what your visitors are doing on your website? Or what about how your learners engage with your course? Analytics are in high demand, meaning most of your platform options will have some basic tools. But they won’t cut it if you want the truly detailed information that tools like Google Analytics or Inspectlet provide.

If you want to know what pages visitors entered and exited on, or how far they scrolled down the page, or where on the page they clicked, your hosting platform may not offer that information. And adding it on your own will be increasingly difficult.

Con: You have to know what they mean.

That said, greater analytics capabilities aren’t a pro for everyone. Unless you know how to make sense of your discoveries, more information is unlikely to be of use to you. And that’s all assuming you have the time to look closely at them.

Audience analytics are important to creating a quality online course, and it will help you to learn more about what they mean. But if you don’t have the time or patience to work through them, a hosted solution can give you reports that are easier to understand, even if they are simplified.

Pro: It’s your business, and nobody else’s.

Do you want to build your own business, or piggyback off someone else’s? It’s your call. And either way you go, you can create valuable online courses that have the potential to be quite profitable. But while you can make a living on a hosted website, you can’t make a business. You’ll only ever be part of someone else’s.

More control means more responsibility, but also more profit.

At the end of the day, the best place to sell online courses is wherever you feel most comfortable. If you primarily view your e-learning course as a fun side-gig, then a platform like Udemy or Thinkific might do just fine.

But if you want to sell online courses as a living, then a hosted platform may leave you with too many restrictions. Only a self-hosted e-learning website will give you the controls you need to achieve that goal.

Obviously, our bias is toward self-hosted e-learning, because hosted options like Udemy don’t offer the control most educators require to excel. However, it’s clear that for some online educators, the pros and cons listed above could easily be reversed. Being responsible for your own marketing or having full access to audience metrics could go either way.

If you just want to focus on your course and nothing else, then a hosted platform might be a more comfortable solution. But if access and control are positives for you, then self-hosted is what you want.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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