Why You Shouldn’t Use Udemy

Have you ever thought about selling a course online? If so, then chances are that you also considered using Udemy.

If you’re not familiar with Udemy, it is a program that allows you to create and sell courses. When you create a course, it is added to their course library. Visitors can then choose to purchase your course and Udemy takes a percentage of the sale.

There is more to it of course, but that’s the general overview.

I am a fan of what Udemy is doing. I think they offer people a good avenue for learning about how to create and deliver an online course.

It is not a good option for building a business around selling courses. Let me explain.

First, I understand there are some individuals on Udemy who have done well for themselves. They should be proud as selling elearning is no easy task. That said, a platform is not going to make you successful. These folks did well because of the hard work they put in creating a really great course, and then marketing it.

The reason I think you should stay away from Udemy for selling courses is not because I don’t think you can earn income from it. That’s clearly possible.

Instead, the reason why Udemy is a poor choice for anyone getting into the business of selling courses is because you give up ownership.

  • You don’t own the platform.
  • You don’t own the brand (Udemy).
  • You don’t own the visitor traffic.
  • You don’t own 100% of the revenue generated from course sales.
  • You don’t own the student accounts.
  • You don’t own the policies (for example, the refund policy).

Anyone who has started a successful business will tell you that these are red flags. The less control you have over the key business elements, the more risk you assume.

However, if you had your own site where you host and sell your courses, then you do own these things. You are building your own brand (and not Udemy’s), you don’t need to split revenues, you own all of the student data which can be leveraged for better marketing, you own the business policies, and so on. You are in control.

Why would anyone choose Udemy then? Well, they do make the process easy. Starting a business is hard as building a brand from scratch is a difficult task. Udemy also has people visiting their site who are already interested in purchasing courses, so they take care of that aspect.

If you’re not trying to build something with long-term growth potential, then Udemy might be the best option for you. They do take out some of the complexities that business owners have to manage.

On the other hand, if your goal is to sell courses and build a business that gives you full-ownership, then it’s best to use a different platform for course creation and sales.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

22 Comments
  1. I agree with you, but, we can not forget that, to sell courses, your (own) platform will need the following features:

    LMS
    Ecommerce
    Membership Site
    Engagement

    WordPress already has good LMS extensions (as LearnDash), but, integrate with the other plugins (Ecommerce, Membership Site and Engagement) is no easy task, right? Each plugin has its application (and limitation) and its own evolution time.

    Besides, you can not forget the backend, which explains much of the success of Coursera and Udemy:
    1)
    A very good admin panel, that manages, very well, Revenue, Orders, Courses, Teachers and Students (Recent Orders, General Stats, Best Selling Courses by Orders, etc);
    2)
    A commission system to set teacher commissions;

  2. Tom

    Really? It’s like saying you shouldn’t develop for iOS and distribute via the Apple App Store because you have no control over it?

    Nothing prevents you from promoting your courses on your own web site and through your own social channels. As a matter of fact the majority of successful course developers on Udemy have done exactly that. They use Udemy early as a delivery platform but run their own brand and marketing through their own social channels. The Udemy avenues of marketing are only the icing on the cake.

    • Hi Tom-

      Thanks for the comment! Your point about iOS is certainly valid, but those developers still are taking a risk since the distribution is outside their control. All we need to do is look at Facebook. They decided to make one change to their TOS and put million dollar Facebook gaming companies out of business overnight. The same risk is being assumed by those using Udemy.

  3. BAYO

    I actually agree with the overall business advice of not relying on any company that has total control overy our revenue from your hard work in building your courses.

    We have courses on Udemy that we created and deliver and those we co-create and those we co-create and deliver with others. Both us and our partners agree that the Udemy approach has its place in our business models but will never become the major component 9and we’ve been on Udemy since the start when the rules were much different than they are today.

    If you’re planning on creating and developing an online education business for the long haul it makes sense taht you are the major player or key shareholder in effect.

  4. Hmm. Sounds good. Hey so how should i sell my video course on my website? I mean how do I embed the videos and make it link to the paypal and give discounts,coupons etc? I dont know

  5. Maksym Frantsuzov

    Good points, Justin,
    I absolutely agree that training courses sold on Udemy or any similar third party platform will not generate good profits and publishing your products there will not be a solid business. But it’s a great way to market your independent business you already have. Udemy basically collects potential customers for your high ticket back end products and services sold through your own website. All students enrolled into your training program is something like a mailing list for your business. I don’t mean you should reach out and spam these people or turn your course into an advertising of your main product. There are absolutely ethical ways to offer more value to the audience of your students and achieve an insane ROI from this marketing strategy. You definitely solve a small problem and offer more help they need.

  6. Dennis

    Hey Justin!
    I think your comments are interesting and to a certain point accurate!

    I’m not sure about your sideways approach to selling LearnDash though… be upfront. Tell the world why LearnDash IS better than Udemy for reasons X, Y, and Z.

    Even better, SHOW us, using a free LearnDash course, WHY LearnDash is better…. 🙂

    best
    Dennis

  7. Tryphena María

    I do thing Udemy probably is a nice way to drive traffic to your site… But well, I have found an interesting article online about this same topic, to add to all what has been discussed here. I’m not sure if Udemy’s or any other LMS site have changed their policies ever since, but I think the ideas expressed in this article are worth considering, and even eye openners: http://osherove.com/blog/2014/5/7/why-i-stopped-selling-courses-on-udemy.html

  8. Martin

    Hey mate,

    Any recommendation or tactics on how to drive actual students from my courses in Udemy to my new Educational Platform (using wordpress)?

  9. Tim

    Very good article Justin.

    I am looking at using Udemy as a way to validate a business idea, without spending a bunch of time and money creating a brand, building an audience etc.

    If the course sells, then I want to take it to my own website and build the audience, brand etc.

    Do you think it makes sense to use Udemy in this scenario?

    • Hi Tim-
      Yes that can be a good way to ‘test the waters’ on a course idea. Give it a shot! Just remember that you’ll need to do some sort of marketing. Gone are the days when you can just create a course and hope people find it.

  10. Cris

    Thanks for the posting and pointing out the “red lights”. I have a straightforward queation: what is the alternative? It is good to identify problems but it is even better to suggest solutions

  11. I started with Udemy and did all the things they said to do – sold 2 courses in the past 12 months. People do not find you on Udemy. I even tried to have a conversation with them about this and received an unsatisfactory answer. I object to the control they have of your product that Jeremy has described. I set a price of each of my courses and they changed the prices. They have promotions and will drop the price to $20 without telling you. My courses are not ‘two-buck’ courses and I objected to the fact they undervalued them. The solution: WordPress website and WP course ware plugin plus a few other plugins to help. If you are going to market your courses on your own website then you might as well direct them back to your own website and have control of everything including pricing, the student accounts and all the profit.

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