How much do online courses cost?

November 9, 2021
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Have you ever had to skip a workshop or conference because you couldn't cover the cost of event registration, travel, lodging, and meals for a multi-day conference? Insert the world of online courses. Information can be consumed from virtually anywhere, eliminating the need for travel costs and expensive event registrations.

Although they can be cheaper than in-person learning opportunities, most valuable online courses still cost money. If you've ever found yourself questioning how to price your online course, you aren't alone. Many creators struggle to find the right price point for their online courses. You need to find the balance between pricing the materials competitively so people are likely to purchase them and pricing them high enough to cover the time and expenses needed to create the material.

The cost of an online course varies greatly depending on the information you share and the course structure. Online courses can cost anywhere from $10-$1,000 or more, depending on the value of the information and the level of expertise of the course creator. It is even possible to find free online courses, although these are usually shorter and cover very basic introductory information.

So how do you find that balance? Let's take a look at the value that online courses provide to your audience, how they will consume the information, and the return they're likely to get on the investment of purchasing a course.

Why do people take online courses?

Woman Wearing Headphones and Writing in Notebook

Online courses are a great way to learn something new or brush up on skills you already have. They are an economical and convenient way to improve your professional skills or pursue a new hobby. They allow you to learn on your own time through accessible materials like video and audio recordings that you can work through at your own pace, or with the help of a consultant or course creator in real-time via a webinar.

And it's no secret that the workforce is changing rapidly. According to Upwork's U.S. Independent Workforce Report, almost 60 million Americans have turned to freelance work as their primary source of income. In 2020, freelancers made up 36% of the full-time U.S. workforce. With the recent increase in employees working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, even more Americans are considering freelance work as their preferred way to generate income.

While there are many benefits to being your own boss (flexible hours, no commute, the ability to work in sweatpants from your kitchen table...), the responsibility of continuing professional development falls solely on the business owner. With major in-person training and events largely canceled over the last year and a half, professionals are looking for other ways to keep up with industry best practices, renew certifications, and keep their minds sharp in order to stay on top of the game.

Freelancers and gig workers aren't the only ones turning to the digital world for continuing education these days. A 2018 LinkedIn report noted that 94% of employees reported that they would stay with their company longer if they were offered more learning and development opportunities. 

The same report noted that the biggest challenge to providing more professional development opportunities is finding the time for employees to engage in learning. Couple that with the fact that travel to and from training makes up over 60% of corporate professional development budgets, and you can see where employers may have a barrier to providing adequate professional learning opportunities.

Online courses offer the answer to all of these problems, and some even allow you to network in real-time with other professionals through Zoom calls, webinar chats, or online forums, giving them more of that "in-person" feel that many people still crave. Online courses offer all of this without the added expenses of travel and lodging or the headache of coordinating multiple days off for employees to travel across the country for learning opportunities.

Where do people find online courses?

Woman Wearing Headphones and Writing in Notebook

A simple Google search on any topic you want to learn about will likely turn up a number of results for platforms where online courses are offered. Do you want to teach someone to improve their digital marketing skills? Become a better copywriter? Sell online advertising? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of online courses available to teach those things, and just as many people are looking to take those courses.

But what if what you want to teach or learn isn't a digital or tech skill? What if you want to learn how to become a racecar driver? There's an entire online school dedicated to that, where you can pay as little as $49/year to have a professional analyze your driving and provide tutorials. 

Want to teach someone how to be a dog groomer? There's a course for that. (Actually, there are numerous courses, ranging from $50 up to thousands of dollars for online dog grooming certification courses.)

Some online courses are self-hosted by the provider, and others are hosted on an online course platform. Hosting with an online course platform is a popular choice for creators because it allows exposure to a large audience, and some online platforms will handle the marketing and advertising for you.

Popular Online Course Platforms

  • Udemy offers over 30,000 courses with both free and paid options. While course creators do have some control over how to price their courses, Udemy also has a global price tier matrix that includes minimum and maximum list prices supported by Udemy. Course creators can learn more about Udemy's pricing structure here.
  • Thinkific, another popular online course platform, is available in 14 countries, and over 100 million courses have been taken on the platform since its inception. Thinkific allows creators to set their own prices, and they even offer a free online course for how to set the price of your online course for Basic and Pro plan users.
  • Skillshare is an online course platform that offers several team plans where users can pay an annual fee for unlimited course access and custom digital workshops. If your course content is geared towards businesses or corporations, this may be a great hosting platform for you.
  • LinkedIn Learning offers several options for online courses, including certificate training to learn new skills, classes that can help you increase your professional knowledge, and subjects in the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Becoming a LinkedIn Learning Instructor is a bit different than teaching on other platforms and requires an application or recruitment process.
  • Envato is a smaller platform that offers short, video-based courses on topics like coding, web design, photography, and graphic design.
  • MasterClass puts a cool spin on online learning by providing courses taught by celebrities and the world's best leaders in a number of industries. Take a cooking class with Gordon Ramsey, learn hip-hop storytelling from Nas, or improve your communication skills with Robin Roberts. Even better, learn about what it takes to form a band by taking a course with the guys from Metallica!

What is the average price of an online course?

The average price of an online course is $182.59, according to a recent study by Podia, another popular online course platform.

Podia studied over 132,000 online courses in an effort to help their creators better understand how to price them. The overwhelming majority of courses fell into the $5-50 price range. (Note: they excluded free courses and those listed for less than $5 for this particular study.) As you can see from the graphic below, as the price per course goes up, the number of courses in that category goes down.

Podia Study Showing Price Ranges of Commonly Priced Online Courses

Photo credit: Podia

After excluding outliers that were more than $99 from their nearest data point, they came up with an average course price of $182.59. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's how much you should charge for your online course. There are many factors that go into accurately pricing your course, which is why you see so much variation in the cost of online courses.

Why do online courses cost so much?

Hands Exchanging Hundred Dollar Bills

We've already determined that online courses can be a more economical and convenient way to consume new information than large, in-person conferences or training. But while it may be cheaper than more hands-on training, online courses do come with some costs that require creators to charge a premium for them:

  • Online learning platforms typically charge hosting fees or take a portion of the profits in return for "free" advertising on their platform.
  • Even if the learning platform offers some advertising, course creators often advertise their courses to their own audiences, so they incur additional advertising and marketing fees.
  • A good online course uses a mix of learning modalities, so the creator may incur the cost of software and equipment for video and audio recording and editing.
  • And of course, the creator likely put a significant amount of time and effort into sharing their expertise, so they have to factor in their time cost, as well.

How to Price Your Online Course

Hands Holding Credit Card Over Keyboard

If you've never priced an online course before, or if you are in the process of creating your first course, it may be hard to determine what your course is worth and how much you should charge for it. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin the process of pricing your course:

What is the length of your course, and how advanced is the information?

If you are offering a short, beginner-level course, you may choose to offer it at a low price point or even offer it for free. Why would you give something away for free that you put time and money into creating? Well, free mini-courses make for great lead-generation content. They draw your target customer in and capture their information for your sales funnel. The free course is a great way to demonstrate your expertise and credibility and leave your audience eager to come back for more advanced training.

How long did it take you to create the course?

If you are creating an expert-level course with multiple sessions or a series of courses that takes months or even years to compile, it makes sense for you to charge a premium for that content. Advanced, more technical courses that require the student to engage with the content over a series of courses or for a long period of time will provide more value than a course that only takes a few hours to complete.

What will the student gain by taking your course?

Online courses that teach a hobby, like a beginner's guide to crocheting, may be priced lower than a course that provides technical knowledge that will help a person advance in their career. People are more willing to invest money into a learning opportunity they can use to make a return on that investment.

Additionally, if you offer bonus materials along with your course, you may decide to charge more for access to those materials. Bonus materials may include downloadable PDFs, access to an e-book or online forums like Facebook groups, or a discounted coaching or consulting session. These all add value to your course and will incentivize your audience to pay more for the added features they'll receive.

How much is the competition pricing their courses?

If your competitors are charging $49 for a similar course, you likely won't get away with selling yours for $500 unless you provide tremendously more value than your competitor. If many courses on the same topic are selling for a similar price range, then chances are good that's the market price point right now.

Is your course part of a series?

If you are offering a course as part of a series, consider packaging the entire series together and offering a small discount for customers who purchase the entire thing. Offering a series of courses is a great way to gain repeat customers who will return again and again if they find value in the information you offer.

Getting Started

Woman Smiling at Computer

As you think about how to price your courses, keep your end goal in mind. What kind of profit are you shooting for? Would you rather sell a $10 course to 1,000 people or a $100 course to 100 people? What does your audience already look like? How much marketing effort are you willing to put in?

Podia offers a great (and free) profit margin worksheet to help you project your profits from the sale of your online course. And if you are a beginner in the online course world and still growing your audience, be sure to check out our podcast episode with Tricia Belmonte to get some tips and tricks on building your audience base and best practices for marketing your course on Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms.

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