Thinkific vs Udemy: How To Choose A Teaching Platform Or Self Hosted Courses

If you are looking to dive into the world of digital learning and teaching, there are some extremely sophisticated platforms in the market that can help your business idea grow into something big. With online teaching, the requirements of every individual vary, yielding specific websites as the most viable option. While some require the freedom and room for customization and very specific design, others are looking for great prices for large amounts of information.

While there are many platforms with their own set of features, a large-scale distinction can be made between self-hosting platforms and teaching platforms. Certain platforms like Thinkific are those that allow individuals to create their own teaching site and run courses through their platform. It involves a high level of customization while offering features to connect with your students. Other online platforms like Udemy are also famous for its own features of high marketability and student base along with fundamental marketing taken care of. While a quick peek at either website would be enough to highlight the reasons why both could be the ideal pick for you, an informed and detailed understanding of either platform would help make a better decision. This guide will break down the various features of Thinkific and Udemy so that you can find it easier to make your pick.


Self-Hosted Course Platforms Like Thinkific

Platforms created for self-hosting have certain features that allow the user to control a lot of what happens in their course. This is one feature that sits very well with most users because this is usually not the case with marketplaces or teaching platforms. While control is important in customizing your website, it is also important when it comes to acquiring the data of your students. Not only does this build a filtered audience that you can work with, it also aids in processes of communication and feedback — something each teacher has their own idea of. You can exercise control over the pricing of your courses as well. When the platform is a marketplace or a teaching platform like Udemy, this control over the student list does not exist. Control over the interface of the course when it is delivered to the customer also doesn’t exist.

Teaching Platforms Like Udemy

While the aspect of control is a big feature of self-hosting platforms, there are advantages to marketplace-like teaching platforms such as Udemy that are catered to those who are focused on maximizing exposure. With its widespread database and reach, a platform like Udemy will ensure that there is a large amount of traffic diverted towards your page. This will inevitably lead to a higher volume of sales and income. However, this exposure comes at a price — you do not have any control over the student list or the interface when it comes to ad interruption and other such features. With different plans on offer, the platform also runs retargeting exercises looking at potential buyers to reinvest. But make sure you read through the sales and income breakdown to understand the share that Udemy will take out of your total earnings. This is important to understand the strategy that each of these websites operate under.

Having understood the basic idea of the different types of platforms that are available online, we can now go indulge in a basic comparison of the two websites and their features. A feature will be highlighted with both websites being reviewed in light of that specific feature.

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Thinkific vs Udemy

Style and Design of Your Course

When it comes to design, Thinkific offers a large range of options for customization. The entire feel and appearance of your course are customizable. From graphics to custom CSS and HTML, the design of your course is fluid and open to creative input. Different pages of the course can also be designed in different ways. This is not the case with Udemy. When it comes to course design, there is hardly any customization that is possible other than the course graphic which can be picked. Other than that, there are no other changes that you can make when it comes to the style or the layout of your course.

Creating Custom Domains

If you are looking at establishing a small brand or create a bulk of courses that are labeled under a name, it would go a long way to establish a custom domain name that can be leveraged through different types of marketing like Adwords and SEO marketing. Thinkify allows users to create custom domains once you move up to one of their paid plans. These plans are affordable if your course is creating a steady income. While Udemy offers a very attractive path to exposure and a high level of generalized marketing, its dashboard does not provide such options. While it is obviously possible to purchase a separate domain name, it is not offered as a feature on the Udemy platform, nor can your Udemy courses be hosted on your own domain.

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Ownership of Course Material

Some platforms are catered to create a volume which is marketed to different target groups. While this strategy is lucrative to the user when it comes to establishing a certain amount of reach, there might be pitfalls to the policy that allows them to maintain a specific volume. For example, Udemy does not allow you to pull down the course material once it has been uploaded. This means that once it is on the platform, you don’t have full ownership of the course, irrespective of the fact that your name appears on the course. You can even update the course but you are not allowed to remove it completely. This is not the case with Thinkific where you have complete control over the course and the material that is on the platform.


One aspect that established marketplaces can have is that of credibility. Platforms like Udemy have been around for a long time and have been reviewed time and again by students who have exhausted their utility for several courses. This allows leveraging a large amount of the trust factor to potential buyers who have used these platforms previously or have heard of its use as well. This would be something on which Udemy would stand above Thinkific. The reputation generated through Udemy would take much lesser time as compared to creating a similar reach and reputation on Thinkific.

Creating a reputation on self-hosted platforms depends a lot on reviews and testimonials. Unfortunately, many people now know that these testimonials and reviews can easily be faked – a trend that is noticed in many online product pages as well. This is why it is becoming harder to create a reputation solely upon those factors.

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Brand Dynamics

You need to know your aim as a brand before making a pick between a self-hosting platform and a teaching platform. This decision can help you determine an approach based on a cost-benefit analysis based on your existing budget.

If you are creating these teaching courses just to earn some money on the side, it might just be better to pick the option that is cheaper to execute and has a higher income per course sold.

If that is not the case, you might want to use a mixed approach to achieve the long-term vision of your brand. A strong source of income can be established through the marketplace over a few months. This can then be transferred to a self-hosting platform through some smart marketing and channeling of traffic.

If you are thinking of establishing a brand of your own, it might not be the best idea to continue selling your course at a platform like Udemy because they are not vested in promoting your brand. The only reason they host you is due to the promotion of their brand and the commissions that they make on your courses. If you attract a large volume of students, they might lure you to continue working with them too!

Course Marketing

Another major factor that distinguishes marketplace platforms from self-hosting platforms is that of marketing activities – the sole method through which audiences get to know about your courses.

Udemy offers several forms of marketing based on the tier that your plan is based on. Thinkific does not have any large-scale marketing activities that they conduct for you. You have to do everything on your own. However, just because Udemy does the job for you doesn’t mean they don’t take their due share out of the entire exercise. Certain cases have plans where 50% of sales of your page through 3rd party affiliates is taken by the hosting platform. You might end up making much lesser per course despite a high market price for the same course. Therefore, you should make sure you hit a balance between earning and expenditure of these teaching platforms before they take you for a ride you weren’t expecting!

On a platform like Thinkific, you are the boss. You can do all sorts of branding on your page, but the onus of the outreach is entirely on you. You can create your own affiliates and channels of outreach. But this can be quite taxing and confusing for a fresh starter. So don’t expect unbelievable results when it comes to trying marketing out on your own from scratch.

Pricing and Expenditure

Both Thinkific and Udemy have a free signup program that allows anyone to come and have a shot at teaching their courses. But that is not the only cost that you will have to bear. While Thinkific has monthly payment plans that have more features than the free version, there are transaction fees associated with Udemy. The platform takes 3% of the course sale if you promote the course, 50% if Udemy sells it and 75% for paid user acquisitions through third party and affiliate sales. Thinkific also has transaction fees: 10% for free plans, 5% for essential plans started at $49 a month, and no fees for business plans starting at $99 a month. If you register for an annual plan on Thinkific, they offer 20% discount on all plans.

When it comes to the pricing of your courses, Udemy has 5 tiers that you have to pick from:

  • Free
  • Tier 1 at $19.99
  • Tier 2 at $24.99
  • Tier 3 at $29.99
  • Tier 4 at $34.99

There used to be a time when courses could be priced at any cost you would want but that policy seems to be overwritten. At Thinkific, there are no such tiers that you have to follow. The strategy you deem best for you can be applied there. You can price the course at $10 or at $500. All you need to do is market it and make sure the audience you are targeting is willing to spend that money.

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Client Lists

One of the more important factors to consider when picking the type of platform is to understand whether or not you have any control over your customers. When on a self-hosting platform, one of the big advantages is access to the student lists. Thinkific has this benefit when compared to Udemy. At Udemy, you don’t have any ownership of the students that took your course. You are not allowed to add them to your mailing list or sell them your services outside the platform. This makes for a short-sighted and control-less approach to marketing. This expresses another feature of marketplace teaching platforms opting for their own promotion over any other individual on the platform.

After going through these criteria of distinction, it will be pretty clear that both these types of platforms are meant for people with different aims. Starting out, a marketplace might help bring in the sales. You will also get a good idea of the demand out there for whatever course you want to teach. If you are looking to build a brand, it is better to self-host the course and market it instead of sharing the sales with another brand. If control is something you are looking for, once again, self-hosting platforms are the way to go. Therefore, make a decision on a strategy, and adopt a singular or mixed approach based on your short and long-term goals.


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