The Problem with Online Course Sites Like Udemy

Problem with Online Course Sites Like Udemy

Hosted course sites like Udemy have become incredibly popular as a low-cost way to launch courses fast. But is it worth the risk?

We’re fortunate to work with dozens of aspiring online course creators each week. And it’s really exciting to connect with them.

They have an idea, they’re full of motivation, and they realize the potential ahead if they put in the work of creating their own online course.

And when many of them contact us regarding WP Courseware, our learning management system plugin for WordPress, they’re still uncertain whether they’ll launch their course through a hosted online course platform like Udemy or whether it’s worth in investing the time, energy, and funds in building their own website to sell their training.

And I get it.

I’ve filled countless journals with potential business ideas over the years. The majority of them were tossed aside after a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation of their financial prospects.

But a few of them were worth putting through some testing.

And in those cases when I needed a quick and inexpensive way to vet a prospective idea before investing a significant amount of my time and financial resources, there was no better way to do so than to spin up a basic site on Weebly, Wix, or any other hosted website provider and throw some paid traffic at it.

However, the moment I had even a shimmering hope that an idea might truly be worth pursuing, it was pursued on my own platform and on my own terms.



If I’m going to invest my time and resources in creating a product or any other offering, I want to be sure that I can control every aspect…

  • How it’s marketed
  • What price it sells for
  • Who can purchase it
  • How the customers are treated
  • What communications customers receive

You probably already see where I’m headed with this.

Sure, it’s convenient and inexpensive to turn your course over to a large online course marketplace like Udemy…


But at what cost?

Site like Udemy have done a lot of great things for the e-learning community as a whole. They’ve made creating and delivering courses accessible to almost anyone.

There have been many accounts published over the last three years by instructors who have some very negative feelings toward online course marketplaces like Udemy. Perhaps they expected the agreement to work differently than it actually did and they felt like they’d been burned.

But this article isn’t about trying to expose anything inherently negative in the terms of service of the large course marketplaces or chronicling sideways instructor experiences.

Large online course marketplaces have to protect the investment they’ve made in their infrastructure just as instructors have to protect the investment they have made in their intellectual content.

It’s about the larger stake in your course that you’re giving up long term.

And after working hard to create an online course, to some degree you’ll be giving up this stake permanently.


1. You risk your reputation as an instructor and the quality of your courses.

Some online course marketplaces are notorious for the quality of the courses offered there. While it wasn’t always so, the temptation of turning a quick buck has led people to create courses in niche topics they know nearly nothing about.

And as large online course marketplaces like Udemy have grown and tried to reach more people, they’ve experienced a need to accept more instructors to sell more courses to generate more revenue to cover higher and higher operating costs associated with growth. It’s a cycle that’s difficult to break out of.

While it likely wasn’t their intention to have declining quality standards and falling course price tags, it has happened. Some marketplaces have held up more strict content requirements than others.

However, once you begin selling your courses in a marketplace like this, it can be difficult to convince people to see you as an instructor who’s worthy of a $500 or $2,000 course price tag down the road no matter how good your content really is.

There are some great instructors who have done really well on sites like Udemy, even with rock bottom course price tags. They’ve figured out the recipe to selling good content at a high volume. But it’s a difficult thing to accomplish in the niches which many course creators are operating within.


2. You restrict your range of potential course topics.

Course marketplaces such as Udemy do dictate what can and cannot be taught on their site. There have been examples of entire course niches being wiped out by a simple change in a site’s terms of service. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.


3. You give up a large portion of your course sales.

One of the biggest advantages of using a course marketplace like Udemy is that the site is already receiving a very high volume of visitors who are primed to purchase courses.

Creating an online course is difficult, but marketing can be even harder. It’s often after a course is launched that course creators give up on their projects. They have great content, but they become frustrated that it isn’t selling and they don’t know how to do anything about it.

But over time, you can learn to market your course. And when you do solve that puzzle, you’ll be keeping every dollar in sales.

Udemy currently allows you to market your own course and keep 97% of the revenue from students that you send to your own course to sign up. However, if a casual visitor lands on your course’s sales page and they sign up, you share 50% of the revenue with Udemy.


4. You give up control over customer policies.

With online course marketplaces, the terms on which your course is sold are dictated by them. You have no control over many of the details, such as the refund policy.

While this may sound like a minor risk, course marketplaces generally side with the customer to protect their own reputation and this leads to a significant portion of instructors’ monthly course sales being reversed.


5. You give up the ability to build a list.

When our customers decide to create a course on any given topic, they’ve usually been involved in that niche and will continue to be for quite some time.

Sometimes they’ve been blogging in that niche for several years and they’ve decided to monetize their content. Sometimes they’ve created a product and they’re now creating premium training around that product.

But in any event, it’s likely that if a customer purchased a course from them, they’ll have another offering to market in that same niche somewhere down the line. Selling a course through your own platform allows you to build a list from that course which can be a marketing asset for any future products you create.


6. You course has a high probability of being pirated.

One of the sad pitfalls of publishing a course in a large course marketplace is just how quickly it can be duplicated. Some instructors report having a clone of their course published on the same or a similar site in as little as six hours.

This problem isn’t exclusive to course marketplaces like Udemy. If you deliver video training content on the internet, it can be copied. Period.

However, by publishing your course on your own website, you do have more control over how difficult it is to pirate your content. Our S3 Media Maestro plugin, for example, was designed to allow our WP Courseware users to host their media with Amazon’s S3 cloud storage platform and deliver it in a way which makes unauthorized sharing more difficult.


Is it really that difficult?

Again, course marketplace like Udemy are successful for a reason. There are plenty of instructors and students for whom their platforms are ideal.

However, purchasing a hosting plan, installing WordPress, and building a course on your own terms requires a relatively minor investment of your time and money.

And in the end, the control you’ll have over your course offerings will result in a stronger and more lucrative business opportunity over the long run. Not to mention, you’ll be able to build a brand and an email list that can help you launch new products or services much more rapidly if and when the time comes.

If it seems intimidating to get started, there are a lot of fantastic resources out there to help you along the way:

  • Syed Balkhi has a great website called WP Beginner where you can find helpful hosting reviews, tips on how to theme your website, and much more.
  • Our friend Shawn Hesketh has a an incredibly comprehensive training library called WP 101 which will lessen your WordPress learning curve by weeks.
  • Chris Lema publishes blog posts daily on a range of topics, offering great advice on things like how to price your course or the best way to choose and configure the e-commerce side of things.

Don’t let your fear of the technology be the deciding factor in whether or not you give up control of your course offering. When I first started building WordPress sites in 2010, I’ll admit it was intimidating. But it doesn’t involve anything you can’t learn.

Regardless of whether you choose to deliver your courses with WordPress, WP Courseware, or any other solution, if you have questions or concerns about how to host your course on your own, we’re happy to help.

About Ben Arellano

Ben Arellano is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.


  1. Ahmad Shah Adami on November 5, 2018 at 3:10 am

    Very nice article Nate, Thanks for sharing this with us and keep up the good work as always.

  2. Barbara Sanders on March 6, 2023 at 12:08 am

    Udemy has a lot of rules and restrictions that limit what instructors can do thus stifling course creativity. It is no longer a good platform for publishing your courses. Look elsewhere.

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