Education has come a long way thanks to the internet.
Knowledge is readily available within a few clicks.
And if you’re the star passing that knowledge around, you need to be equipped with a learning management system.
Thinkific is an online course platform that does just that.
It’s got plenty of features for both the aspiring and the successful online course creators.
Yes, it has some transaction fees and a limited site builder.
But Thinkific is easy to use and it goes deep.
You can use it to sell online courses, share revenue with your partners, create an academy website and even run an affiliate campaign.
Is it all fluff, or will this platform really help?
Let’s find out in this Thinkific review.
Thinkific is easy to jump on.
Once you create an account, you’ll have to fill a short questionnaire about your experience with online courses and your niche.
The survey is not in vain.
They’ll use these questions to customize your experience.
For example, I said I wanted to sell courses in the digital marketing niche.
As soon as I finished the set-up, my initial course already had a structure and dummy content suited for a marketer’s needs.
Once you choose a name for your business and open a course, you’re thrown into the action.
You won’t even make it to the dashboard before Thinkific has you create a course.
You might think this is weird.
People generally want to get accustomed to a tool before creating a flagship course with it.
And of course, you won’t have a market-ready course as soon as you sign up for the service.
But Thinkific doesn’t expect you to.
Unless you’re switching platforms, there will be a lot of getting used to the software before you can start selling online courses.
What Thinkific wants by shoving the course creation down your throat is to make you invested.
It’s called the sunk cost fallacy – we’re more likely to finish something (in this case, a course) when we already invested time or money in an online course platform.
So by having you committed to this step, you’re more likely to come back on the platform and finish that course.
Of course, the whole process is skippable.
If you just want to get a feel of the platform, click away from the course creation pop-up and you’ll be free to roam the Thinkific dashboard.
If you choose to give Thinkific a try and see how the course creation workflow is, it’s not like you’re starting from scratch.
First, you’ll choose a course template.
You can choose between a mini-course, which is great to give away for free, or a flagship template, which is a fully-fledged learning experience template.
Whichever you choose, you might not need to do a lot of restructuring.
Based on your initial answers, you’ll already have a structure for your lessons with dummy headers and descriptions.
It’s not just video slots either.
If you choose the flagship template, you’re set with chapters, video lessons, quizzes, and text support.
If you’re not dead set on a structure, this will definitely come in handy.
But even if you have to do a lot of customizing after you choose a template, the way they’re set up right now is great because:
- You never start with a blank canvas
- It shows that Thinkific put a lot of thought and effort into the platform
Besides content structure, you can also customize your design by choosing from a few different templates.
It’s not the richest color pallet.
You only get around five or six color schemes and a dozen stock images for a cover photo.
But it’s better than nothing.
Once again, you’re never left to wonder.
“Should I start with a course?”
“What’s this drip feature?”
“Should I just think a few chapters up and fill the lessons in later?”
I never found myself asking any of those questions when getting started with the platform.
On top, you hit the ground running in no time.
Everything we’ve talked about so far happens in the first few minutes. 10 minutes after the sign-up, you have your own “academy” with a work in progress course and flashy design.
The templates are arguably helpful.
If you’ve been in the business for a while, they might not work wonders.
But they keep you rolling, which is empowering, and it gets you hooked to Thinkific.
Overall, it’s easy to get started with this online course platform.
All of the Thinkific features make it easy to get something started.
And no Thinkific review would be whole without looking at them.
But do they help?
Well, you get access to a lot of powerful features. The course builder is deep, but not over-complicated. The site builder could do with some more customization, but it’s enough to have a strong visual presence.
It’d help if you had some more sales tools for the lower tiers.
But it’s still helpful.
So let’s tackle each one in part and see how they fare.
The template you start editing can’t be modified quite a lot.
It’s just for the show, you can’t build a full-on course.
The real thing goes deeper, lets you customize more and gives you a real-time preview of the lesson.
But you’re not just thrown into it,
The first time you open the courses dashboard you’ll be played an interactive tutorial showcasing the main tools of the feature.
It’s not an exhaustive walkthrough, but it’s enough to get the gist of it.
You can do things like adding a lesson, changing pricing, publishing your course or importing media in bulk.
The structure of your course is editable from the left bar.
It’s easy to play around your course’s content because of the drag and drop editor. It’s also easy to add a new lesson or chapter.
What you’ll immediately notice about the dashboard is the bulk importer.
This lets you quickly add a lot of content – text, video, audio, images.
It definitely improves the workflow. It’s much easier to retouch your course when you can quickly access all the media you created for it.
You also get hosting for your content.
This might not mean a lot if you’ve got a lot of bandwidth from your regular website host, but it’s a big plus for the bootstrapping entrepreneur trying to break into the course market.
On the left tab, you’ll also add lessons to your course.
There are a lot of templates for a lesson.
You can work with:
What you can do with each one isn’t that different.
It’ll usually involve a file upload or setting up a form if you’re using a quiz for example.
But you must appreciate the variety.
There are different teaching practices, and Thinkific is able to encompass as much of them as possible.
An interesting choice is the Multimedia lesson type.
You can use it to link to any resources on the internet or upload anything as a zip.
This sort of helps the fact that there’s no way to insert interactive lessons.
But a flash extension support could still help.
Another great tool would be a code playing ground. Don’t get me wrong, with the videos, assignments, and quizzes you can still teach coding.
And perhaps integrating something like that could prove to be a hassle.
But it’d still be helpful for anyone trying to teach how to code.
Now when you edit the lesson you can work with a few options.
After you name the lesson you can start working on it.
The first thing that hit me was the labeling option. It’s great that you have a tagging system because you can re-use content.
If you’re selling a social media marketing course and an email marketing course, both could use a lesson on buyer personas and selling to the right target audience.
Similarly, you can cut some repetitive tasks by copying lessons from other courses.
Granted, this can only help you if you’re already selling courses.
That’s why it’s only available if you upgrade.
The free preview lets you make the lesson available for free.
This could boost your sales. People will see what a cool teacher you are and they’ll want more.
But make sure you don’t count on it bringing in any traffic. It’s a preview for people that already know about you.
The draft option makes it easy to work on courses.
If you’re updating your curriculum, or if you just want to try something new, you can work on already existing lessons with the draft feature.
This isn’t too helpful for files that you upload, but it can streamline your work on quizzes, assignments or exams.
Other free tools include enabling discussions. This is great if you want to enable a community around your courses, but it also does a lot of the job for you.
Students will help each other.
And you can drop into the conversation for an expert opinion, or just observe to update your products based on what your students need.
Every lesson has its own customization.
For example, if you insert a quiz you can choose to let students pass only if they’d gotten a certain grade.
If you upgrade you can also create a randomized question bank, just to keep things interesting and to minimize cheating.
Another thing you get for the Pro plan is the ability to make lessons a prerequisite.
While the pricing so far has been fair, this seems a bit odd.
It’s hard to make students commit when you can’t create prerequisite lessons.
But if you provide value, the right audience will enjoy your course nonetheless.
The settings tab is at least interesting.
What I mean is that it’s weirdly organized – if you go to the page code, it’ll let you insert a JS snippet into the footer of the landing page for the course.
While definitely a great thing to be able to do, it’d make sense to have this displayed on the site builder screen.
The same is true for SEO. It’s great to have SEO functionality, but it’s disjointed. You can end up searching a lot for what you need to update.
Or worse, have you browsing like crazy to find how to update the meta-data of your landing page.
Besides that, the settings tab is straightforward. It features some basic settings like whether or not to disable text copying or design options for how the course is displayed.
Further to the left, there’s the Drip screen.
Drip allows you to release lessons one at a time to your students.
Not manually – you create the full course and it’s all released automatically.
In theory, this should drive engagement up. It’s easier to consume content in bite-sized chunks, so your students won’t feel overwhelmed by the entire course and they’ll enjoy it more.
In practice, there’s no proof of it working that way.
On the contrary, it goes against modern educational norms – it’s easier to let people get informed at their own pace.
If someone wants to plow through your content for 6 hours, you should let them.
Pricing is fairly easy to do.
You can make your course free, which is only feasible if you want to use it as a lead magnet.
Alternatively, you can ask for a one-time payment and students will get unlimited access to your course.
Thinkific allows you to do more complex stuff – you can ask for a membership, a subscription and a monthly payment plan from your students.
But only if you upgrade.
Next to that, there are “actions after purchase”.
They’re a must for great customer service, or at least, automated customer service.
After purchase flows are also only available if you get a Pro plan, so you might be stuck doing it the old way if you’re using the free version or the basic plan.
You might get the feeling that a lot of the good stuff is only available if you go for the Pro plan.
That’s true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Thinkific is a cash grab.
Sure, some online course platforms will provide these features for free.
Or at least for less.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the money. More about that when we talk pricing.
On the far right corner, you’ll see the preview tab.
Clicking it will open a new tab with your course, just as students might see it, which is the norm.
At first, I wanted to blame Thinkific for not developing a real-time preview feature.
But it’s better this way.
If they’d integrate that, the course building dashboard would be too cluttered, and it’d be harder to focus on developing your lesson.
All in all, the course builder does a good job of enabling online education.
Besides the main course building dashboard, you have other tools in the main dashboard.
You can work with drafts and Thinkific won’t let you publish something if you left it empty by mistake.
You can separate everything in categories, which makes it easier to manage large amounts of courses.
That’s true for you and for happy students that want more.
You can work with multiple instructors, list them all and share the revenue with them.
Managing lessons and chapters is lightning-fast and intuitive.
But most importantly – you’re never left wondering what you should do next.
Just like getting started, when you build your course you’ve got great support all the way.
But what do you do with a course once it’s published?
Thinkific also has a tool for building websites.
It’s not a fully fleshed site builder.
If you need the main base, go with Wix or WordPress. There’s no beating that with the Thinkific tool.
But their site builder has a low barrier of entry, so you can easily create an “academy” website for your brand.
You can do things like changing your background or inserting calls to action.
But Thinkific’s site builder doesn’t go too deep.
All the pages are single columns, so don’t imagine you’ll be able to create complex lead magnets.
You’re limited design-wise as well.
You can’t code anything into the page, so you’re stuck with Thinkific’s color pallet and elements.
But that doesn’t mean this is a negative Thinkific review. There are things you can work with.
As soon as you click on a page, you’ll be taken to a customization screen.
You can’t edit anything on the preview page itself, you’ll have to do all of your mods on the left tab.
Clicking on an element will also take you to a different screen, where you’ll be able to edit alignment, sizes and a few design options.
Adding a new section will have you choose from a small number of templates, like calls to action, countdown timers or social proofs.
If you’ve ever worked with element templates, you’ll know that’s thin.
But notice that they’re all geared towards an online entrepreneur trying to market and sell their courses.
It might not be a powerhouse of development, but it’s enough for someone focused on the courses themselves and not too picky about the website.
That’s what I call the “page editing” part.
It’s straightforward, you just branch from all pages to a specific page, then to an element and you play around with whatever you can.
While limiting, it’s enough if you don’t have a plan for your academy website.
The other part of editing is a little bit more general – it’s the theme settings, but you’ll spend little time here.
It’s got a few tabs to work on:
- Styles lets you add a theme to your page. Although it could’ve done with some options for theme editing, it’s enough to get a feel of each template.
- Colors feature a few menus for each element type – buttons, background, headers and the like. While it’s easier to edit each element, this option lets you quickly make global changes, which can come in handy.
- Typography may be confusing at first because Thinkific crams in a dozen text options, but you’ll get the hang of it. While intuitive, we don’t really see a reason for most of the options to be here. It would be much easier to modify them on-element.
- Favicon is all about your website image. It’s not complex, but it’s necessary.
While intuitive at first, this menu imposes a certain workflow.
Seeing as you can make global changes that you can’t always make on-page (with typography for example) you’ll have to fill in the content and then worry about looks.
It’s not how you usually do web design…
But it may help newcomers.
One-click is all you need to take care of fonts, so if you’re just starting out it may be a plus.
Lastly, there are some other minor things you can do on this dashboard.
Preview lets you see your website as it’d look on mobile.
And you can also turn auto-refresh on or off, which will keep updating your website based on what you’re editing.
These may look like peanuts, but they’re very helpful.
With the auto-refresh, you’re never losing progress.
With the preview, you can make changes to stay responsive in real-time.
Although considering the design limitations, you’ll probably have a responsive website by default.
Thinkific’s site builder is a paradox.
You don’t get as much customization as you would with other free tools focused on website development, so don’t count on it.
It’s only good for creating a quick landing page or secondary website for your business, solely focused on the courses you provide.
If you don’t have a paid plan, you’ll also be stuck with a .thinkific domain.
But you can see that this website builder was thought out to help businesses with their course platform.
The backend development process is straightforward: you’ve got a checklist under the settings tab in the main dashboard. You go through it, slowly turning your platform into a publish-ready website.
The most important list entries include SSL activation, which is free and easy to tick. It’s also increasingly more important for ranking and trust.
Lastly, you can add tracking codes.
This makes it easy to integrate with other products and take care of analytics or marketing.
Overall you won’t get a lot of mileage out of this builder.
It’s not a competitor to real builders, but it’s good for what it needs to do – complementing both your online courses and already existing platforms.
You can also use the feature to create membership sites.
It’s a paid feature, so only consider it once you know you can sell some memberships.
But there is some support for people trying to develop membership sites. You’ve got bundles and premade resources to help.
Moreover, since it’s a paid feature, you also have access to priority support.
However, site-building is still about setting up a platform
Can you use Thinkific to sell your courses?
Marketing and Sales
Thinkific strives to help you market and sell your courses, and there are some decent options available for you to beat out your competition.
For example, you can use coupons.
You can schedule them to run for however long you want and they’re easy to track.
However, this is a paid feature as well.
It might suit bootstrappers who need every advantage on the market to break out, but you can’t blame Thinkific for making it available in the Pro version only.
You already have a lot to work with for free.
That’s also true for sales because you can use sales widgets.
They’re great for a product launch or an independent affiliate campaign because you can spin them around your own platforms.
More importantly – this is helpful when you write blog posts or guest posts.
If you’re touching on the subject matter of your course and you want to incentivize purchase, the sales widget is a great CTA.
Compared to site-building, you also get a lot of customization options, so you can make it fit anywhere.
Speaking of which – Thinkific also has an affiliate marketing tool.
You can add partners on your dashboard to manage affiliate sales.
Which means that Thinkific does its best to help you sell.
The market and sell tab also feature integrations.
Thinkific doesn’t have their own payment processing platform, so you’ll need either Stripe or Paypal, which Thinkific integrates with.
You can also connect your Thinkific platform to Stunning or Zapier, so you’re set for workflow automation.
But there’s more to integrations.
The best thing about them is that you can easily insert Google Analytics tracking codes and Facebook Pixel.
It’s not a huge perk.
But it helps you speed up marketing efforts.
Besides that, you can also integrate with Shopify to sell courses on your e-commerce website.
But there’s a big catch to it.
A lot of the advanced integrations are only available if you upgrade.
That might not mean too much if we’re talking about InfusionSoft or Segment.io (although the lack of an analytics tool makes it pretty important).
But it’ll slow you down if you want to do email marketing.
Mailchimp is restricted to paying users, which doesn’t really make sense since the software also has a free version.
The Market & Sell tab is also where you’ll be tracking orders.
But do use “tracking orders” lightly here.
There’s no tracking in the traditional sense – no charts, no info on your users, nothing that would qualify as actual analytics.
Just the classic bank statement template.
You can analyze individual orders; you can’t look at them in bulk.
This is a real problem for any SaaS company going into 2020. Data is king and you need every bit of information to get a competitive edge.
Maybe they didn’t have to worry about it so far because of the integrations.
But it’d be great to give some tools to the free user as well.
It’s an important starting point, just to know how to shift your marketing and product development efforts.
Granted – if you go into the library, you’ll be able to see analytics on your videos. It’ll show you average engagement, total plays, play rate and last watched.
But it’s thin compared to what you’d get for free in other tools.
If you want some more data, you can go to the “Support your Students” tab.
It’s not exhaustive either, you’ll just get some info on your audience.
At least for free.
You can get more if you update.
And not just analytics wise, you can also get to separate your students in groups or send out assignments with the Basic and Pro plan.
But this section also helps any free users a lot.
You can get access to your students’ progress, discussions, and reviews from this tab.
What’s great about each part is that they’re easy to navigate.
If you’ve got a lot of students, you won’t bother trying to find someone’s progress or test results.
So we’ll leave it up to you to decide if the lack of fully-fleshed analytics tool is a problem.
You might think that’s not so bad.
But how much will it cost you?
Thinkific isn’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the money.
Ok, I stand corrected – Thinkific can be cheap if you use the free version.
And it’s not just a trial either.
You can thrive with the free version if you don’t need fancy tools or a custom domain for your academy website.
Just know that Thinkific has some transaction fees for the free plan: 10% out of each sale you make.
The paid plans go up quite a lot.
The Basic plan costs $49 a month, or $468 if you sign up for a year of using Thinkific.
It’s not the all-inclusive offer. You still have to pay 5% of every sale to Thinkific, you don’t get priority support or membership resources.
You can’t offer certificates and there are some customization tools you won’t have access to with this plan.
But it’s a decent starter.
If you already make some money out of your courses, it’s good to give it a try from the get-go, because it’ll let you use Drip, coupons, affiliate marketing tools, and email marketing integrations.
Some features, like the Zapier triggers, could’ve been available in the free version, because they don’t cost you anything over at Zapier either.
But it’s still a decent plan.
The Pro plan will set you back $99 each month, or $948 if you pay for a whole year.
It might sound like a lot, but you also get a lot for that.
Benefits include an increased number of admins and instructors, the ability to hand out assignments, priority support and a bundle of other tweaks we’ve mentioned throughout this piece.
I’d say this is the best plan if you want to invest in Thinkific. It features a wholesome course building experience and you can use the software to its maximum potential.
If that’s not enough for you, you can sign up for the Premier plan.
It’ll cost you a whopping $499 each month, or $4788 for a whole year.
By the cost itself, you can tell that it’s only suitable if you’re switching platforms or you’ve been using Thinkific for a while and you need more from it.
But is the price point justified?
You get the basic premium features – no limits on students and high points for group analysts and instructors.
You also get a single sign-on and up to five account admins.
It’s obvious that this was made for big enterprises.
But you also get an onboarding package, which is great for organizations switching platforms.
On top, you’ll get Thinkific’s Growth Package, which lets you do advanced analytics and student management.
While it may seem thin, it’s got a lot of benefits for the big players.
If you’ve had some success on a different platform and you’re thinking about joining Thinkific, this is the plan for you.
But don’t be fooled.
Don’t buy this plan just because you can afford it.
The Pro plan also features unlimited courses and students.
If you’ve been in the market as a solopreneur, the Premier plan is not for you. While the API features might look attractive, most of the Premier’s benefits are only suitable for big organizations.
Not enterprises with a lot of students.
Of course, this will be different on a case by case basis, so do your own homework. A Thinkific review can only shed so much light on the issue.
Even if you’ve only got three collaborators, the Premier plan might still be worth it.
But a Pro plan with the Growth Package upgrade will work just as fine.
All in all, Thinkific pricing looks good, regardless of the transaction fees.
Generally, Thinkific’s customer support is helpful.
I was using the tool for well over 10 hours before I felt the need to look for answers.
And even then, it was just to check their analytics guide to confirm things I already understood from using the platform
That’s because their onboarding is top-notch.
You’re never left wondering about the next step. You’re never thrown into the action with no explanations and getting started with the tool is very easy.
If you’ve used an online tool, albeit WordPress, Elementor or any CRM, Thinkific will be a walk in the park
But that’s just the learning curve – what do you do when you run into problems?
You’ve got a training area and a help center.
The training area is for non-Thinkific related issues.
It’s got expert training on online businesses, pricing an online course or designing one in the first place.
They’re made to teach you all about the business side of online courses.
And they feature some great instructors too.
If you feel overwhelmed by the things you need to take into account, you’ll like the training center.
Unfortunately, you only get access to them with the paid plans, which is a bit counterintuitive.
If you’re able to afford the paid plans, you already know a thing or two about online courses.
But that’s why the courses focus on helping you refine the craft.
Plus, it shows that Thinkific is dedicated to creating an ecosystem for better online education.
The help center is useful too.
It’s got a clear structure, with hubs of information on getting started, understanding your account, marketing your courses or integrating with third-party apps.
If you don’t want to browse through them, you can use the search bar.
Just make sure to get as specific as you can with your query, or you won’t find what you’re looking for.
If your problem already has a guide explaining how to do something, or how to fix something, you’ll navigate it easily.
All of them have a breakdown at the beginning, and the explanations are concise, pragmatic and supported by images.
If that doesn’t help, you can get in touch with a support agent.
If you don’t have any paid plan, the only available course of action is a ticket.
On top, as soon as you start typing a title, you’ll receive some suggestions for articles you haven’t checked yet.
But it’s not prohibitive.
Thinkific never discourages you from sending a question.
Of course, if you upgrade you’ll also get access to priority support.
Besides the regular support, Thinkific also features special support for big launches.
You just have to let them know you’re planning a doozie and they’ll get in touch.
Most Thinkific reviews don’t take a closer look at customer support, but it’s important for a lot of people.
Especially since this online course platform is pretty complex.
Once again, their customer support shows that they’re committed to having successful users.
Whether you’re just starting out, or have had success with online courses but you need a better platform, Thinkific is worth a shot.
It’s a fully-fleshed learning management platform, and Thinkific offers quite a lot.
Yes, you may run into some issues:
- Thinkific’s site builder is not a powerhouse of development
- Thinkific has a lot of features that are only available for a hefty price
- Thinkific doesn’t have an in-house fully fleshed analytics dashboard
- Thinkific has considerable transaction fees
But it’s good for creating and selling online courses.
The tool is very easy to use, everything is intuitive, you’ve got a lot of features to help you engage students and big organizations can manage their complex hierarchies with Thinkific.
And if you’re worried about the marketing or sales downfalls, Thinkific offers integrations.
But that’s not to downplay their powerful marketing and sales functionalities – coupons, sales widgets, and affiliate marketing will help you sell online courses.
That’s not to mention – their site builder is weak, but it’s enough for a quick landing page.
All in all, we’d recommend you try it out.
What’s your experience with it? Do you agree with our Thinkific review?