eLearning Software

Building A Custom LMS: eLearning Development Costs & Risks

5 min read | Dec 28, 2020
Building A Custom LMS: eLearning Development Costs & Risks cover image

If you’ve got a killer idea to build a business teaching others, you need to decide how to evaluate the eLearning development costs to best monetize your education content. Should you invest the time and money into building your own Learning Management System (LMS) or should you buy into an existing ecosystem? There are costs and benefits to both, which we’ll cover here.

Tradeoffs, Benefits and Potential Rewards of the 3 Main eLearning Development Options

Selling educational materials online isn’t a new game: which means there are a lot of eLearning distribution portals out there. There are three main paths you can take when you’re looking to develop an eLearning platform for your content: aggregator sites, semi-custom websites, and totally custom builds.

First, there are aggregate sites like Skillshare and Udemy which host a huge number of classes on any number of subjects. Subscribers typically pay a monthly fee for access to the entire library of classes, and content creators get paid based on how popular their particular classes are. There’s also platforms like Masterclass, which use the fame and notoriety of their teachers to fuel their marketing and attract customers.

Next, we have the semi-custom options which are websites that operate using a sales platform like Shopify, WooCommerce (a WordPress plugin) or Squarespace. These are a nice middle-path option between building your own LMS from the ground up and putting your content on a site like Skillshare, offering you more control at the expense of a built-in audience. If you use a framework from one of these companies to build your LMS, you won’t have to know code, and when things break on the site you’ll be able to call someone else to fix them.

Finally, there is the total-custom route, where you (or a developer you hire) build the LMS and likely the hosting website yourself from scratch, giving you total flexibility, control, and autonomy. This is the most work intensive in terms of setup, but offers the biggest potential rewards too, since there is no theoretical cap on how big your business can grow. Your LMS could become the next Skillshare or Masterclass!

Why Choose an eLearning Aggregation Site like Skillshare, Udemy or Masterclass?

Choose an eLearning aggregation platform for your custom-made eLearning content when you want access to the built-in audience those platforms offer. There are tens of thousands of members on these sites and getting your high-quality content out in front of them is a way to make a profit, yes, but it is also an excellent way to start building a multi-channel audience.

Benefits of eLearning Aggregators

  • Access to existing users on those large platforms.
  • Lots of guidelines and resources to help you make great content and format it.
  • Customer service access for your customers– they call the hosting company instead of you when things go wrong.
  • No upkeep or update requirements: all of that is handled by the host site.

Tradeoffs for eLearning Aggregators

  • No control over pricing structure.
  • Competition with other, similar courses.
  • Profits are reduced because the host site takes a cut.
  • Chained to the host site, making expansion or transition to a self-owned site difficult.

Why Choose a Semi-Custom eLearning LMS Website?

Choose a semi-custom eLearning platform if you are interested in having more control, and confident in your ability to both market the site and manage it. A semi-custom solution brings with it more risk than the aggregator sites, but it also has the potential for greatly increased profits if you are successful, since you control the pricing structure and only have to pay a fixed fee for the domain and hosting from the digital sales structure you’re using. Examples of this type of site include Abby Pollock’s fitness instruction, Anne of All Trades and her lessons on business and homesteading, or Alec Steele’s online blacksmithing courses.

Benefits of Semi-Custom eLearning Site

  • More flexibility overall, in appearance, type of content presented, and more.
  • Fixed cost of operation and maintenance.
  • Developer handles updates and site maintenance on the backend, allowing you to focus on customer-facing elements.
  • Access to marketing tools & email list builders (if included).
  • Can charge what you want for content.

Tradeoffs of Semi-Custom eLearning Site

  • Success depends on your ability to market yourself and convince customers to sign up with an unknown site.
  • Time costs are increased with a semi-custom option because you are responsible for some of the web elements like site design, visuals, email lists, and so on.
  • Lack of full control may jeopardize your business if the company supplying the underlying site goes under or is bought out.

Why Choose a Completely Custom-Built LMS for your Content?

You should choose to develop a custom, ground-up built LMS if you have both the means and the ambition to rise up and build a large, thriving business around the education you offer. With a custom built LMS everything is up to you and your team, from managing the website and developing an LMS that works on every browser and with every operating system your customers may be using to marketing, payment processing and customer service. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it also brings a massive amount of opportunity and the potential for near-limitless success. Examples of sites built completely around the eLearning and teaching they offer are Industrial Training International’s safety training courses, Cherryleaf technical writing, and Proko’s art classes.

Benefits of Completely Custom LMS

  • Charge-What-You-Please for your educational content
  • Potential to build up a loyal base of clients and customers who will keep coming back.
  • Near limitless growth ceiling.
  • Flexibility to adapt and change to new currents in business.

Tradeoffs for Completely Custom LMS

  • You are responsible for all aspects of the site’s maintenance and upkeep, as well as the business aspects.
  • It is necessary to either know how to code and manage a site and an LMS, or to hire someone who does know to do that.
  • Less innate consumer trust from an unknown website asking for money– it is likely there will need to be heavy investment in building customer trust and marketing.

Note: if you hire a company like Academy of Mine to build a custom eLearning LMS and website for you, many of these tradeoffs vanish.

See The Platform In Action

Not a sales call. No strings attached!


Choosing the right option for yourself is a matter of deciding how much money you want to make, how much work you want to put in managing an LMS, and how much time you want to spend dealing with the digital responsibilities of the job compared to the business side of things. If you want a quick and easy way to monetize your instructional content, an aggregator site is a great choice. If you want more control than that and the ability to charge what you want without worrying about website maintenance and the technical details of an LMS, use something like Shopify or Squarespace. And if you’re committed to rising above the rest and starting a business that is built around eLearning, get a custom-built solution.

Supercharge Your eLearning Business

Academy Of Mine is the top-rated LMS for Professional Development, Continuing Ed, Certifications and B2B training.