The truth about how much online learning costs in total

Table of Contents

What does online learning cost? If your organisation hasn't already made a move to online learning, you might be uncertain about the costs associated with such a move. In this article, we'll examine all the potential online learning costs as well as ways to eliminate or minimise them.

What does online learning cost? If your organisation hasn’t already made a move to online learning, you might be uncertain about the costs associated with such a move. In this article, we’ll examine all the potential online learning costs as well as ways to eliminate or minimise them.

As we review the various costs in online learning, we’ll need to consider two parts of the process.

  • Online learning platform costs. These are the costs in providing a platform to host and distribute online learning. It should be noted that many online learning platforms also provide other benefits, from the administration of instructor-led training to acting as a video-hosting environment.
  • Online learning content costs. An online learning platform cannot function on its own – it also needs online learning content. These costs may include access to ready-made online learning libraries as well as the cost of developing new, customised, online learning content.

Set-up costs

Set-up costs are a one-off online learning cost to establish your cloud-based learning platform.

Setting up a domain for a new organisation in a modern online learning platform should require just minutes of effort. There are no provisioning costs in establishing a new organisation in a modern cloud-based infrastructure.

As a result, at Tribal Habits, we believe set-up costs for online learning platforms should be free.

That being said, some older learning platforms can require considerable effort to provision a new organisation portal while some online learning vendors use set-up costs as a way to improve margins (particularly as a way to coerce organisations into longer contracts to ‘spread set-up costs over many years). Set-up costs for these learning platforms can range from $500-$25,000 or more.

Implementation costs

Implementation costs are a one-off online learning cost involved in establishing the initial settings and processes in your learning platform.

These costs are typically human-capital costs. They involve one-off initial implementation activities, such as defining custom fields in user profiles, setting up initial categories, activating single-sign-on protocols and establishing branding on the platform.

For most modern online learning platforms, these activities should be simple and straight-forward. Organisations should be able to quickly establish these settings themselves during a standard implementation process, while platform providers may help with decisions around some of these settings during an initial training process for new platform admins.

As a result, at Tribal Habits, we believe implementation costs for online learning platforms should be free. The effort is minimal and should be absorbed by both our customer success staff during the free initial admin training we provide.

However, many complicated online learning platforms may require an implementation fee. This may include costs for upfront training of staff, help from the platform provider in setting up parts of the platform or ‘consulting’ services which are required to otherwise use the platform. Implementation costs for these learning platforms can range from $500-50,000 or more.

Package costs

Package costs are on-going online learning costs associated with the features of your learning platform. Package costs are the first component in determining your on-going usage subscription.

Some online learning platforms have one package  – you receive all features, all the time. Indeed, this may make sense for some platforms which have a defined (limited) feature set.

Alternatively, some online learning platforms allow you to select only the features you need. For platforms with more extensive feature sets, that can help make your online learning costs more efficient.

At Tribal Habits, you can select from several different packages depending on the particular features your organisation requires. Many other modern online learning platforms offer similar package structures. It is certainly worth investigating which packages your organisation definitely requires.

Plan costs

Plan costs are on-going online learning costs associated with the volume of activity in your learning platform. Essentially, plan costs are the second component in your on-going subscription – they are the ‘multiplier’ of your package costs. The most common plan cost is ‘per user per month’ charge.

In a simplified case, let’s say your package costs are $10 per user for the features you have selected. Your plan costs will then adjust the $10 per user amount up or down. For example, larger organisations may receive a discounted per-user rate for high volumes – it may reduce the per-user cost to, say $7.50 per user, for the same set of features.

Similarly, paying monthly or annually may adjust the plan cost – annual plans (paying for 12 months of use in advance) typically result in a lower per-user fee. The trade-off here is that you commit to a particular volume of usage, which may not suit seasonal or irregular usage or small to medium organisations who do not need regular monthly usage.

A more important distinction in the plan cost is how a user is counted.

  • Stored users. Many online learning platforms use ‘stored’ users (or total users). They count every user in your portal regardless of whether that user is active in the portal (logging in to use the portal). This method is simple but can be very inefficient if your users are not using your portal every month.
  • Active users. Some online learning platforms use ‘active’ users (or actual users). In this case, only users who log into the portal are counted. This method most closely aligns the value you receive from the online portal with the costs you are paying. If users are not using the portal, your costs should fall.
At Tribal Habits, we use an active user pricing model. You only pay for users who are actively gaining value from your learning portal. This is a very efficient cost model. Organisations with, say, 300 employees may only need a 150 active user plan  – this would allow 150 different users to log in each month. If you have more users in a month than your plan, you are simply charged for the excess users for that single month (at the same per-user rate).
At Tribal Habits, you can also elect to pay monthly (‘pay as you go’ with no contract) or annually (starting from 100 active users per month with increasing per user discounts for larger plans).

Storage costs

Storage costs are on-going online learning costs associated with the amount of content stored in your online learning portal.

This is often a hidden and unexpected cost, typically associated with older online learning platforms. Organisations may find that a certain amount of storage is initially free on these platforms. However, as usage grows and more content is added to the platform, a storage fee can suddenly be charged.

For modern cloud-based learning platforms, the cost of storage is extremely low. As a result, at Tribal Habits, we have no storage fees at all. ‘Costs of storage’ are built into the plan costs.

Support costs

Support costs are on-going online learning costs associated with receiving support for your online learning platform.

For most online learning platforms, there are no additional support costs – support is included in your package and/or plan costs.

However, some online learning platforms charge extra for certain levels of service. For example, they may provide email support (which can take 2-3 days to respond) for all packages, but more responsive live chat support may be an additional on-going cost (typically a per cent of your overall subscription cost).

At Tribal Habits, we offer the same level of support for all packages with no additional fees.

Content Creation costs

Now for the single biggest hidden cost in online learning platforms – content.

Almost all online learning platforms are designed only to host online learning content. That means you need to find your online learning modules somewhere else…at an additional cost. Some of these online learning platforms will claim to have the ability for you to create online learning modules, but the tools are simple. They are often nothing more than some basic text, a few images and simple quizzes.

The sources for online learning modules really come down to two options.

  • Ready-made online training modules. These modules provide training on common topics. Some online learning platforms now include access to libraries of online training modules – perhaps has an additional package subscription. If not, then you may need to track down ready-made external training and integrate that into your online learning platform (at a cost, and with some effort).
  • Online training creation software. Alternatively, you can use dedicated online training creation software (eLearning Authoring tools) like Storyline or Captivate. These tools are expensive ($500-2,000 per creator per year) and have steep learning curves. If you would like 4-5 of your staff to be able to create training, you need to factor this cost into your planning.
At Tribal Habits, we have several libraries of ready-made training which can be included as a package in your subscription. Unlike other learning platforms, this training appears in your organisation’s branding and can even be edited by your organisation.
In addition, Tribal Habits has integrated online training creation features. In fact, Tribal Habits was designed as an online training creation platform from the ground up. The ability to create fully interactive online training is included in your packages.

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