Creating online courses has never been easier. Thanks to content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, along with the plethora of available plugins, developers can build courses to fit every need. It’s no wonder that organizations are increasingly moving their in-person educational programs online.
But online education isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. For example, a corporate training course may have very different needs than a traditional schooling program. The types of required features and functionality will vary.
Getting it right takes a lot of planning and research. It’s important to have a sense of how things should work for both course administrators and students. You don’t want to discover that you’ve overlooked some key components after the website launches.
Before you take the plunge, check out our tips for building online courses with WordPress. We’ll provide you with a list of things to consider – right from the very start.
Establish Basic Course Parameters
The first step in this journey is to establish some basic characteristics of your online courses. These are the foundational blocks from which to build.
Figuring out this portion is critical, as it informs just about everything that comes afterwards. Choosing the right plugins, web hosting and custom functionality are just a few of the items hanging in the balance.
Let’s take a look at a few pieces of that foundation:
Do you want to offer online courses for free, or will you charge money for them? This is a fairly basic question – but still important.
If you are planning to monetize your courses, that means working with some sort of payment system. Some learning management system (LMS) plugins work with various payment gateways out-of-the-box. Others may require a more roundabout approach, such as installing a shopping cart to work alongside the LMS.
User Access Requirements
How will users access your courses? This can be somewhat related to whether or not monetization is part of your plan. However, even free courses might require users to register for an account on your website.
In many cases, course content will need to be restricted to logged-in members and/or customers. This might be achieved through an LMS that offers related functionality. Otherwise, you may want to look at WordPress membership plugins. Ideally, you’ll find one that ties in with your LMS of choice through an add-on.
Perhaps you don’t have all of the content for your course just yet – that’s fine. But having a general idea of how you want to structure things is a big help.
For example, what types of content will you feature? Text and images are one thing. But audio and video may put some extra requirements on your plate.
WordPress can handle multimedia, but making sure the content is accessible (via captions or transcripts) is up to you. Then there’s the issue of where to host your files. Unless you have massive amounts of available bandwidth, a third-party service provider might be necessary.
It’s also a good idea to think about testing. Will students have to pass one or more tests to complete the course? The LMS you choose should have the ability to create tests in a way that suits you.
Think about Data Needs
Data is a pretty big deal for most websites. But it takes on even more importance when it comes to online education.
On the front end, students will want to track their account information, course progress, and achievements. Everything they need should be a mere login away. Most LMS/membership setups are able to provide some form of this functionality.
Where things get a little dicey is on the back end. You may have a wide variety of data to keep track of, including:
Membership expiration dates;
Student progress and grading;
User account information;
Not only is access to this data important, but the ability to filter it by various criteria is also key. You might, for instance, want to know how many people have signed up for a course and haven’t taken it yet. Or how many students failed a particular test.
Wrangling this type of data is not a strength of WordPress – at least, not by default. Data generated by various plugins can be stored all over the site’s database. Therefore, it may take some customization to get exactly what you’re looking for.
Understanding the types of data and reports you’ll need are good to know ahead of time. This enables you to select plugins with that in mind. It may also clue you in as to whether custom development will be required.
Choosing the Right WordPress LMS Plugin
Now that you have a list of needs in hand, you’ll have a better idea of which LMS plugin works best for your project. Or, at the very least, it should help you narrow down the options.
Because you did your homework, you can look for a plugin that:
Enables you to structure course content in the desired way;
Works with your preferred payment gateway, or in conjunction with another plugin that does;
Includes the ability to restrict content to logged-in users, or works in conjunction with a membership plugin;
Allows you to extend its functionality with custom code or available add-on plugins;
There may be plenty of other items on your wish list, but this is a good start. From here, you can compare and contrast what’s available.
Realistically, it’s unlikely that a single plugin will do everything you need. That’s why extensibility is so important. If a specific feature doesn’t exist in the core plugin, you might be able to build it. In addition, some LMS plugins are popular enough to have their own ecosystem of third-party add-ons.
When budgeting for an LMS, it may be worth considering the extensibility factor. Whatever the plugin itself costs, there could be additional money needed to obtain all of the functionality on your list.
Use WordPress to Create Top-Notch Online Courses
WordPress makes for a great eLearning platform. It’s flexible and allows for building and selling online courses in multiple ways. Plus, a familiar back-end experience makes managing course content that much easier.
The key is in adding the right mix of plugins and customization. This will enable you to provide a great experience for users and run a smooth operation behind the scenes.
It takes some planning and hard work to get there. But once you’ve established a solid setup, the sky’s the limit.