One hundred and seven billion dollars.
According to Forbes, that’s the amount spent on online courses in 2015, double the amount spent the previous year and growing. It includes training and courses across industries and at many levels, from hobbies and crafts to college and university classes, and everything in between.
How would you like to own even a tiny piece of that market?
Creating and selling your own courses is a great way to add monetization options to your current website, and if your site is built on WordPress, you can choose from among a group of powerful plugins to create the actual courses. (You still need to come up with the content, though.)
When considering courseware, think about the features you’ll need. At a minimum, it should include ways to manage:
- Course creation
- Student registration
- Payment processing
Decide what else you want — online courses frequently include:
- A forum where students can talk to each other, ask questions, and socialize
- Quizzes and tests
- Completion certificates
- Gamification features, like badges or points a student earns when he reaches milestones
- Drip content — content that becomes available on a timed basis
- Integration with mailing lists from Mailchimp or Aweber
We’re going to introduce you to six courseware plugins for WordPress. The first three are free downloads, with upgrade/Pro options, and the remainder are premium plugins. All prices quoted are for a single-site license unless otherwise specified. (You can also find standalone WordPress courseware themes, but if you’re reading this we’re assuming you already have a website, and content, to attract readers.)
LMS stands for “learning management system.”
LearnPress is available from the WordPress repository, and has a 3.5 (out of 5) star rating, with 8,000 active installs. They provide extensive documentation, including step-by-step instructions.
Add-ons provide more functionality. For example, if you want to create a community for students to interact, you’ll need to install BuddyPress or bbPress. These integrations are free. If you want to create certificates, add multiple teachers, accept payments through Stripe, drip content, or use the WooCommerce payment gateway, you’ll need to pay a fee.
If you’re just getting started with LMS courseware, LearnPress is a good entry point, but you may outgrow it quickly.
Download LifterLMS from the WordPress repository, where it enjoys a 4.8 star rating with 1,000 active installs. There’s a video training tutorial to help get you started, and documentation.
Unlike most other LMS plugins, this one includes membership features, so you don’t need to set up a separate membership plugin. It also includes:
- Drip content
- Student Analytics
- Engagement features, including automated email, badges, and certificates.
It includes built-in support for BuddyPress and WooCommerce, and works with PayPal.
While the basic version is free, there’s also a Pro version for $99/year. This includes faster support and a gamification package. They’re adding new Pro features, so they advise locking in the Pro version at the current price.
It’s available from the WordPress repository, with a 4.5 star rating and 1,000 active installs, or directly from the developer.
Use Namaste! LMS for multiple courses.
Use the plugin to create your course, but you’ll need add-ons for other common courseware features. Namaste! Connect ($27/year) and Namaste! Reports ($27/year) create a platform for discussion and offer reporting features, respectively. To create and manage quizzes, use Watu (free) or Watu Pro ($47, $87 or $137 depending on the bundle you choose) plugins. These amounts include the plugin plus support and upgrades for a year. After that, renew support and upgrades at a 60% discount.
You’ll also need the free Konnichiwa! plugin to handle the membership functions.
You can go Pro, for $47/year, or $87 for the Pro features plus Namaste! Connect and Namaste! Reports.
While Namaste! LMS is well rated, the number of add-ons required to make it fully functional makes it not my first choice.
This is a premium plugin, available at http://www.learndash.com/.
LearnDash includes an impressive list of built-in features, including:
- Multi-tier courses
- Drip feed
- Sell for one-time fee or as a subscription with recurring charges
- Gamification (certificates, points)
- “Advanced” Quizzes with multiple options
- Dynamic forums
- Group management
- Email notifications
- Use any media, not just the media natively supported by WordPress
- Membership plugin not required, although it can be integrated (if you already have a membership site, for example)
If that’s not enough, there are many add-ons to integrate the plugin with various e-commerce, forum, and email services, and enable group registrations.
A single-site license is normally $159/year, on sale through July 12th for $129.
Woo Sensei comes from the company that makes Woo Themes and the WooCommerce e-commerce plugin. As you’d expect, it’s tightly integrated with WooCommerce, providing excellent tools for accepting payments. A single-site subscription is $129 annually.
Documentation is extensive, and they provide support through the Woo ticketing system.
Sensei doesn’t require you to use a membership plugin, instead using WordPress’ built-in user registration.
Creating course content is easy, and basic Sensei offers:
- Variety of quiz/test types
- Automatic or manual grading
Other functions require extensions. These include:
- Content Drip ($29)
- Certificates (free)
- Media Attachments (free)
- Course Modules (free) — this shows a sidebar display so students can see their progress
- Course Participants (free) shows people already enrolled in the course, providing social proof to new enrollees
- Share Your Grade (free) lets users share their grades on social media. It automatically links back to your course, broadening your reach
- Badge OS ($19) — awards badges when students reach milestones
- BuddyPress for Sensei (free) — integrates Buddy Press to provide a forum for students
As you would expect from Woo, the plugin is well coded. As one reviewer pointed out, the Woo team are WordPress first, plugins second and learning management third. Other plugins are created by people who are “learning management first,” and it makes a difference in the end product.
First, a disclaimer — WP Courseware runs the courses on our SBI! for WordPress site, so we obviously found they met our needs the best. Just remember, your needs may be different.
WP Courseware is popular, currently installed on almost 10,000 sites, according to the vendor.
WP Courseware includes “unlimited everything.” They don’t throttle the number of courses you create, or the number of students, or anything else — but your license is limited to the number of sites you pay for. A two-site license (they don’t offer single-site) is $99 annually. (A 10-site license is only $125!)
Many features are included in WP Courseware, features for which other LMS plugins require add-ons. Out of the box, it includes:
- Progress widget
- Course outline
- Quizzes (multiple types)
- Email notifications
- Drip feed
- Integration with a variety of e-commerce and membership plugins
WP Courseware is simple to set up, but robust enough to be used by colleges and universities.
Whatever your needs, you’ll be able to find a courseware plugin that handles them.
Make sure your course ideas are targeting the right audience! Use the brainstorming tools within SBI! for WP to research.