Are you interested in building a Learning Management System (LMS) with WordPress that will allow you to sell training courses online?
Over the last 5 years I’ve trained hundreds of people on auto-pilot with my own WordPress-powered teaching system.
This article outlines how you can build your own LMS with WordPress using my exact system – that will allow you to accept automated registrations and manage an unlimited number of students/clients at the same time.
Most e-learning platforms provide a way of restricting access to enrolled students. To replicate this with WordPress, you need a membership plugin that allows users to register, pay (optionally) and grant/restrict access to the relevant courses and support areas for the relevant amount of time.
You may also want to drip content so that new users can’t download everything right away and then demand a refund.
Choosing a membership plugin for WordPress is not easy. There’s lots of them and it’s very difficult to find good reviews from unbiased authors.
To make a long story short, the best WordPress membership plugin is MemberPress (check out a more detailed comparison of the leading Membership options here)
- MemberPress accepts payments from my two favorite payment providers (Stripe and PayPal)
- it allows users to easily cancel their own subscriptions directly from your website
- it integrates beautifully with a powerful affiliate marketing platform (more on this in a second)
- It allows you to easily create rules so you can block access to all sorts of files as well as your sites pages
- it integrates with a bunch of the critical plugins and systems that I’ll talk about next.
- It even creates your sales pages for your automatically (although I prefer to disconnect my sales page from the process so I can sell courses in advance and then allow all new users to start at the same time).
Price: MemberPress ($99/yr)
Learning management (LMS) Plugins
The next thing you’ll need is a system for directing and tracking the users progress through lessons – as well as forcing them to pass quizzes etc.
There are 4 leading WordPress plugins that provide this type of functionality:
- WP Courseware ($99)
- Sensei by Woo Themes ($129)
- LeanDash ($99)
- TrainUp! (£45)
After careful consideration and lots of testing I choose WP Courseware.
- drag and drop lessons
- easy to use
- drip-fed lessons
- integration with MemberPress
I don’t use quizzes or assignment submissions so I went with WPCourseware because it’s simple and there’s no development or coding required. It just works.
If you need Scorm or Tin Can support then LearnDash might be the better option.
With WP Courseware, users can see which lessons they have completed (green check marks) and can be prevented from accessing a lesson until the previous lesson is marked as complete.
Next you’re going to need a way of allowing users to ask questions and providing support in a way that scales.
Email is not always the best solution because you could end up answering the same questions over and over.
You could use an enterprise-level support solution like ZenDesk – which integrates easily with WordPress – but a better solution for virtual classrooms (in my experience) is a discussion forum.
The BBPress plugin is free and can be integrated easily with your existing design in just a few clicks.
Another handy feature of BBPress is that it allows you to embed individual forums into lesson – so students can get help without clicking out of the lesson.
This post by WordPress developer Pippin Williamson contains useful additional plugins that can be added to super-charge your forums and manage them better.
Added features you’ll need to add to bbpress include:
- adding file attachments to questions
- email notifications of new topics/replies
- the addition of a proper text editor so students
An important aspect of any classroom is the social interaction between learners – and between learners and their teacher.
This is also the hardest thing to replicate with distance learning – but that’s not to say it can’t be done.
BuddyPress is a free plugin that allows you to offer social networking to your users – with an interface they’ll be familiar with from Facebook and Twitter.
Users can create groups, make friends, share thoughts publically with other members, comment on other people’s updates, send private messages – and enjoy all the benefits of social interaction they’d get in a real classroom.
With a little modification, BuddyPress can also be configured to display a users progress with all their lesson and forum activity outputted on their stream – allowing tutors to instantly see exactly how each learner is getting on and post comments or begin informal conversations.
After testing on hundreds of students, a few add on features became necessary to make this feature more useful:
- wpcourseware integration, so the users activity stream is updated when they complete a lesson
- an easier way for users to message each other (without having to use the @ symbol)
- a way to turn the users activity stream into your homepage for logged in users
One of the problems with e-learning is that it’s very easy for learners to slack off and forget to carry out lessons when they’re supposed to.
Another one of the big advantages with WordPress is that it integrates easily with all the leading email systems used by professional digital marketers.
That means you can write a bunch of emails in advance and have them sent out automatically to build relationships with your learners and encourage them stay on top of the work schedule.
Paid options for this include MailChimp and Aweber but I prefer MailPoet – which is a free plugin that allows you to create and manage your emails directly from within WordPress.
MailPoet allows you to design beautiful emails from inside WordPress that can be sent out to users automatically at preset times – hours/day/weeks/months after registration.
An Affiliate Program
If you choose to build your new e-learning platform with WordPress – then that also means you’ll have access to all the powerful tools and strategies that are so popular with people who specialize in Internet marketing.
One such tool is the affiliate program – which allows you to pay commissions to anyone online who refers you paying customers.
There are popular third-party affiliate system (like ShareASale) that will allow you to setup a program off-site – but you can also have an affiliate program built right into your own system.
I spent $99 on a plugin called Affiliate Royale which is written by the same guys who make MemberPress. It integrates really nicely so that any new user is setup as an affiliate (and given a special affiliate link) automatically.
Beautiful, Responsive Lessons
Not only does WordPress offer the ease-of-use of its powerful built-in publishing tools – but there are thousands (upon thousands) of beautiful ready-made designs (called themes) that range in price from zero to around $99.
I’ve tested themes from hundreds of theme providers over the years (here’s my top 10 list of theme providers)- and in my opinion the best made themes on the market are made by StudioPress.
Why Sixteen Nine?
- It’s responsive – which means it looks great on any device
- it has built in landing pages – which results in higher converting sales pages (without any needless distractions)
- it has two columns (sidebars) – which is good because it allows you to make a lot of info available to students in a non-cluttered way
- It’s fast, secure and well-coded
- It’s looks simple, elegant and professional
Now, compare that with a page on Moodle (a LMS system popular with schools and colleges). The below image is what lessons look like on Moodle at my college.
Recommended theme for LMS: Sixteen Nine by StudioPress (Price: $99)
Sales and Lead Capturing
If you’re in the business on selling training online – then the most important page on your website is the sales page.
MemberPress allows you to embed your Registration / Sign Up form on any page of your site – and also automatically creates a pricing table if you offer multiple courses/plans.
Because the Sixteen Nine theme by StudioPress comes with landing pages – there are no distractions (such as headers, nav menus, footers etc) so you can funnel visitors towards the checkout.
Now the idea is to drive traffic at your sales page.
In my experience, the best way to drive traffic at your landing page is:
- by posting links and adverts on your main blog
- Google Adwords and Facebook Ads.
One big advantage WordPress has over traditional learning management systems (like Moodle) is it’s easy integration with a wide range of cutting-edge business and digital marketing tools.
Not only will WordPress handle your lesson delivery and membership stuff – but it also doubles as a marketing vehicle – offering you everything you need to rank on search engines, integrate your social media profiles, connect to Google analytics and run all your content marketing activities.
Using the tools listed above you can have an operational e-learning system up and running, at a very low cost.
If you’d like to get my exact system setup for you with just a single click then check out UltimateLMS.
In any case, I hope this will help you save time and money building your next e-learning / membership website with WordPress.
If you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments section below.