Online courses have been around since the early 2000’s, but they boomed in 2020 when the COVID pandemic forced many organizations to rethink live trainings. In the WordPress ecosystem, there are a number of learning management system plugins that help you set up your online courses.
There is not a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to a learning management system (LMS). Let’s examine what you need to set one up and explore finding the one that is right for your situation.
Hosting Considerations for a Learning Management System
It’s an old adage that you get what you pay for. This is especially true when it comes to setting up the right environment for your LMS. Your basic entry level hosting plan is not going to serve you well.
You want to find a plan that understands the unique needs of a learning management system. One of the primary concerns is that much of your content cannot be cached.
A large segment of the LMS market charges for their online courses. Your membership and ecommerce system should not be subject to heavy caching.
As users progress through courses, you want to be sure they are seeing your latest module updates. You also want the paid member experience of a course landing page to be different from a nonmember experience.
Your users, who may have signed up for various levels, need the access to what they paid for on their specific membership level. Aggressive caching can lead to poor customer experience and unintended results.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a handful of hosts that understand LMS needs:
These options all offer staging sites, which let you test out new features before you implement them. This is particularly helpful, as online course creators want to expand their offerings and experiment to see what those new feature might look like.
Page Builders and WordPress LMS Courses
Many folks, especially if design and development are not in their wheelhouse, love to use page builders. Page builders are a successful way for folks on a budget to build a website quickly and efficiently in the WordPress ecosystem.
However, page builders may not be your best option when creating online courses. They add another level of weight to your website, which can slow down your user experience.
Additionally, page builders also have some innate caching which is problematic. If you scale up from 100 course subscribers to 1,000 or more course subscribers who are simultaneously using your website, these challenges are compounded. Users may not be seeing the content that you want them to see quickly and correctly which leads to unhappy customers.
If you do go the page builder route, make sure that the one you choose has an official relationship with your LMS of choice. It’s important that the two entities have a working relationship with the goal of a seamless, bug free, and lighter-weight integration.
Finding the Right LMS for You
There are lots of different options when it comes to learning management system plugins. Some have been around for years. Others are relatively new on the scene. Here are just a few of the top contenders on the scene.
LifterLMS has great entry points for those wanting to test out an LMS for the first time. To begin, the, Lifter plugin is free. Many of the other plugins in the space come with at least a nominal yearly fee.
Of course, the free Lifter version is a bit of a no frills option. You’d have to buy a package in order to integrate ecommerce, newsletters, and other features. Nonetheless, this free version gives a potential customer a great opportunity to experiment with the installation on a development environment without incurring cost.
In addition to the free version of the plugin, Lifter has a demo site. For a dollar, you can try out all the features that you can potentially have on LifterLMS to decide if their products and its addons are for you.
Many other learning management system demo sites only showcase limited features, Lifter literally gives you the kitchen sink. You have 30 days to experiment on this demo site to make decisions. If you need more time, a dollar isn’t a heavy lift.
Addons and Bundles
Once you have some idea as to what features you need, Lifter offers one-off purchases for addons or bundle packages where you can save money to meet those needs. They have official integrations for ecommerce platforms, several form plugins, newsletter options, and more. And if you are shopping for a theme, they offer LMS-friendly themes too.
One of the most noticeable features of LifterLMS is their customer service. They have an extensive knowledge base, support forums, a Facebook group, a regular webinar series, blog, and other options to give their customers the helping hand they may need. For anyone new to managing a learning management service, this type of service is valuable.
Additionally, their enterprise level package comes with a feature called “Weekly Live Office Hours Mastermind” where customers have one-on-one live access to the Lifter team to talk about best practice and to talk about specific needs.
LearnDash was recently acquired by by StellarWP and the Liquid Web Family of Brands. StellarWP also owns iThemes, Restrict Content Pro, The Events Calendar, Kadence WP, GiveWP, and IconicWP, which is a huge advantage if those are products you are using.
As StellarWP puts it, “This opens the door for exciting new integrations and collaborations across teams and products.” Also under the Liquid Web brand is Nexcess hosting, one of our recommended hosts for an LMS. There is a strong commitment to make what was already a solid brand even better.
Some recent improvements at LearnDash include Stripe integration outside of WooCommerce, an improved WooCommerce integration, AI course generators, and a cadre of Gutenberg blocks to make course creation easier than before. They also have a free demo site where you can try out three different installations of LearnDash to experiment with the software before you buy.
LearnDash has a wealth of official extensions that cover ecommerce platforms, several form plugins, and membership group and forum options. They also have a wide variety of third-party services that can tackle everything from gamification to SCORM compliance.
For customer service, they have an extensive knowledge base, support forums, a Facebook group, online events, blog, and more to give their customers the helping hand they may need.
Tutor LMS is owned by Themeum. They are probably most well known for their WordPress themes, but they are also responsible for the WP Crowdfunding plugin, the WP Mega Menu plugin, and more recently for their Quebly Gutenberg blocks. The Tutor LMS plugin is free to download, so you have the advantage of experimenting with it before committing to buy any of their addon products.
This particular LMS plugin doesn’t have quite as many addons or integrations with third-party services as other LMS solutions. However, they do have a couple of unique offerings that give you additional features, such as courses in more than one language with WPML Multilingual CMS, Google classroom integration, and an events calendar option.
Tutor LMS also realizes that sometimes folks might want to switch products. To that end, they have built a migration tool that converts LearnDash and LearnPress courses to Tutor courses. One thing to remember here is that the tool is only migrating the courses, not historical learner data like course progress, so that is a consideration.
Sensei LMS doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that many of the other plugins in the LMS space have. So if you are looking for a more streamlined approach, Sensei might be for you. For example, there isn’t a strong level of gamification, and there aren’t a wide variety of official extensions that work directly with third party plugins like payment processors and forms.
WooCommerce Extensions Required
If you are not going to charge for your courses, the plugin is free. If you are planning to charge for your courses, you have to connect it with a variety of WooCommerce extensions to receive payment and manage membership.
On the other hand, one of the advantages of Sensei is that it was created by Automattic. If you are using Automattic products, like WooCommerce and Jetpack, it integrates seamlessly with them.
A notable feature of Sensei is that, unlike other players in the LMS field, it has embraced the Full Site Editing (FSE) experience. At the moment, FSE is being utilized to create a focus mode, which other LMS solutions have, but not within the FSE experience.
FSE is still in its infancy, but as capabilities develop, there should be a seamless rollout with additional enhancements to Sensei.
Membership System vs LMS
Perhaps courses aren’t the main crux of what you you offer. Maybe you want more of a membership experience with discussion forums, exclusive blog content, and only the occasional course. You might not want to bloat your website with an LMS plugin that isn’t being heavily utilized.
The good news is that there are a variety of WordPress membership plugins that offer some basic course options within their packages.
MemberPress has a course builder extension. Courses can be protected or public and require no additional coding. Everything utilizes drag and drop functionality.
Paid Memberships Pro
Paid Memberships Pro has a free LMS addon where customers can create courses. Course and lessons can be public or require membership.
Contact the LMS Experts
As you can see, reputable, dependable, and impressively developed options are readily available for your needs. Hopefully, this article informs you in such a way that you can spot the best learning management system to fulfill your goals.
If you find yourself still in need of some professional guidance, contact WebDevStudios. We love building LMS websites for all types of industries.