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Is WordPress the right choice for your eLearning website?

by | eLearning

At NorthMac Services, we only build websites using the WordPress platform. This leads many potential clients to wonder whether WordPress is really the right platform for them.

For example, there are sites like Teachable or Udemy or Skillshare that will allow you to stand up an online course with relatively little effort, no custom coding or design needed.

And the truth is, one of these options might be right for you!

The pros of these platforms are as follows.

  1. Low barrier to entry. These platforms are easy to get started with. They require very little set up and know how from the get go, and their onboarding and training programs are quite robust.
  2. Low cost. These platforms also have the advantage of low cost. They’re not very expensive to get started. They will cost you time because they are fundamentally self-service type of platforms. But if your wallet is a bit light right now, these platforms can definitely help.
  3. An audience, kind of. Two of the platforms mentioned above, namely, Skillshare and Udemy, are marketplace style sites, where an audience of learners already exists. This means you could potentially get students for your course a bit faster than if you were using a self-service platform.

WordPress does not have eLearning built in. This means when we build eLearning websites for clients, we have to use what are called “plugins.”

If you’re not familiar, WordPress.org is an “open source” platform, which means it is not necessarily “owned” by a company. (There is a parent company called Automatic that oversees development and owns the WordPress.com blogging platform.)

WordPress includes basic functionality that needs to be extended. Over the past two decades, developers have produced thousands of free and paid plugins to extend the functionality of the system. A few of these allow WordPress websites to offer eLearning functionality.

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To date, our team has successfully implemented Learndash and TutorLMS (LMS stands for Learning Management System), and we are currently working on a site that uses an exciting and feature-rich platform called AccessAlly.

The pros of a WordPress eLearning platform are as follows:

  1. Self-hosted. Since WordPress websites are hosting-agnostic (they can be hosted anywhere), you are not limited to whims and wishes of a hosted platform like Teachable. If Teachable didn’t like your content and wanted to shut you down without notice, they could, and you’d lose access to the course platform, your students, etc.
  2. Extremely flexible. The hosted and marketplace platforms mentioned above do not allow for very much flexibility. However, depending on your needs, a WordPress-based LMS that best matches your needs can be selected, and each is highly customizable beyond the “out of the box” settings.
  3. Custom design/branding. Since the LMS lives inside of WordPress, the entire website can be made to fit your personality, brand, etc. The entire experience will be consistent for potential clients, customers, and students, which matters a great deal when building trust and authority online.

In another post, we discussed how to determine whether you should attempt to “DIY” your online course website.

The answer we’re looking for here is a bit different. Whether or not you decide to DIY this project, which is ultimately the right choice for you?

Time

Of course, cost (whether in time or money) is an ever present concern. If you simply can’t afford a custom-built solution (you could be looking at $10,000+ for a development agency to take this on), it would almost certainly be best to consider a hosted or marketplace-style platform.

That said, if you have the time and desire to learn, you could absolutely consider the WordPress route and taking the build on yourself. There are great teachers on YouTube such as a Mak and Darrel who have great tutorials on how to do this.

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Flexibility

If you have needs that go beyond what is offered in the hosted platforms, you will need to consider a WordPress option. For example, let’s say you want to offer team/group access to your courses.

This simply not possible in the self-service platforms. You will need a more flexible solution such as AccessAlly or Learndash (which itself will require additional add-ones) to make that happen.

Cart/Checkout Options

A little-known consideration is how you will actually sell access to your courses. You are quite limited in the way you sell access to courses in self-hosted platforms. If you want more advanced options, WordPress is the right choice because of tools like Woocommerce that add advanced functionality to your site.

That said, it’s worth noting that quite a few of the self-hosted options do not even require a monthly fee and offer a revenue sharing model. So even though you have to deal with less customization in the pricing options, they make it easy for you to get paid.

Summary

When considering whether WordPress is the right choice, many factors will go into the decision. It’s not right for everyone! And while it is certainly possible to tackle a DIY WordPress build, there are many little frustrations you could run into.

Ultimately, my recommendation will be: If you choose a self-hosted platform, I would not pay for help. They are designed to be self-service, inexpensive, and easy to get started. If you decide to go WordPress because you need the flexibility, consider hiring an agency that can work through issues on your behalf and help you avoid pitfalls.

What direction are you leaning toward? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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