WordPress is not just a platform to publish blogs, or small business websites. It is powerful enough to be used by newspaper websites, magazine sites, universities and colleges. WordPress can also be used as a Learning Management System to sell online courses and offer online classes.
Advantages of Using WordPress as a Learning Management System
- It is way easier to use than full fledged Learning Management Systems, which are fairly complex and often contain a lot of features that you would probably never use.
- It is easier to integrate ecommerce plugins into a WordPress powered website than any other Learning Management System. This will make it easier for you to sell courses, online classes, and offer digital content with subscription.
- The community behind WordPress is bigger than any LMS or CMS in the world. This means there are more solutions available to you, more support, and even support in your native language. Whether you are looking for a developer to hire, or free tutorials for beginners, you will find it easily for WordPress.
What could be some disadvantages of using WordPress as an LMS?
- Using WordPress you might come across a point where you will desire something more focused on teaching.
- Moving from WordPress to another LMS could be difficult. Exporting content from WordPress is easy, but importing it into another LMS may not be as easier.
- I will leave this point for the readers, because honestly, I can’t find any more disadvantages of using WordPress in any case scenario, what can I say, I am a WordPress fan-boy.
Creating a Website Structure
To create an online learning website, your website would probably need two sections. One that is publicly visible where visitors can learn about the website, courses offered, fees, and other useful information without registering. The other section of your website is where you publish your course material, this is the portion you want to restrict to only registered users.
In this example we are creating a dummy website. We have created a website structure which is publicly visible by creating the following pages:
|- Main Page
|- Beginners Course
|- Level II Course
| – Level III Course
| – Contact
|- Course Material
WordPress allows you to set a static page as your website’s main page. To do that go to Settings > Reading > Front page displays: A static page Select “Main Page” from the dropdown menu, and for Posts Page: Select Course Material and save changes.
Now when a visitor arrives at your website they land on the “Main Page” instead of your posts. The posts you create will appear on the Course Material page. Using access control plugins you can choose to display this in your menu but when a user visits the page they are asked to sign in or sign up. You can also choose to hide this from non-subscribers.
Now that we have created a structure for our website’s publicly visible section, it is time to learn how to create and manage access to your course material. Firstly you need to enable user registration on your website. Go to Settings > General > Check the box next to “Anyone Can Register” and save changes. Now anyone can register on your website and when they do that they are assigned a role by WordPress user management system, the default role is Subscriber.
There are many WordPress plugins which you can use to restrict access to different parts of your website. We have covered some of them in an earlier blog post “Create a Membership site with WordPress” We will review a few of them, each plugin has a slightly different feature set, you need to pick one that fits the best for your scenario.
WordPress Access Control
WordPress Access Control is a simple plugin that allows you to control who sees what on your WordPress powered website. However, this plugin does not come with payment systems integrated into it. This plugin is great if you just want your site visitors to register for your training, course or classes without paying. This plugin is also not helpful if you want different access levels to different users on your website.
- Restrict access to content on a post-by-post basis, or set a default access level for all your posts.
- You can also make your pages publicly accessible.
- Create a Menu for Signed in Members.
- Show a different menu to non-members on your website. You can add a custom link to wp-login.php from Menu Editor.
Restrict Content Pro
Restrict content pro is a premium plugin which is not only capable of restricting access to content for subscribers only, it can also handle paypal payments, and control access on a user level. This means users subscribed for Course 1 will only have access to Course 1. Some features of Restrict Content Pro are:
- Restrict Content Pro provides you a user management system with custom user levels.
- Subscription Package Managemet System allows you to create different subscription packages for your courses or any web content. For example you can have an SEO for Beginners course and another course SEO Level II. You can specify the price of the subscription package and track the users subscribed to that package.
- Restrict Content Pro also has paypal integrated, so you can easily track payments.
- You can offer Discounts, Track users, Export Data and integrate Mailchimp Addon.
- You can use it even if you are distributing your courses for free, and just want registeration and restriction features.
Managing your WordPress Powered Learning Management System
We have so far looked at how you can create your website’s structure. Now that you have built the platform, the next step is to run it. We will have a look at how you can add courses, add downloads, handle digital media on your website.
In our example scenario, we are adding course material to our dummy website in posts format. To restrict access, we assign each post the category it belongs. For example, “Beginner’s Course Lesson 1” is categorized as Beginners. This helps users navigate easily and also helps you manage access control.
By default WordPress handles images and YouTube videos beautifully. So if you are going to embed images and youtube videos then it would work out of the box. But what if you want to add a PowerPoint Slideshow? Or an Excel Spreadsheet? There are plugins which will help you adding different course material on your website:
Google Document Embedder
I have reviewed this plugin earlier in my “WordPress Productivity Plugins for Business Websites” post. I think most plugins mentioned in that post are also very useful for an online learning website. Google Document Embedder allows you to embed MS-Office, PDF, Open Office and many other filetypes right into your blog post. This makes it very easy for you to embed content right into your courses.
WP-Filebase is a file management plugin which allows you to attach files for download along with your posts. You can also create a separate download section for your website where users can browse files and download them directly. This plugin can be used to distribute additional course materials to your subscribers/ students.
- Provides an interface to create a download library of your own.
- Categorize your downloadable content.
- Add title, description, and tags to your downloads.
- Built-in download counter to display how many times a file is downloaded.
- User role restriction, prevents hotlinking, traffic limit and bandwidth throttling add extra security layer to your downloads.
Making your Online Courses Interactive
A great part of learning is the interaction between the learners and the teacher. Initially when the concept of distance learning was evolving this was the major concern for educators. Online learning has solved this problem too and students and the teachers can interact with each other. In fact online learning goes one step ahead and allows students to interact with teacher, other students, and even the course material itself. This has helped many educators create highly innovative and very interactive courses. Using WordPress gives you the freedom to create innovative and interactive courses by adding quizzes, tests, surveys and forms to your courses.
Gravity Forms is a premium WordPress plugin to create forms. This plugin is definitely the easiest way to create highly interactive forms for your online classroom. You can just drag and drop and create your forms without knowing any HTML or PHP.
- Easy to use and simple form builder.
- Create contact form for the contact page on your website.
- Create quizzes, tests and forms to accompany your online courses.
- Create multi-page forms for your tests.
- Conditional Logic allows you to decide which question to ask next based on the answer of the previous question.
- Add forms anywhere sidebar, pages, inside posts.
WP Survey And Quiz Tool
WP Survey and Quiz tool is a WordPress plugin to create Quizzes, Surveys and Polls. This plugin is feature rich but it is not easy to use. There are too many options to choose from. Creating quizzes in itself is a complicated task for an educator. However, once you have created a few quizzes successfully you will be able to enjoy this plugin more frequently and easily.
- Supports Quiz, Surveys and Polls.
- Easy to use with detailed options to choose every aspect of your quizzes.
- Option to choose between Multiple Choice Questions or Text Input for your quizzes, this way you can create quizzes where users can actually write down their answers, useful to create tests and exams.
- This plugin is feature rich and the complete deal. However, it is not easy to use.
Quizzes are a fun way to enhance learning experience. mTouch Quiz is a nice plugin that allows you to create interactive quizzes for your website. I have chosen this plugin specifically because it is feature rich and adds quizzes with nifty ajax and jquery magic.
- One main feature of this plugin is that it is mobile and touch device friendly.
- It is designed to help teachers so there are features such as hints and explanation which enhance the learning process.
- Quizzes can be embedded into any post or page.
- The user does not leave the page to answer quiz.
- Offers premium addons to add additional features such as Gravity Forms add on, Time Restrict quizzes, and Contact Form 7 addon.
Adding More Interactivity to Online Courses
BuddyPress is a social networking platform built on WordPress. You can add it to your WordPress powered website as a plugin and allow your students to interact with eachother, form communities, manage groups and do other activities.
You can add a Newsletter or Mailing List to your Online Courses. This newsletter or mailing list feature can be used to stay in touch, offer new courses, make announcements.
WordPress with its plugins and themes is a great choice to be used as a learning management system. You can teach and math, science and even music on WordPress. In fact a lot of educators around the world are already doing that.