Web design tips

An introduction to creating an online course platform with WordPress

| By Matt Jelfs

WordPress is a fantastic solution for creating online courses. I’ve used it to build many such platforms, including one that offers over 40 courses to more than 5000 enrolled students. In this article I’ll provide an overview of my recommended tools for a job such as this, and discuss the pros and cons of using WordPress, versus using an all-in-one solution such as Kajabi.

Why use WordPress instead of an all-in-one online course solution?

Put simply, WordPress offers more flexibility, allows you to create more a beautiful product and allows you to keep more more of the money you make from selling courses. Three good reasons if you ask me.

The trade is that all-in-one platforms will save you a lot of hassle if you are setting the site up yourself. You won’t need to decide from a sea of options what tools to use. You’ll be more limited in your options and choices and so it will be easier to proceed.

WordPress is therefore more suitable either if you’re experienced in WordPress, or if you’d like to hire an expert to build in WordPress to take advantage of its plus-points.

If you’re not experienced in WordPress and don’t have a lot of time to learn it, or don’t want to hire someone to set it up for you, you’re probably better off going with an all-in-one option.

The best WordPress setup for a simple online course platform

If you would like to build a simple online course platform that will allow people to purchase and access a course on your website, you will need a lightweight WordPress theme and a Learning Management System (LMS) plugin.

My go-to theme is GeneratePress. It’s extremely lightweight, meaning it makes it very easy to create a fast website that scores well on all the speed tests. It is also infinitely customisable through its ‘Elements’ functionality.

For a simple online course platform with no social features, I recommend using LifterLMS for the LMS plugin. The basic LifterLMS plugin is actually free, but if you wish to use it to take payments as well, you will need to pay around $140/year for the payment gateway add-on.

LifterLMS also provide a host of other add-ons if you wish to have more advanced features, but if that is your intention then I recommend a slightly different setup.

The best WordPress setup for an online course platform with social learning and interaction

If you would like to create a more fully featured learning platform that includes the ability for student to communicate between themselves and tutors, share images and enjoy more of a social media experience, I recommend using the BuddyBoss WordPress theme in combination with the LearnDash LMS plugin.

BuddyBoss makes it relatively easy to achieve some really nice social learning features, and it is tightly integrated with LearnDash, which is why I favour it over LifterLMS in this scenario.

BuddyBoss and LearnDash together enable a Facebook-style newsfeed, general forums or forums attached to specific courses, student-student and student-tutor messaging, customisable personal profile pages and more.

Why you might consider using a subdomain for your online course

In this case, a subdomain is basically a WordPress installation that is separate but attached to your main website. For example, if this website had an online course platform on a subdomain, the address might appear as courses.utamastudio.com.

I usually recommend using a subdomain to build your online course platform on. This is primarily because it’s harder to achieve really fast load speed times while using some of the essential plugins discussed here, and it’s nice to keep the main domain as lightweight as possible, as usually this will be where your course sales page will be, and it’s nice for that to load really fast.

If your main website has a lot of pages or content it’s also just nice to keep it all separate like this so it’s easy to manage.

The exception to this is if you will have a very simple setup – perhaps a single sales page for the course and a simple online course with no social learning features. In this case we can getaway with having everything on the one main domain with our lightweight theme and LifterLMS.

To conclude

WordPress is a great platform for online courses, and in my experience these are the best combinations of tools to use. It’s worth noting that all course platforms, including WordPress and non-WordPress solutions have their pros and cons. If there is a particularly feature you must have, it’s wise to thoroughly research which tools and platforms can support it.

You might find that occasionally you have to make the odd compromise, or that one platform you hoped to use just doesn’t do one important thing very well. Take your time when deciding, and talk to experienced course creators if you can.

Finally, feel free to let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to cover in future updates to this article!

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