Creating an online course with WordPress

Let's assume you've done everything right – you've been blogging a decent amount, you've been collecting emails, you've been giving and giving and giving.

People love your newsletter and pretty much are just waiting for you to announce a book, a product, a “something” that they can buy.

And you've heard that creating an online course with WordPress doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. You've also heard it's easier than some other solutions.

Let's look at your options

What I'm going to do here is walk you thru several options you have available to you when creating an online course with WordPress. None is superior to another simply because what you may want or need will differ from someone else. So I've tried to highlight the best pros and cons of each, so you can make your own decision.

In no specific order, here are six options you have.

1. Zippy Courses

I wrote about Zippy Courses when it first came out.  While it may have sounded like I was critical, the truth is that I like it. My only issue was what I wrote before – it really needs its own site (either a new site or a sub-domain, like courses.chrislema.com).

That is still true. But Derek has kept moving on Zippy Courses so late last year they added quiz support. It's only multiple choice for now, but for a lot of folks that's all they need. I like it so much I'm creating a course with it! More on that later.

So let's dig into the pros and cons.

Pros

  • It is a stand alone solution that requires no other plugins
  • It now comes with his own social triggers theme (a bonus if you're not a designer)
  • The interface is the best one I've seen to date. Clean and easy
  • It supports dripping content out
  • You can run more than one course per site
  • Works with Stripe & Infusionsoft for payments

Cons

  • It needs its own site. Can't really be part of a larger site
  • No support for quiz banks (or random selection of quiz questions) yet
  • No certificates or coupon support yet

If you like easy, it's there for you. And if you're selling a course on it's own site, you really ought to try it.

2. LifterLMS

I haven't written about LifterLMS before, but have often been asked to by folks who've read other eLearning articles I've written.

It's a solid plugin for WordPress, no question. It comes with some nice treats like WooCommerce integration and BuddyPress support, but I'll be honest, I didn't want to spin up a full BuddyPress site to test the integration. So I'm going on faith that it's cool. What I did test was the course creation, quiz creation, and even coupon creation.

It works well as a stand-alone solution taking over a site, but also can be put on a site with other stuff on it. But it takes care of it's own payments and while it integrates with Infusionsoft, it doesn't yet support Stripe.

Pros

  • It doesn't require it's own site – it can be installed on the same site as your blog
  • It comes with support for coupons
  • Supports course scheduling & prerequisites
  • Supports certificates
  • Integrates with WooCommerce and BuddyPress
  • Has an extension for InfusionSoft
  • It supports stripe!

Cons

  • It doesn't support Stripe. Instead it uses Paypal
  • Weird metabox placement/order issue (almost missed drip feature)
  • Question banks look supported but not randomization

3. LearnDash

If you want to get serious about creating an online course with WordPress, LearnDash is one of the ones you'd look at.

It's powerful and filled with features. Like, seriously. A Ton. Of. Features. I've also told you before that the LearnDash folks are serious about learning management systems, not just your ordinary “let's sell an online course” guys.

You see that in all their features, which I've highlighted some of in the Pro section.

Pros

  • Has it all – including quizzes and certificates
  • Lessons can be dripped and/or scheduled
  • Mandatory timers before lessons can be marked complete
  • Fully capable of integrating with iThemes Exchange, WooCommerce, or EDD for payments
  • Supports assigned homework and a way for instructors to review uploaded assignments
  • Integration with Memberium for support / integration with InfusionSoft

Cons

  • It can take some time to figure out how to leverage all the features
  • Customizing features (for developers) isn't as easy as with WP Courseware
  • All the cool reporting/tracking appears in the Pro Panel, not the baseline plugin

If you've got time to learn, and you don't want to tweak how it works, and you need all the features, you shouldn't skip past LearnDash.

4. CopyBlogger's New Rainmaker Platform

Wait – did you hear? As if Rainmaker wasn't already awesome enough, they've recently added automated marketing and online learning to their platform. Now, to be honest, these are first edition versions of these features. They're not going to compete with LearnDash, for example. At least not yet.

But seriously, if you've read my articles about Rainmaker you know that for the right kind of audience (“I don't really want to spend my days becoming a software person, I just want to do my business”) it's a pretty nice platform.

I already showed you how you could create a membership site, and I used a mini-course for an example. Well now they have support for courses and lessons!

Pros

  • If you're already on Rainmaker, you don't need to go anywhere else, or integration with anything else
  • It let's you treat customers wholistically – as podcast listeners who may be members and now students
  • It's included in your plan, so you don't need to buy a plugin
  • You get those beautiful landing pages to sell your courses
  • It's still WordPress but you don't have to worry about updates or anything
  • You can drip out content over time!

Cons

  • They're still on v.1 so it's not as feature-rich as other options
  • It's not your code or your hosting, so developers can't go in and tweak things
  • No idea yet of the full roadmap or timing for additional features

I can't say it often enough. If you're not a “let me make my site a DIY project, then you should seriously check out Rainmaker. The LMS part is just an additional feature to check out!

5. WP Courseware

Not everyone is a developer. I know that. I get that.

But a lot of people pick WordPress because either they, or their developer, is comfortable enough to step into things and want to tweak and adjust things.

A lot of people also pick WordPress because they hope, and have heard, that it's easy to use.

Both promises – the ease of use (and the speed that comes with it), and the ability for WordPress developers to jump in and tweak things – make WP Courseware a plugin to look into.

Pros

  • It is still the cheapest solution ($99 for a single site, at the time of publishing)
  • It supports certificates
  • Quiz banks with randomly selected questions for quiz creation
  • Timers for quizzes.
  • Plays really well with other plugins on your site
  • Integration with membership and eCommerce plugins

Cons

  • To drip lessons, you need a membership plugin that does it for you (like Exchange)
  • Assignment uploads isn't as robust as LearnDash
  • Timers are on quizzes but not on lessons

Pretty cool, right? So go check out WP Courseware!

6. WooThemes Sensei

It used to be that the only reason you'd use Sensei was if you already had WooCommerce installed, because it wasn't very feature-rich. But that was a long time ago.

So even though many of the solutions above now integrate with an eCommerce platform (like LearnDash, WP Courseware, LifterLMS, etc), Sensei no longer has to rest on its integration.

Instead, it can showcase a serious set of nice features that are all pretty easy to use – the most recent being the ability to drip course content.

Pros

  • It integrates seamlessly with WooCommerce. I mean, really really easy!
  • Quiz bank with support for random questions
  • Drip features on content – with support for email notifications
  • Course analytics included (unlike others)
  • Gamification supported, including integration with BadgeOS
  • Certificate design is pretty cool!

Cons

  • You can use it on any theme, but theming it can take some work
  • No timers for lessons or quiz questions
  • Again, file upload for assignments isn't as nice as LearnDash

Sound perfect to you? Then go buy Sensei.

Ready to do it?

By now you realize that you have a lot of choices when it comes to creating an online course. Six at the very least. If you're working with WordPress. There are even more solutions out there.

But these six are pretty nice. And none of them is crazy expensive. And most are relatively easy to use.

So you're likely wondering which one I've bought, used and recommended.

Well, here's my take – I own them all. Bought each one. And each one works in the right circumstance.

So the real question is which list of Pros made you the most excited. And which list of Cons hurt you the most?

That's how you'll likely end up making the call. Good luck and be sure to circle back and let me know what you tried and what you thought.

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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.