Online learning will be a $272 billion industry by 2022 and it’s open to anyone with knowledge to share and the tools to share it.
Turning your WordPress site into an online learning platform requires some work, but it’s simpler and more straightforward than you might expect.
Here are some of the best WordPress learning management system (LMS) plugins and related themes for setting up your online courses, selling them, and helping your students get the most from their learning experience.
Before You Get Started
Before you become an full-fledged infopreneur, you need a topic you know enough about to confidently write a course plan and lead tutorial sessions.
You don’t need a brand-new topic—people seek out courses on familiar subjects every day—but it does need to be focused enough that your curriculum planning doesn’t sprawl out of control or overwhelm your students.
Online course creator Pat Flynn recommends that you “sell outcomes, not courses” so prospective students know what to expect. “Six Weeks to Knitting Scarves” is a lot more descriptive and goal-oriented than “Basics of Knit and Purl Stitches for Beginners,” even though both courses could include the same lessons.
Next, you need a website with a learning management system (LMS) to store, organize, share, and secure your course content and to let your students (and you) track their progress. You’ll also need a way to take tuition payments from your students, and your LMS will provide that.
Best LMS Plugins for WordPress
If you have a WordPress site, there are several LMS plugins you can choose from. Three of the most popular are Sensei, LearnDash, and LifterLMS. Let’s look at each of them.
Sensei installs a Lessons page type in your WordPress dashboard so you can create lessons as if you were creating any other page. You can fill question banks for random-question quizzes in your course, and Sensei gives you the choice of grading your quizzes yourself or letting the LMS handle it.
Pricing: A one-year Sensei subscription costs $129 for a single site, $179 for up to five sites, and $279 for up to $25 sites.
WooCommerce extensions for Sensei give you extra capabilities like controlling the pace at which your students go through lessons, adding audio and PDF handouts, showing students their progress through your course, and generating certificates for students who complete your course.
Pricing: Most of WooCommerce’s Sensei extensions are free. Sensei Content Drip, to control pacing, starts at $29 for a single site.
Sensei says it’s compatible with “most well-coded WordPress themes,” so if you have a WordPress theme you like, you can probably use it for your courses. If not, or if you’re ready for a different look, WooCommerce offers 15 themes that have integrated Sensei support.
Pricing: WooCommerce’s Storefront, Boutique, and Deli themes are free. Others cost $39 each.
LearnDash is a popular choice for university distance learning courses and corporate and government training courses, but its pricing puts it within reach of new course developers, too. Its features include question banks and custom quiz messages, drip-feed content scheduling to set the pace of the course, minimum lesson time settings, and instructor tools to track student progress, award points, and manage student access.
LearnDash also offers an array of ways to make money from your courses, from one-off course purchases and monthly subscriptions to all-access individual memberships and course bundles. LearnDash also enables you to sell group-access licenses to large groups like schools and corporations.
Pricing: A one-year LearnDash license costs $199 for a single site, $229 for up to 10 sites, and $369 for up to 25 sites.
There are several free extensions for LearnDash, including payment integration add-ons, Content Cloner to copy and save your entire course as a new draft for updating and editing, and GamiPress and BadgeOS for gamification. Paid extensions can integrate your LearnDash courses with MailChimp and Slack, and allow multiple instructors to teach your courses.
Pricing: Many extensions published by LearnDash are free, including integrations for WooCommerce and Stripe. Premium extension pricing varies by publisher, title, and the type of site license.
Like Sensei, LearnDash works with most existing WordPress themes. LearnDash recommends Astra because it loads quickly. Astra is one of the most popular themes for mobile-friendly functionality, which is important now that so many of us use our phones for everything, including distance learning.
Pricing: Astra’s basic version is free; the Pro version ranges from $59 to $249 per year.
LifterLMS is designed to be easy to use, with features like drag-and-drop course creation, instructional design guidance, course import/export and migration tools, and tools for collecting and displaying student reviews of your courses.
You can also create multimedia lessons, provide your students with downloadable lesson media, create student forums, and set up course tracks toward degrees or certifications. LifterLMS gives you lots of ways to monetize your courses: one-time payments, payment plans, subscriptions, private coaching, and more.
Pricing: LifterLMS has a different pricing structure than Sensei and LearnDash. The plug-in is free to download, which you can use to do market research on your course topics, draft free courses, and take tuition payments. When you’re ready to upgrade, you can buy extensions a la carte or in bundles.
LifterLMS add-ons can integrate your courses with Stripe, PayPal, WooCommerce, and Authorize.net so you can accept tuition and membership payments. You can also integrate affiliate referral tracking extensions, MailChimp and other email marketing tools, and several forms options.
Pricing: LifterLMS extensions start at $99 each per year for single-site use, which can add up quickly if you want to integrate a payment service, email marketing service, and design and course management add-ons. LifterLMS also offers a Universe Bundle of 10 extensions at $299 per year and an Infinity Bundle for $99 per month.
OceanWP and Astra both work well with LifterLMS and are popular choices that many WordPress users are already familiar with. LaunchPad is the most popular LifterLMS theme. It allows you to customize the appearance and gives you access to hundreds of typography options through Google Fonts.
Pricing: Astra’s basic version is free. Other themes start at $39.
Build Your Online Course with These LMS Plugins
Once you choose your LMS, payment extensions, and themes, you’re ready to start building your courses and your audience. Use these marketing tips to reach potential students. And make sure you have the right hosting plan for your WordPress site.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.