Ever imagine what a world it would be if there weren’t eLearning? No online classes, no video lectures, no way to learn from professors halfway across the world… It’s unimaginable. eLearning has seeped into the very fabric of our lives and has become an integral part of our day to day routines.
And this permeance is only going to increase, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic.
If you are an instructor trying to take your classes online or a businessman who plans to sell courses to create a source of passive income in these troubled times, here is a solution to get you started.
How To Build Your Own Online Course Platform:
An online course platform is essentially your own eLearning website, where you create courses, hire teachers/instructors, and sell those courses, dividing the revenue on a percentage basis.
On this platform, there will be a variety of interesting courses on various subjects, a kick-ass user experience that almost replicates learning in real-time for your students, handy tools and knick-knacks for your teachers to manage these courses, and awards and certificates for your students to make your courses more engaging!
Think of it as your own Udemy, and you’ll know what I mean.
Of course, building this kind of an eLearning platform is no mean feat. It requires research, resources, and planning.
Based on our experience of over 7 years in building online course platforms, a conservative estimate to setup a quality website will be an initial investment northwards of $1500, a team of 4, and about a week for actual setup.
Building an online course platform has a threefold approach –
Step 1: Select a solid foundation for your eLearning platform
Step 2: Pick a feature-rich LMS that satisfies your requirements
Step 3: Choose an eCommerce platform that empowers you to sell courses
With these in mind, let us move to the first and most important step – choosing a solid foundation for your online course platform.
Step 1: Choosing a Foundation for Your Online Course Platform
To use a construction analogy, your house is only as strong as your foundation. If the base is weak, you can be sure it’ll come crashing down in an earthquake.
Translation – your online course platform needs a strong foundation to sustain for a long time.
There are a lot of options available today, for setting up an eLearning website.
You have options such as – Adobe Captivate Prime LMS, TalentLMS, Docebo, etc., you have online course platforms like Teachable, Thinkific, Blackboard, Edmodo, etc., and then you have open-source options like Moodle, WordPress, and others.
In addition it has thousands of plugins and themes that provide you with all the tools you need to set up your online course platform.
There are several advantages of using an open-source platform like WordPress, as opposed to a SaaS model that only allows you to host, create, and sell courses. These include –
- User-friendly platform
WordPress is one of the easiest and simplest CMSs to use and has an intuitive Dashboard that makes it extremely straightforward to find your way around the website backend.
- Has tons of plugins and add-ons
It has over 45,000 plugins for functionalities ranging from eCommerce, event management, eLearning, payment gateways, to blogging, SEO, website security and many more. All of these plugins cumulatively help you set up a course platform that is precisely in line with your requirements.
- Strong community support
WordPress has a huge community. It’s honestly gigantic. And it has developers, bloggers, influencers, and enthusiasts from across the world who are keen to help out any newcomer in the industry. Google ‘WordCamps’ and you will know what I mean.
The advantage of such a powerful community is that should you find yourself in a fix, you will always find a person around the virtual corner who knows WordPress and can help you out.
- Availability of WordPress Experts
Building on my previous premise, given the popularity of WordPress, there are a lot of experts who can assist you in setting up your website and building your online course platform. This surefire support is very reassuring as it is like having your very own development team.
- Easy customization and management
WordPress is not just easy to set up, it is also very easy to customize and manage. If you are not much of a coder, I would recommend getting your primary website setup done with the help of professional WordPress experts and then maintaining the website later on your own.
WordPress also has a famous 5-minute installation process, which lives up to its name. Given the popularity of the platform, most hosting companies also have WordPress-ready hosting plans these days, or automatic tools that install WordPress for you.
Having said that, if you are setting up WordPress on your own, I recommend following this WordPress Installation Guide for the process.
Ensure that you execute all the steps mentioned in the same, so that your site is set up properly. If you have no experience with coding, take the help of a software developer who has worked with WordPress before.
Step 2: Pick a Feature-rich LMS
Your LMS plugin is going to be your strongest ally in setting up a strong and powerful online course platform. WordPress has a number of LMS plugins that offer good and great features for eLearning websites.
In this case, we recommend using LearnDash – the most popular and feature-rich LMS plugin for WordPress.
Here are a few reasons why we have chosen LearnDash –
- Great customer support for the plugin
At some or the other point during installation, setup, and further customization, you are going to need help. At such times, it is good to have strong plugin support and a supplementary support community that can help you out. LearnDash has a huge support system internally, as well as in the WordPress eLearning community, which makes it a great choice for an LMS.
- Powerful features that make Course management easy
LearnDash offers a host of features out-of-the-box. Its drag and drop course builder, advanced quizzing modules, and drip-feed support for lessons make it extremely easy to create course content and control its distribution.
- Advanced Student engagement options
LearnDash has several options to keep students hooked on to your courses, such as a Focus mode to enable distraction-free learning, live lecture support to recreate the authentic classroom experience, and many others.
- Gamification support
Gamification enables you to award Badges and Certificates to students when they complete a Lesson or Course. In addition, you can also reward them with points to unlock new levels in Courses and so add an element of fun and competition to the Course.
- Quick Course monetization
LearnDash supports all types of payments – one-time, subscriptions, memberships – to sell courses online. This menas, you can easily monetize the LearnDash courses on your online course platform by integrating an eCommerce plugin like WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads.
- Ability to create Course bundles
The advantage of selling courses on an online course platform is that you don’t need to sell courses individually, you can create a series of courses and sell them as a bundle too! Think ‘Specializations’ on Coursera; you can recreate that model on your course platform too.
- Membership setup support
If you plan to have a membership model for your eLearning platform, LearnDash supports several popular WordPress membership plugins. This enables you to sort courses by membership levels on your online course platform and charge your students a membership fee for gaining access to those levels.
- Extensive student management options
Apart from student engagement, LearnDash also has several student management features, such as bulk enrollments, multi-instructor support, result management options, and more.
- Social integration
LearnDash helps you create Facebook-like profiles for all your students, where they can highlight their achievements, post their reviews, and other students can like/comment on the posts. In addition, students can even share their Certificates on social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
- Various powerful addons and extensions
For everything that LearnDash doesn’t do out of the box, it has an extension. There are dozens of LearnDash add-ons that provide every single feature you need for your eLearning platform, across various applications.
Having said that, this just scratches the surface of what LearnDash can do. We have worked with the LMS for over 5 years now, and that is why we can confidently recommend it as a secure and reliable platform for your eLearning website.
Setting up LearnDash is like installing any other WordPress plugin. Purchase your license from the LearnDash website. Then login to your WordPress Dashboard and install the plugin.
Here is a handy LearnDash setup guide you can refer for more details about configuring LearnDash settings and getting it shipshape.
Step 3: Set up your eCommerce plugin and Payment Gateway
Since online courses fall under the category of digital products, you can use either WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads to sell them on WordPress and LearnDash.
We recommend WooCommerce.
It is easy to use, power packed with features, has hundreds of nifty extensions, and most importantly, it has huge community support.
It might seem like I am stressing this point a lot, but that is because it is an important one. Because WordPress is open source, it is what it is because of its community. The plugins that are reliable, secure, and regularly updated are the ones that are supported by the community.
WooCommerce is a highly customizable eCommerce plugin for WordPress, which gives your eLearning platform the business edge it needs.
The second part here is choosing your payment gateway.
Given the niche you pick for your course platform, you can expect students from various regions in the country, even from multiple countries across the world. To this end, it is important to pick a payment gateway that supports international payments.
We recommend Stripe or PayPal.
These two are the most-used payment gateways and support all the major credit and debit cards from the major countries of the world.
WooCommerce integrations for Stripe and PayPal are available so you need not worry about connecting them to your WooCommerce store.
If your audience is largely local or limited to specific regions, you can choose other payment gateways as well, that are supported in these areas. WooCommerce also has a native payment gateway – WooCommerce Payments – that you can use.
Just ensure that you go through all the compatibility details and integration procedures before installing it on your course platform.
This wraps up our preliminary on setting up an online course platform with WordPress. To be sure, we have covered only the basics and there are many more aspects of website development that you need to focus on, as you set up your LearnDash website.
Protecting your intellectual property, setting up timely backups and securing your data, optimizing your content for SEO are some of the things you also need to take care of, while building your course platform.
However, this article and the resources we have mentioned here are good to give you a head start towards building a strong, secure, and student-friendly LearnDash website.
Having said that, it is a good idea to get professional help in setting up your online course platform if you are not well-versed with WordPress. It is like having your own development team that assists you right from choosing the hosting provider to setting up WordPress and LearnDash, recommending the necessary addons for your requirements, to making your course platform ready for launch. This gives you the complete website package, ready to use right away, without the hassle of developing it yourself!
An online course platform is a great resource to disseminate your knowledge and that of others who are in search of platforms like these. All you have to do is set up one that is powerful and precise.
So, feel free to ask us any doubt you might have, in the comments section below. We will do all we can to help you build a great eLearning platform.
In the meantime, happy building!