Technology is now an integral part of the education system, as online schooling is becoming more flexible and cost-effective as compared to traditional schooling. In the recent past, choosing online schooling hasn’t remained a matter of choice anymore. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging worldwide, affecting every aspect of our lives, and keeping us locked in our homes, starting an online school has become the need of the hour.
Today, we have entered an era where going to conventional offices and schools isn’t possible anymore (at least for now), but the flow of work and education has to continue one way or the other. Most offices are adopting the option of work-from-home, while schools are turning to eLearning platforms for help.
If you haven’t set up a school for your students online, it’s high time you should. However, there is still a lot of confusion about which platform to choose, which software to buy, and how to start this online school.
No matter what the spectrum of courses, starting an online school requires online learning tools that lay the foundation of basic schooling functionality and increase the accessibility of courses along with the learning ability of students.
There are two categories of learning tools for starting an online school – mandatory tools and optional tools. Let’s have a look at both of them, their functionalities, and the tools available in each category.
These mandatory steps, as the name suggests, are necessary for the features of a school. These tools lay the basic foundation of virtual learning such as online interaction, creation of courses, security, hosting of your school site, and much more.
#1. Set up your Website Hosting, Domain name, and Security certificate
Web Hosting allows you to save all your courses, files, and data on a server that makes it accessible to people over the Internet. A domain, in simpler terms, will be your address in the URL bar. Both of these services are required to take your school online. There are multiple companies that provide both the web hosting service and a domain, and you can choose the services according to your budget and requirements.
As far as the security, i.e. SSL certificate is concerned, it adds a layer of protection to your online school to shield it against data theft and breaches. You can buy different types of SSL certificates from vendors on the internet to meet your specific security requirements.
You can purchase managed WordPress hosting either from BlueHost or WPEngine. BlueHost’s plans start from $19.95 per month, while WPEngine’s plans start from $30 per month. As far as domain is concerned, you can purchase it from any good domain registrar (i.e. GoDaddy). Many hosting companies, including BlueHost, are also in the business of domain registration so you can purchase it from your hosting service provider too. A .com domain name costs between $10 – $15.
Finally, an SSL certificate costs anywhere between $10 – $30 depending on the type of certificate you choose and the vendor. We recommend that you purchase it from DigiCert.
Considering all these costs, setting up a web host, a domain and an SSL certificate would cost anywhere between $70 – $90, laying the foundation of your website.
#2. Choose your online Learning Platform – WordPress
WordPress is a free-to-use Content Management System (CMS) that is used to publish your courses online. It empowers you to control every aspect of your website, from the appearance to the various functionalities of your online school, with help of plugins, themes, extensions, etc.
The best part of WordPress is, even if you have the basic technical know-how, the CMS is easy to manage and set up. It’s flexible and scalable, and it provides you with the necessary analytics as well to monitor student engagement.
#3. Set up the Learning Management System – LearnDash
There are several different WordPress LMS plugins you can choose from while starting your online school, but we recommend LearnDash.
LearnDash is a WordPress-based Learning Management System (LMS) plugin that is highly flexible and the most important mandatory tool that you’ll need to create and run your online school. It’s highly flexible and scalable as it supports a vast section of templates, plugins, etc.
With LearnDash, you can easily create courses, quizzes, and award certificates for your online school. It also provides other necessary features like drip-feeding of content, engagement triggers, multi-tier course creation, customization, course prerequisites, forums, etc. It is the one tool that you most certainly need to shape your online school.
It is a premium plugin, and you can purchase its license starting from $159 per year. In case you want an upgrade with more features, you can switch to the ProPanel package at $189 per year.
#4. Add a theme (eLumine) and some must-have features
After selecting your domain, web host, CMS, and LMS the next thing that you need to start an online school is a theme. A theme gives your school the appearance of your choice, so it must be professional and also compatible with your CMS (WordPress) as well as LMS (LearnDash).
Now, there are several LearnDash themes available in the market, but if you don’t know which theme to choose then we’d suggest that you go with eLumine. It’s one of the most popular LearnDash themes, with intuitive design and useful features designed to cater to the requirements of your online school.
It comes with a grid layout, focus mode, multilingual support, and many other features that you may want to have on your school website.
The best part is that eLumine also has a ready-to-use online school demo, which you can directly import to set up the skeletal structure of your online school, without even opening your code drawer!
In addition to eLumine, there are some handy LearnDash extensions that are necessary for setting up the core functionality of a school.
You’ll need these extensions because the features they add to LearnDash are not included in it by default, but they’re crucial for providing the experience of a school, such as setting up teachers so they can create and manage their own classrooms, enrolling students in bulk into your classes, and so on.
Some of the most important LearnDash extensions for your online school include –
- WISDM Instructor Role (for adding multiple instructors/teachers to your school)
- WISDM Group Registration (for creating groups and enrolling students in bulk)
- WISDM Ratings, Reviews, and Feedback (allows students to provide feedback and suggestions on certain lessons/ courses)
- WISDM Content Cloner (for cloning entire courses in a single click or mass-update titles of the cloned curse, for duplicate course hierarchy and bulk title editing)
- WISDM Quiz Reporting extension (for analyzing quiz reports of the students in lessons/courses)
Together, these extensions form the LearnDash Essential Add-On Pack (LEAP).
Now, buying these plugins independently can be a little costly, but if you buy the eLumine theme and LEAP bundle together then it costs about $180.00.
#5. Choose from some additional good-to-have features
In addition to the must-have features mentioned previously, here is a plugin that will help you add some good-to-have functionality to your online school – the Uncanny LearnDashToolkit.
The Uncanny Owl Toolkit brings a collection of key features necessary for a school.
It adds a clean login form to any page, forces user verification by the administrator, redirects users to specific sites as guided by the administrator, displays the earned certificates in LearnDash while also providing many other functionalities.
With the on-off feature on each plugin, you can use whichever plugin you want to, without adding all of it at the same time to your website.
The Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit is free to use, however, there is also another package – Uncanny Toolkit Pro that is a paid add-on to LearnDash with more features and customizations like time tracking, auto-completion, etc., starting from $149 for a year’s license.
#6. Design beautiful landing pages for your students and classes
Landing pages are an important aspect of online schools. These pages are where you will be placing all your course content and they need to be more than just ‘good enough’ to pique your students’ interest in studying that subject.
To build these pages, we are going to use Elementor.
Elementor is a page builder plugin that provides you with a live frontend editor to create complex and more beautiful layouts. With its help, you can design your online school website live without using coding or CSS.
Elementor works with any WordPress theme (including eLumine). The basic Elementor plugin is free to use and the Elementor Pro pricing starts at $49 per month for a year.
With these basic systems in place, your online school is ready to go live! But remember, it is only a skeletal structure at present.
Kind of like a plain cheese pizza.
And while it tastes well and fills your stomach, a few toppings can make all the difference!
To spice up your pizza, er, online school, you need to add some delicious plugins to boost student engagement, make course management easy for your teachers, and create a healthy, dynamic learning environment, not just a boring old school.
Here’s a look at some of the ways in which you can enhance your online school.
#7. Increase student interaction with internal social networking
Building a virtual school also requires social features to help students learn things in groups. That experience can be achieved with the BuddyPress plugin for WordPress.
With BuddyPress, your users can create and update profiles, send private messages, follow activity streams, create blogs, forums, and groups, etc. to learn in a collective and collaborative manner.
Bonus? It’s free!
#8. Conduct online lectures with Zoom integration
Zoom can be used for video and audio conferencing and joining video lectures on e-learning websites. Zoom Video Conferencing Integration allows you to operate your online school with live-class delivery self-paced courses.
The Zoom integration comes with a set of features like virtual classrooms, tests, and assessment creation, reporting and analytics, etc. You can allow screen sharing, chatting, and live meetings with HD videos. In addition, you can save your data in the Cloud for watching it later.
Zoom has a free basic version, to start with. You can also try the Zoom premium versions starting from $14.99 per host per month, which comes with better features.
#9. Track your students’ attendance
Every online school also needs to have an attendance tracker that helps you understand whether your students are attending their classes regularly.
The LearnDash Attendance add-on provides you this core functionality. With its help, you can allow attendance marking on all or specific courses as per your requirements. You can also allow admins/group leaders to mark attendance, assign attendance shortcodes, force users to mark attendance with a single device at a time, and allow admins to see different attendance reports.
The add-on also has different filters and you can download the filtered attendance report in CSV format that provides complete details about the attendance of every student like IP address, time and date, device name, etc.
The LearnDash Attendance Add-On can be purchased for a single site starting from $49.00.
#10. Send regular notifications to your students
Need to send your students an invite to a webinar? A reminder about homework? An update to the course material? You will need a notifications tool set up to ensure that a school-wide notice is sent in an instant.
The LearnDash Notifications add-on is a free extension that sends automated notifications based on your configuration when a student performs any specific action. It has 13 self-descriptive triggers to send out notifications, like user enrollment, completion of topic/quiz, failing of a quiz, completion of a lesson, passing a quiz, etc.
These built-in triggers are highly customizable and you can also insert dynamic content and shortcodes for each user receiving the notifications.
#11. Boost student engagement with courses by giving achievement awards
What would you say is the best motivator for a student to complete a course for a subject? A reward!
Award badges and certificates to your students for successfully completing their assignments and quizzes, scoring well on their exams, or even something as simple as completing an important lesson! Gamification enhances the student’s interest in learning and motivates them to study with greater effort and dedication.
For LearnDash, you can use the BadgeOS plugin and its integration to assimilate gamification features into your online school and make learning a fun and rewarding experience. It is a solid gamification add-on that helps you create badges and set up ranks/points that the users need to achieve to get those badges. It also allows you to create custom award badges for a certain course, lesson, or quiz, and sharing of achievements on social media.
BadgeOS also has integration with digital badge backpacks. With this integration, you can also deduct badges from a student’s profile, if their performance is not up to the mark or in case of any unethical breach.
The BadgeOS Integration combined with the LearnDash Attendance Add-on can also be used to award users with badges on specific triggers that include attendance percentage and attendance count.
#12. Empower students to take notes during lectures
Instead of making your teachers do all the work of creating and sending notes, you can encourage students to take their own notes during lessons, which they can refer to later.
LearnDash Notes sets up an on-site note-taking system by letting your registered users take notes of whatever they’re learning. The plug-in provides a notepad that is distraction-free, has a friendly UI, and works with any WordPress theme. Students can even download and print out their notes at any time in the future.
LearnDash Notes allows learners to resize note modules or drag them to another location with the dynamic notes pop-out. It also has a consolidated Notes dashboard that makes it quick to access any saved notes.
LearnDash Notes is a paid plug-in priced at $39.00.
At this point, you have a well-stocked online school, with all the features you will need to help your students learn and thrive.
The needs of your online school are now satisfied. Let’s now take a look at the wants.
Optional Features for your Online School
Optional features are those set of tools that add extra functionalities to virtual schools that make the learning experience more user-friendly and enhanced. You may choose to add them to your online school, but they’re not necessary. The list of optional tools and their functionalities along with their pricing is given below:
#13. Add a provision for hosting events
To keep morale high among students, you may feel like organizing an online school event, such as Teacher’s Day or World Book Day, where all students will be expected to participate. Now, fortunately, you can do this with the LearnDash+eLumine combination already, as the theme supports event setup. However, if you are planning something extensive, you can choose to install an event management plugin for a more seamless and cohesive experience.
We recommend Event Espresso.
Event Espresso is an online event registration and ticketing manager plug-in for WordPress that may be used to register and manage school events like webinars, non-profit ceremonies, etc.
Its core functionalities include easy event ticketing, smart single-page checkout, customizable event confirmation emails, registration of multiple attendees, etc. But it’s optional because eLumine and LearnDash support events at a basic level.
Event Espresso licenses start from $79.95, billed annually.
#14.Create an online forum for group discussions
Nothing improves knowledge retention as well as a group study. In a traditional school environment you can simply sort your students into groups; online, you need to set up a group discussion forum. For this, we suggest, use bbPress.
bbPress is a free, open-source software forum that can be used to easily add a forum to your WordPress powered website. The key features of this easy to use plugin include multisite forums, customizable templates, high flexibility, and creating one central account with all forums, amongst others.
#15. Help weaker students improve with private mentoring sessions
At times, some students need more help with their coursework, to reach the level of their peers. To facilitate this, you can set up private tutoring sessions to mentor them as required.
With the LearnDash Private Sessions add-on, you can administer private learning sessions, share files, documents, and give your learners direct actionable feedback. It incorporates features like secure and private discussions, file uploads, customizations and custom notifications, adaptability to any theme, etc.
Private Sessions is a premium add-on and can be purchased for $69.00.
#16. Incorporate student feedback to improve courses
The LearnDash Student Voice add-on helps you design a better curriculum and enhances student engagement by turning them into active contributors to your courses.
It allows contribution and feedback submission on all parts of the course, downloading of contributions as a Word document, and provides shortcodes to display each student’s contribution on a separate page, etc.
LearnDash Student Voice is a premium service authored by eLearning Evolve and its pricing starts from $59.99.
Online Schools are going to be the new normal and now is possibly the best time to bring your school online. The continuous growth of self-paced education has brought more students to online schools and you too can capitalize on this trend with help of the tools mentioned above. And as we said in the beginning, with these tools you can set up your online school in less than $800. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:
|Domain, SSL Certificate and Hosting||$70 – $90|
|eLumine Theme and LEAP Bundle||$180|
|Uncanny Toolkit Pro||$149|
|Elementor Page Builder||$49|
|LearnDash Attendance Add-on||$49|
|LearnDash Notifications Add-on||$0|
|LearnDash Notes Add-on||$39|
|Total Cost||$709 – $729|
So what are you thinking? Just take advantage of these tools and set up your online school today! And if you still have any queries, leave them in the comments and we’ll try our best to answer them.