WooThemes Sensei LMS Demo Site

Sensei Demo SiteEver wanted to see what Sensei looked like with a third-party theme? Maybe try it out on a platform where it could be more directly compared to LearnDash? Now you can! Uncanny Owl now has a completely functional Sensei site up at http://sensei.uncannycloud.com/. Sign in and check out some demo courses and lessons created with Sensei!

If the new Sensei site looks familiar, that’s because it’s a clone of our LearnDash demo site. We took a snapshot of that site, replaced LearnDash and iThemes Exchange with Sensei and WooCommerce (and a whole lot of other stuff) and then rebuilt the same demo lessons in Sensei. By doing this it’s a lot easier to do a side-by-side comparison of 2 big WordPress LMS plugins. Just sign in to both sites and you can take a look at the differences yourself.

Why Sensei? Well, we’re trying to expand our scope on the platform side to cover WordPress LMS solutions in general rather than just LearnDash. Right now there aren’t a lot of options online for Sensei assistance and we look forward to filling in some of that gap.

Have questions about the demo site or getting Sensei support? Send us a note or leave a comment below!

Aug 22 Update: Interested in a LearnDash and Sensei comparison? Check out our WordPress LMS showdown!

Instructor Led Training with WordPress

mLearning with WordPressFacilitated training isn’t just for the classroom and complex Learning Management Systems. Even though WordPress learning solutions are primarily targeted at self-directed programs, it is absolutely possible to build facilitated learning with them. In this post I’ll share some of the ways we do this for our clients at Uncanny Owl.

Let’s suppose you want to offer a 4-week paid course to the public. Each week, you want learners to go through some self-directed lessons (that include text, video, and offline readings), participate in online discussions with you and other learners, and then complete a weekly quiz. At the end of the 4th week everyone must complete a final test. If they pass the final test and all weekly quizzes, they’re issued a printable certificate.

WordPress probably wouldn’t be your first thought when delivering this type of common course structure, but it should be! With a few plugins, like LearnDash as your LMS and a membership plugin, it’s actually quite easy.

To build this kind of program, your first step is probably going to be to create 4 courses, 1 for each week of the program. You can then build lessons for each week that include your readings and video. Creating the quizzes and test might come next. These are the easy parts.

Schedule WordPress DateAh, but you want all participants to complete the courses at the same time, and you don’t want to give them access to content from week 2, 3 and 4 when they’re in week 1. The tricks here are using a membership plugin (which allows you to restrict access to course materials) and scheduling WordPress posts. For every course you publish you can tell WordPress when to make it available to learners. So your first course (for week 1) might be automatically published on Monday at 9AM of the first week, the second course at 9AM of the second week, etc. And by assigning the courses to membership levels, you can restrict the courses to paid participants.

Next up are the online discussion and collaboration pieces. For group discussion, add a forum tool like bbPress and create forums for each week; you can then embed them in lessons for each week. That way they’re easy for learners to find and you can stay on top of the discussion (here’s an example). For communication between session participants, BuddyPress enables private messaging and other social networking features.

That really just leaves the final test and certificate, and that’s where an LMS like LearnDash makes everything easy. The final test can have the previous quizzes as prerequisites, it can be scheduled to only be available to learners on a certain day and it can automatically generate a course certificate with the learner’s name on completion.

Of course, this is a very simple example and getting everything running properly will require some more work. As an example, you may need to stop selling the membership level for 1 session once it starts (so you don’t have people joining in week 4 and skipping the earlier discussion). And you’ll probably want to offer sessions more than once, which means expiring membership levels, incrementing course publishing dates, clearing out forums and more.

What are your own solutions for delivering instructor led training with WordPress? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

11 Reasons Hosting Your Own LMS Beats the Cloud


Businesses that need easy, out-of-the-box systems to deliver training online are increasingly turning to Learning Management Systems in the cloud. Startup costs are low, they’re scalable, they can be deployed quickly, and many of them provide a great learner experience. For small audiences, infrequent learning or when simplicity is paramount, a cloud LMS is likely the right solution. But they’re not right for every situation, and for many organizations, hosting their own LMS is an overlooked—yet potentially better—solution to learning. We put together a list of 11 reasons to explain why we set many of our clients up with their own LMS (typically WordPress-driven) rather than rely on a cloud solution.

1. Your Rules

With a cloud LMS you’re stuck with what’s offered. Customization is generally limited to branding and some basic options, which may or may not include the functionality you really want. Want to mix facilitated sessions with self-directed modules? Maybe integrate event planning, webinars, ecommerce and social sharing? What about custom automated emails and reporting? With your own WordPress-based LMS, like the ones we offer our clients, you’re only limited by your imagination. Choose from thousands of widely-tested plugins to add capabilities or dig into the code and make the system do whatever you want it to.

2. Your Data

What happens when a cloud LMS vendor disappears, has a catastrophic failure, you outgrow it or new policies require it to be hosted externally? What if your data privacy rules mean storing data in specific countries? You’re out of luck with a cloud solution. With your own LMS you own the database—and the data. Whether it’s for custom reporting, data portability, easy batch changes or something else, direct access to the learner database means more flexibility and less reliance on a third party.

3. Your Security Standards

I’ve already written about the security practices of cloud LMS vendors before. They’re generally lacking. With your own system, you can apply as much or as little security as you need. Restrict access to specific IP blocks, build in 2-factor authentication, put the system behind your firewall—there are no restrictions on how you secure your own learning systems.

4. Lower Total Cost of Ownership

Yes, getting started with a cloud LMS system is very inexpensive. But then you keep paying forever, potentially spending thousands of dollars monthly as your learning programs grow in popularity. Once that happens, it can be very difficult to migrate away from a cloud provider to a solution that’s more cost-effective. Yes, setting up your own LMS costs significantly more initially, but the ongoing costs—regardless of the number of users—can be as low as $0 if you can leverage existing infrastructure.

5. Nothing Disappears Tomorrow

If a cloud LMS vendor disappears, so do your courses and data. When was their last backup, and do you have a copy of your data? With your own LMS, your platform can’t disappear tomorrow because you own it (and take the necessary steps to keep it safe). Sure, there’s a risk that the creator of the tools you use could stop supporting them, but you never risk losing your platform and data. And you’ll have plenty of developers and access to the code to lend a hand if you need it.

6. More Development Support

Need extended support or customization for a cloud product? Chances are you’re locked into using the vendor. With your own solution, like one based on WordPress, there are thousands of developers ready to help out and many active development communities. You’re not tied to one company and competition means better pricing and expertise when you need assistance.

7. Your Systems

Maybe you’d like to use Single Sign On access for your LMS so your staff don’t need yet another password to remember. Or maybe you’d like tight integration with your website to maintain the same look & feel and maybe even the same user profiles. With a cloud service, integrations with your existing systems are often difficult or even impossible. After all, you’re limited to whatever capabilities they want to offer.

8. Better Performance

Simply put, you can’t control the performance of cloud LMS services. The near-universal U.S. hosting may not be ideal for your users in other regions, and without very expensive packages you’ll be sharing the server with other customers. With your own LMS you can build platforms that fit the exact needs of your audience and optimize them to deliver the best possible experience.

9. Unlimited Storage

Every cloud LMS plan is targeted at the generic customer and their expected needs. Have a lot of multimedia to store? You’ll probably be paying for more users than you need then. With your own LMS your courses can be as big or as little as you want—it’s defined by your infrastructure and needs, not someone else’s. This is even more important when you want to start benefiting from user-generated content.

10. Scalable

Cloud solutions say they’re scalable, but what happens if you get really big or decide the LMS suddenly needs to be hosted internally? A basic dedicated server is about as far as a cloud solution can take you. And if you ever need to get the records out, you could be in trouble—plus there’s the significant expense of recreating the programs on another platform. With your own LMS, you can put the data wherever you want, toss in additional servers and load balancing as they’re required, and never worry about hitting a ceiling.

11. Predictable

Predictability is extremely important for businesses. What happens when a cloud LMS vendor rolls out an update that changes the user experience or your reporting unexpectedly? You probably have no time to prepare and the learner/customer impact could be catastrophic. With your LMS, you control the experience and the timing of updates. Want to test them first? Throw up another instance and test things out before they go out to your audience. With a cloud solution you’re at the mercy of a vendor who controls everything, from application changes to features to data. It’s a big risk for companies that rely on a Learning Management System.

Even with all of these considerations, of course, going with an in-house LMS isn’t the right solution for everyone. But with all of the attention on cloud platforms, many companies should reconsider whether or not it’s the right solution for both their learners and their organizations. And even if it is today, what about tomorrow?

WordPress LMS Guide and Kit

WordPress LMS BookSelling training online is really hard to jump into. There simply isn’t a lot of consolidated information available; after narrowing your selection of platforms, Learning Management Systems and authoring tools, you still have to learn them all—and then create the actual content. Then there’s ecommerce, marketing, maintenance… the list goes on. It’s simply a lot of time and learning for businesses to invest and the guidance that’s needed is scattered and incomplete.

Maybe what’s needed is a comprehensive guide to get businesses off on the right foot. That’s why, in November of this year, we’re planning to publish the first resources that will help businesses get from wanting to sell learning to seeing training sales deposited into their bank accounts. From installing WordPress to program planning to learner evaluation and marketing, we’ll collect the key knowledge businesses need to launch and sell expertise.

To get to that point, however, we need your help. We want to know you’re interested. We want to know what you want covered in the book. If you’ve struggled with getting your training online, we want to hear about your issues.

Use the form below to sign up for book news and show your interest. If you have feedback and suggestions, use the form below or send your comments through our contact form. If you want to be involved, perhaps to be interviewed, to review a draft or to share your story, we’d love to hear from you. Make sure your voice is heard, because we need to know there’s lots of interest to commit to the project!