LearnDash Review Revisited

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).  Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons, quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)   Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!  We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode for quiz display and to display a list of courses without descriptions.   In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University http://themeforest.net/item/university-education-event-and-course-theme/8412116?ref=uncannyowl now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.   It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The community is still vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace. Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons and quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)

Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!

We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode to display certificates (with a single link if you passed at least once, regardless of the number of attempts) and one to display a list of courses without descriptions.

In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.

It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The LearnDash community is still very vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace.

Keeping Client Sites Up and Running

Secure WebsiteAt Uncanny Owl we do everything we can to make sure our clients are happy before, during and after projects. We design simple, straightforward solutions that are easy to manage, yet the platforms will be do sometimes require periodic updates and oversight to stay secure and operational, just as any other software does. That’s why we build long-term relationships with our partners and help out proactively—so they can focus on their business rather than their systems.

In the past we’ve managed ongoing maintenance on an individual basis. It worked, but coordinating everything on a monthly basis just wasn’t a good use of anyone’s time. As a result, we’re pleased to now offer standard maintenance packages to all of our clients—past, current and future. Packages start at just $100 and give clients the peace of mind that their systems will stay up and running no matter what.

More information about the packages and details are available on our new Worry-Free Website Maintenance page. If you’re a client and have questions, drop us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

Chrome Broke Captivate

Crying ManDo you retest your elearning whenever a browser update is released? If you don’t, a recent issue affecting Chrome and Captivate HTML5 content might have you reconsidering.

I was recently on our LearnDash demo site and happened to notice that the sample lesson with an embedded Captivate module stopped working. The module simply wouldn’t load. Fearing the worst (how long had visitors been staring at a broken site?) I tried the page in another browser and, lo and behold, it was still working. I did a bit of digging, searching for recent pages with the keywords “Chrome HTML5 Captivate” and discovered a very significant issue that causes the latest Chrome release to not render HTML5 Captivate files properly. Shocking! And how many other elearning developers aren’t using Chrome or checking olds course regularly, so wouldn’t know anything’s broken, and how many others would know what to search for and discover the Adobe article?

If you have publish elearning modules from Captivate 7 or 8 in HTML5, you need to visit this page and follow the instructions now. Try your modules in Chrome and see if they work. If they don’t, it’s not enough to drop the HTML file into existing content; you really do need to republish the files.  If you don’t, your users on Chrome could be having a really bad time.

LearnDash Demo Video

Our LearnDash demo site has been great to give people a taste of what can be done with LearnDash, but for companies interested in using LearnDash themselves, it’s not enough. They want to get behind the scenes and get a tour of things they might have missed on the front end.

To help companies develop better explore our LearnDash demo and get a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes, we’ve created a 6-minute screencast that goes over some of the highlights. We hope it helps in your evaluation and use of LearnDash!

Check out our LearnDash demo screencast below. Make sure you watch it on YouTube or in full-screen mode so you can read everything!

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!

Slashing LearnDash Consulting Costs

browser-demo2LearnDash is a great low-budget LMS, but getting it (and WordPress) set up just the right way can be surprisingly time-consuming and complex. More often than not, customizations and complementary tools are needed to deliver the right user experience. For someone jumping into WordPress, an LMS and PHP for the first time, it can all be a bit overwhelming. That’s why so many companies turn to Uncanny Owl, and it’s why LearnDash now represents about 40% of our work.

Many people choose LearnDash because of the low price and simplicity compared to other Learning Management Systems. Going from a LearnDash license to a live website requires a lot of work, however, and the $5,000 to $10,000 price for a typical LearnDash implementation with Uncanny Owl was a barrier to many companies. Of course, that’s a small price to pay for the companies that spent months trying to build their own sites before turning to us! With so many LearnDash projects behind us, however, we’ve come to realize that most of our clients want the same things. They want lots of placeholders with lots of content types that they can reuse; they want everything to look pretty and be user-friendly; they want it easy for learners to find and complete lessons; and they want hand-held training so they can be independent without wasting months learning everything themselves.

To make a custom LearnDash solution more accessible, Uncanny Owl created a base platform that’s reusable rather than starting from scratch for every client. That means we save days of effort on our side and we can pass those savings on to clients. To make it as easy as possible for anyone to get started with LearnDash, we’re now offering a basic implementation that uses our base platform for just $2,500. It’s designed for businesses that want to get online quickly, don’t have a lot of obscure requirements, are short on time to devote to learning new technology and have to work with a low budget. For these clients, our new offer is probably a great starting point. Keep in mind that we can’t just drop it onto your site; a lot of customization is still required to get things ready for you, and we target a turnaround time of 2 weeks.

The new LearnDash demo site is now online at http://lms.uncannycloud.com/. If you’re just looking for a LearnDash demo to check out, keep in mind that we’ve added a lot of features and customizations to create a platform that delivers what most of our clients need. This isn’t what you should expect out of the box with LearnDash.

More details about the offer are on new LearnDash LMS page. It’s brand new, so we’d love to get your feedback about the offer in the comments section below!

Top Study Skills Program Goes Free

Grade HacksWe recently made the decision to adopt an open education model for Grade Hacks, our study skills platform. The program combines elearning courses, videos, downloadable resources, calculators and more to help high school, college and university students improve academic performance. The 30-day program has already helped hundreds of students achieve better grades in school.

The shift to a free model was made for 2 reasons. First, we want it to help as many students as possible. Making it a paid program proved a significant barrier for many students (more so than expected) and we didn’t want financial means to stand in the way of students reaching their potential. The program covers many important strategies that aren’t taught in schools and we knew we could help more students than we were reaching.

Second, the program ended up being a driver of consulting business for us. As a showcase platform on the LearnDash website, we’ve received quite a bit of traffic from organizations interested in building out their own LMS solutions. What they could see without registering, however, was very limited. By opening the site up we hope to further expand interest in Uncanny Owl consulting services.

Even though we’ll take a financial hit from opening the site up, we know it was the right move for a program geared to students. This email from a teacher (right after we issued the press release) certainly confirmed it:

I just came across this your website and it looks absolutely fantastic. I am so glad that it is free and I will be using it to help my students (at-risk students including ADHD etc.) with their study skills and learning styles.

We hope you enjoy Grade Hacks too.

Uncanny Owl Turns One

candle-blogLast June, Ryan and Ken founded Uncanny Owl to help companies improve training using technology—and we’re still doing it. Better yet, we’re still enjoying it!

Over the last year we’ve had a chance to support some great local and international businesses. The Brick, the TSSA, the OCSTA, Transcription Express, ManchesterCF, Luminance, DisclosureNet, Envirogate and many more companies all use solutions developed by Uncanny Owl. From courseware to learning platforms to websites and everything in between, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects with a lot of interesting people.

We’ve launched new products, published widely-read industry articles, and helped people solve learning problems. Over the next year, we look forward to even more collaborations and creating new programs that help more audiences improve their capabilities and expand their knowledge.

If you were part of our first year, thank you for your support. For everyone else reading this, we look forward to future collaborations.

Directory Experiments and Social Content Creation

Toronto Track DaysWe covered the launch of www.torontoelearning.com in a previous post and just completed some updates for April. Since stabilizing the platform, we decided to test it with a completely different market—regional track events. The new website, www.torontotrackdays.com, has already seen huge interest from the local racing community (250+ organic likes on Facebook within 6 weeks of launch!) and has become the most complete source of track event information for the Toronto area. So far, we’re very pleased with the results and its positioning for the upcoming track season.

Toronto Track Days also gave us an interesting opportunity to test some new technical ideas that we can apply back to future elearning projects. (We’ve had a number of complex platform requests recently, so it helps to know how far we can push our sites with available tools.) The event calendar we used for torontoelearning.com wasn’t robust enough for the large number of events we required, nor the complexity filtering and sorting that users would need, so we developed a Gravity Forms solution. Now users and businesses can enter events, see them immediately and make changes as needed; all without our intervention. With so many early users it’s been a great experiment in user-generated content and organizing contributions so they add value to visitors.  We can apply many of the lessons to elearning and social sharing, like how to better engage users and encourage active participation.

If you have any questions about technical considerations or other lessons learned from our Toronto Track Days experiment, post in the comments and we’ll be happy to provide feedback!

Toronto eLearning Hub Updates

torontoelearning.com

Looking for the latest Toronto elearning events and job postings? Toronto’s elearning hub has had its first monthly refresh, so all of the new listings are now available online! If you notice anything missing, please submit them and we’ll make sure they’re included on the site.

Torontoelearning.com has now been up for a month and we’d love to get your feedback. Is it helping? How can we make it better?