The Uncanny Owl Blog

We’re Hiring!

wordpress-workerUncanny Owl is looking for an experienced WordPress Developer to join our team on a full time or contract basis. We need help with all development stages of WordPress projects, including creating and customizing complex plugins, modifying and styling themes, and even some front-end design. Experience developing large membership sites and previous work with WordPress LMS tools (e.g. LearnDash and Sensei) would be a huge benefit. A Toronto-area candidate is preferred but your skill set is more important than your location.

For more information and to apply, click here.

No agencies or companies, please.


WordPress LMS Survey Results

149209692As part of our work with WordPress LMS solutions, we tend to deal with the higher end of the market, which includes small and mid-sized businesses with the budget for robust learning platforms. Our  focus means we unfortunately aren’t as connected as we would like with the larger WordPress LMS market, so we decided to conduct a survey last week to see how other people use products like LearnDash, Sensei and WP Courseware. We had a fantastic response from the community and what we discovered surprised us.

We reached out to approximately 150 people by email. These people had visited the Uncanny Owl website over the last few months and provided their email address to us. None were clients. In fact, we had never communicated with any of the participants outside of the survey.

Of the 150 people we invited, 16 people from around the world chose to participate. We asked participants questions about how they used WordPress LMS plugins, their programs, their audience, their issues and more. Responses were candid and the people who participated seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be heard.

Here are the findings that we found most interesting:

Almost half (44%) of participants used, or planned to use, content that was SCORM or Tin Can compliant on their sites. Very few of Uncanny Owl’s clients create their programs with elearning authoring tools, so this was a very big surprise, especially given the low project budgets of survey participants.

People are using WordPress LMS plugins for more than just self-directed elearning. 38% offer facilitated programs online and 31% offer programs offline as well. Programs are reasonably complex, too. Almost everyone offers videos, file downloads, embedded documents, quizzes, certificates, ecommerce—even forums. Over 35% of participants also incorporate capabilities like marketing automation, gamification and end user support systems.

People rank ongoing support and available integrations low when shopping for an LMS, yet complaints in those areas are most common. We saw a lot of complaints about plugins not being able to do what people expected (and therefore having to rely on other plugins) and difficulty finding guidance, especially that went beyond individual plugins. Participants wanted guidance on how to create complete learning platforms and had trouble getting the advice they needed.

There were a lot of complaints. When we asked an open-ended question about surprises they experienced with LMS projects, 67% of comments were complaints, mostly about the LMS plugins. In fact, when we asked people to rank project challenges, adding customizations, making things work together and finding help were at the top of the list.

No-one had an LMS platform they considered complete. Our list of users went back over 6 months, so we were surprised that no-one was able to get a project across the finish line.

WordPress LMS projects cost more than people expect. Only 1 participant found costs lower than expected. Half of participants said costs met expectations, and 44% said costs exceeded expectations. We were actually surprised by budgets; 63% said implementation costs (including effort) were under $2,500, and 76% said monthly maintenance costs were under $250. Of course, since no participants had a completed platform, these estimates may end up being low.

Learning to use a WordPress LMS can be hard work. 44% of participants said they weren’t comfortable managing WordPress and their LMS yet. Another 13% said it took between 75 and 200 hours until they felt comfortable.

How do these findings compare with your own experiences using WordPress LMS plugins? We’d love to hear more about your experiences in the comments.

A Beginner’s Reaction to Using WordPress LMS Plugins

Surprised girlAs experienced users of WordPress LMS plugins like LearnDash and Sensei, we at Uncanny Owl sometimes overlook the challenges that new users face when building a learning-enabled website. Documentation and support for LMS plugins vary widely, and for many small businesses interested in delivering learning, both their knowledge of WordPress and instructional design may be quite limited. To reconnect with how new users experience WordPress LMS products, we thought it might be a fun experiment to set an inexperienced WordPress user up with a basic site that only included a theme and an LMS plugin, since this is how many businesses approach LearnDash projects.

Our tester had only very basic WordPress experience and we set up separate WordPress instances with LearnDash, Sensei and WP Courseware. We provided only minimal guidance to get things started, but did make plugin documentation and support resources available. Our tester was assigned the basic task of setting up a course with each plugin, adding some simple lessons and setting up a quiz. After experimenting for a few hours with all 3 LMS tools, we asked her to write a summary of her experiences. What follows are her observations.

“I started with Sensei and did some research before jumping in. I knew there would be limited options for quiz questions and prepared myself for that but thought that it would be a simple exercise otherwise. I was able to create my lessons and add them to courses but had issues along the way. I wanted to embed a video into my lesson and it worked but comes up very large (we’re talking almost full screen) and I have no idea why or how to change it. I couldn’t find anything about adding a certificate to award upon completion of my course so I had to google that and found out it’s a plugin extension I would need to add. It’s free so it would’ve saved me a lot of time and effort to have the option there already rather than having to download the plugin and sort that out. I tried to add a quiz and it appears to be there with many questions but if I try to navigate to that page it shows a quiz with no questions available. Again I don’t know why and haven’t been able to figure it out on my own. My sidebar navigation was also broken and I don’t know why since I didn’t do anything except add lessons, a course and a quiz. I changed the name of one lesson after the fact and now the quiz won’t work and still links to what the lesson was previously named. Their documentation and support wasn’t very helpful. With everything added (I thought) but the site hopelessly broken, I gave up and moved on.

For some reason I made the assumption that WP Courseware would be the most straightforward and easy to use. As soon as I started, however, I realized my mistake. The very first problem I encountered is the terminology used. I wanted to add a course with lessons. Seems straightforward, right? I started looking for ‘lessons’ or ‘add lesson’ and they’re nowhere to be found. I saw something about ‘modules’ and ‘units’ and realized those were what I needed. So I started setting up a training course, which looked like a good place to start, though I’m very unsure at this point. Then I try to set up a course unit, which I hope is something like a lesson. I ended up watching a video tutorial and right in that they state ‘a course unit which is equivalent to a lesson.’ Perfect! So why not just call it a lesson? I wanted to embed a video and found this to either not be possible or something I could not figure out how to do. All I could get to work was a link to a video on another page (YouTube) which was not what I wanted to happen. The video tutorial went on to explain how to add this to the training course and something about modules but I was so confused about the structuring of a module or unit or course that I gave up.

This brings me to my last, and most successful attempt, which was using LearnDash. I found it easy to jump right into creating my lessons underneath main courses. Every option I was looking for seemed to be listed right where I could find it easily. I was able to create quizzes to go along with my lessons (that actually worked when I tried them!). The only issue here was too much choice. For a beginner, setting up a simple quiz, I was very overwhelmed with the options. I did need to access their support pages and documentation to figure out how to add a certificate but I found what I needed quickly and was able to follow it.

In the end, I felt most comfortable with LearnDash, but none of the tools were as straightforward as I expected. I had to rely on documentation and searches a lot to get things done, and I spent a long time just figuring out basic things.”