The Uncanny Owl Blog

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!

Styling LearnDash Courses and Lessons

As many of our LearnDash readers  will know, the popular LMS plugin for WordPress uses custom post types for course and lesson content. That’s great for people familiar with WordPress, since it makes adding and managing content easy, but many page layout tools for WordPress don’t recognize LearnDash objects out of the box. As a result, many users assume they’re relegated to the default WordPress editor. They’re not, and in the post we’ll explore how to use Visual Composer to improve the look and feel of your LearnDash materials.

Visual Composer SettingsAt Uncanny Owl we typically use Visual Composer to design WordPress pages and posts for clients. It’s a paid plugin, bundled with many themes, that adds a drag-and-drop layout builder and a number of content elements to WordPress. When it’s first installed, Visual Composer is only available for pages and posts, not the custom post types used by LearnDash. To enable it on LearnDash pages, navigate to Settings > Visual Composer in the WordPress administration interface and make sure “sfwd-courses” and “sfwd-lessons” are both selected. The screenshot to the right shows the relevant areas.

The images below demonstrate what can be done relatively easily with Visual Composer that would take significantly more effort without it. The image on the left shows a lesson page with embedded Articulate Storyline content from Grade Hacks. Because it’s quite a lengthy lesson, we included some extra information to help learners and set context. We have a row to include a time estimate and navigation tools within the lesson (between the introduction, embedded Storyline and quiz, the page is quite long), a row to introduce the lesson and link to key resources, then a row for lesson content. Everything you see on the page uses Visual Composer elements to produce the design quickly and make it easy to maintain; the image on the right shows how we built it. Click on the screenshots to see larger images of the front end and editing views.

Edit_Lessons_‹_Grade_Hacks_—_WordPress_1Technology_-_Grade_Hacks

Visual Composer also includes a number of elements that make it much easier for us to include a variety of content types in lessons. With a raw HTML element, for example, we can include iframe code to embed Storyline and Captivate modules within lesson pages. And with a video element, it’s easy to drop in YouTube and Vimeo videos and then move them around the page to try different layouts. We hope this quick lesson helps you improve the look and feel of your LearnDash lessons. If you have any of your own layout ideas to share, please add your comments 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.