As 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.”