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.

Drip LearnDash Lessons by Group

We were very excited to see lesson dripping by calendar date in the most recent LearnDash update. It’s an easy way to unlock course materials for all learners on a specific date.

But what about time-bound courses delivered to multiple groups? It’s common in school and other facilitated programs to have a set of students start on one day, have course materials released every week, and then have other groups start the program later. For anyone wanting to use LearnDash in this scenario, the Drip Lessons by Date functionality won’t work, because selecting a date means that date applies to everyone.


That approach won’t work for some of our clients, so we put our own spin on the LearnDash drip feature. What we did was add a field for a LearnDash group selection above the calendar date field for dripping content. The drop-down list retrieves a list of all LearnDash Groups and current drip dates (if any exist). Once a group is selected, the admin can identify a unique drip date for that group and save it.

Here’s a video that goes into a bit more detail about our approach and how it works.

Right now we’ve decided against making the plugin available to the public. It’s not well documented yet and we can’t provide support, so it’s of limited value. If it is something that interests you, however, leave a comment and we’ll follow up if we share it.

Breadcrumb Navigation for LearnDash

Topic_A___LearnDash_DevOut of the box, navigating complex courses in LearnDash can get confusing. With potentially dozens of topics, lessons and courses, it’s easy to get lost. Sidebar navigation helps, but it’s mainly for navigating within the same level rather than getting back to higher levels. What’s missing for some courses is context and being able to go up levels easily.

We ran into this challenge with a recent LearnDash project. What it needed were breadcrumb links, but without customization, theme breadcrumb generation is broken for LearnDash. The problem is WordPress usually thinks that the parent of every course, lesson and topic is “Home”. For most applications, this makes breadcrumbs almost useless.

To address this shortcoming, we created a plugin that makes it easy to navigate up levels by using breadcrumb links. Just as you would expect, every topic rolls up to a hyperlinked lesson, which rolls up to a hyperlinked course, which rolls up to a course dashboard. And at the top level is, of course, the homepage.

We know breadcrumb navigation for LearnDash would be useful to a lot of learning projects, so we’re making the plugin we created available below. There’s no cost to use it, but there’s also no support!

If you happen to use the Total theme, you’re in luck! The plugin below replaces the built-in theme breadcrumb code with custom breadcrumbs that work with LearnDash. Don’t worry, they’ll work with your other pages, posts and other content too!

For anyone not using Total, a generic plugin is available. For that version, just insert a [sfwd-breadcrumbs] shortcode wherever you want your breadcrumbs to appear. You can also hook it into your theme header, but we’ll leave it to you to figure out how to do that. The plugin should at least save you a few hours of work getting custom header breadcrumb links set up.

We hope you enjoy the plugins!


May 2016 Update: The plugins are no longer available. Please use the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit instead.

LearnDash Demo Site Update

LearnDash Demo LMSWe launched a big update to our LearnDash demo site earlier today. At first glance, the updates might not be obvious; after all, the site is less about look & feel than it is about showcasing what can be accomplished with LearnDash and WordPress. What you will definitely notice is that an account is now required to use the demo. While this does mean an extra step is required to use the site, it also means that it’s a lot easier for visitors to reliably test progress tracking, achievements and more.

So what else has changed? Our old login page is gone; we had a handful of issues that we weren’t happy about and the new page looks nicer. Registration is very different now too, as are all forms across the site. All of these changes are, of course, included in new sites that we build.

This also marks the first time we’re incorporating marketing automation (via Active Campaign) into a production site. Over the next few weeks we’ll be incorporating several new strategies that leverage automation tools to improve learning outcomes. (On a side note, we’re excited to be using Active Campaign; while it’s missing features we’d really like, the price point is great and their support team was fantastic when we were getting set up.)

WP Courseware 3.0 Released

Fly Plugins released a big update to WP Courseware on Thursday, bringing it up to version 3.0. The update primarily brings enhancements to quizzes that help to bring it more in line with what competitors like LearnDash and Sensei are offering. Question pools, randomization, timed quizzes, feedback and more are all now available. The video below outlines some of the highlights.

If you already have a WP Courseware site, you’ll notice a number of changes to quizzes after you upgrade. The quiz creation interface is quite different; everything is divided into tabs. Of course, there’s still essentially only one type of graded question—multiple choice—but at least more quiz options are available.

WP Courseware 2.9

WP Courseware 2.9

WP Courseware 3.0

WP Courseware 3.0

On the end user side, really the only difference that’s visible is a new button to download quiz results as a PDF file. Still, it’s nice to see an update; there haven’t been many over the last year (the official change log still doesn’t reflect the last 2). The most recent updates were actually sponsored, so perhaps Fly Plugins is slowing down the active development of new features.

It’s also worth noting that prices are going up on WP Courseware in about 2 hours. What they’re going up to hasn’t been shared by Fly Plugins, only that they’re increasing. If you want to grab a copy while it’s still at the lower price, you can pick it up here. If you want to see it in action, visit our WP Courseware demo site.

One of WP Courseware’s biggest advantages relative to competitors has been a lower price point for individual sites. Let’s hope it keeps it!

Update 1: If you’re getting a 404 after clicking a link on this page, it appears to be because WP Courseware changed some things on their site. I’ll wait on them to get it resolved and then update the links in this article accordingly.

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. 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!