Effects of COVID-19 on eLearning Demand

It’s been about 2 months now since Uncanny Owl started seeing changes related to COVID-19, and since then our business has been anything but normal. We wanted to share some of the changes we’ve seen in the elearning and LearnDash space in case it’s of interest to our customers, prospective LearnDash users and the elearning community in general. The last 6 weeks in particular have been a very strange time for us.

The first two weeks

The second week of March is when businesses and schools here (in Ontario Canada) started shutting down due to the coronavirus. Our consulting clients started working from home (our team normally works remotely anyway) and we began to see some worry among plugin customers. By the second week we were seeing a noticeable uptick in refunds due to cash flow concerns among businesses using LearnDash and work from existing consulting clients was either reduced or there was more emphasis on keeping costs down.

This period is when we mostly saw panic, businesses weren’t pivoting yet and everyone was trying to figure out what came next. Organizations that we support that offer blended learning (both online and offline classes) started to shift to online only, but at this time there was still hope that things would be resolved quickly and that by May they could offer live classes again.

Here’s something else that was interesting in March: The most-visited page on our website was a very old blog post about virtual classrooms. Not our plugin pages, not even our homepage, an article that was several years old about helping businesses adapt to virtual learning was bringing in the most traffic. This was indicative of businesses exploring their options in a COVID-19 world.

April org changes and growth

April is when we started to see businesses pivot and move to more online delivery of training. For Uncanny Owl it was probably our most stressful month in years, not only because of the launch of the free version of Uncanny Automator, but because we saw a huge increase in plugin sales. Our volume in April was up over 40% compared to January and February and web traffic was up about the same amount. This sounds good, but we had a really hard time adapting to the associated increase in support tickets; those were up by about 34% compared to March. In April our team sent over 1,000 replies to customers, an all-time record for us, and it did unfortunately mean we had to push back on some work for existing clients.

Uncanny Help Desk Replies

As organizations started to move more online and needed elearning solutions, we also had to field more requests for projects; people needing a LearnDash website increased a lot. The developers and agencies we normally referred projects to (since we weren’t accepting any) were also too busy, so we had more trouble with referrals. And one thing was also clear about the increase: while elearning demand was up, budgets were down. Even for the consulting work we were committed to, instead of just moving forward with development tasks as we normally would, we started providing estimates and going deeper into scoping before any work started. So for us, even while product revenues were up a lot, consulting revenues were down significantly. For the last year or so we’ve generally maintained a balance of 60% product sales to 40% consulting revenue, whereas in April it was more like 90/10. That’s a big change to our business model and we’re still working on getting the right team structure in place to accommodate that.

Support from the LearnDash community

The first few weeks of March, when organizations were just starting to feel the effects of the shutdown and were struggling to adapt, also resulted in many organizations that could help the elearning community step forward in creative ways. Some people in the LearnDash circle offered webinars, discounted invoices to clients, product discounts and more. They also volunteered their services to help where they could; we were fortunate to be in a position where we could volunteer our developers to help the NHS in the UK better deliver training to first responders.

We at Uncanny Owl also offered discounts to organizations affected by COVID-19, an extended refund period on plugin purchases, extended invoicing terms for consulting clients and more, but we didn’t see much indication that those measures helped. And, once the initial March shock and repositioning turned into the April growth, some of the transitional measures that the LearnDash community was offering were harder to sustain given how busy April was.

COVID-19 surprises

We expected the increase in refund requests in March, but it surprised us to see those taper offer in April and return to normal (and very low) levels.

We thought we were helping by offering discounts to organizations affected by COVID-19, but since we extended that offer in March we’ve had fewer than 10 requests. Whether it’s people that don’t know about the option, don’t think they qualify or simply don’t want to ask we don’t know, but the few number of requests has surprised us. If you are affected by the coronavirus and want to use our products but cost is holding you back, please do reach out.

Another big surprise for us was that while plugin sales were up, Uncanny LP sales were not. We thought it was a perfect fit for organizations affected by COVID-19; many needed to switch to elearning immediately, and due to decreased budgets needed a platform that they could launch at very low cost and very quickly. Uncanny LP is made for exactly that situation, but we just haven’t seen elevated interest in that platform. Even though LearnDash developers in general now are seeing increased demand, and organizations going the DIY route are looking at launch dates that are months away, they’re still choosing that route (as measured by our plugin sales) rather than taking the easy route with Uncanny LP.

What’s next

At Uncanny Owl, we’re expecting things to return to closer to what we saw in January and February, especially going into the summer. We’re anticipating our product/services mix to shift to about 80/20 in the next month or so, and overall demand to decrease slightly. We are not expecting budgets to increase though and we expect LearnDash site growth to expand overall, just not at the pace we saw in April. Given decreased budgets and an increasing need for pure and blended elearning solutions, LearnDash and WordPress are both well positioned for the changes in education we have just started to see.

Annual Compliance Programs with WordPress

It seems like a simple scenario: Staff need to complete the same courses every year and those completions need to be tracked. Yet, if you deliver your elearning programs with WordPress, you probably know how difficult this is to achieve. Here’s where things with a WordPress-based LMS start to break down:

  1. WordPress LMS plugins don’t track historical completions. Once a learner completes the course once, that’s it. They can’t trigger a second completion.
  2. If you reset course progress, it resets everything. That’s probably why plugins make it difficult or impossible to reset progress.

With the help of some addon plugins, however, it is absolutely possible to use WordPress as a platform to deliver annual compliance training. This article outlines how you can do it with the popular LearnDash LMS plugin for WordPress.

Create a Permanent Record of Course Completions

This is really the most important step. If you can’t track historical completions, you can’t offer annual compliance programs. Fortunately, one of our commercial LearnDash plugins makes this easy.

The Uncanny Continuing Education Credits plugin automatically creates a permanent record of completions as users finish courses. Don’t let the name fool you; the plugin does far more than award credits for completing courses. And, for our scenario here, we don’t even need to consider the credit or certificate features included with the plugin. We just need to use it for the permanent record, so ignore the CEU and Total columns.

Historical Course Completions

The records in the table above are not pulling data from LearnDash, but rather the permanent course archive that the plugin captures automatically. As soon as the plugin is installed it records all new completions to the permanent record, so you never need to worry about progress resets or LearnDash changes affecting historical records.

Reset Course Progress

Now that you’re storing a permanent record of course completions, you need a way to reset user progress in courses so that they can retake them. After all, you don’t want to have to clone out a course each year and re-enroll students in the new one just so they can complete it again.

One very simple option here is to use the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit Pro plugin, with its Reset Button module, to allow users to reset their own progress and take the course again. Once it’s turned on, just drop the [uo_reset_course_progress] shortcode onto any course page where users need to reset progress. The button that it adds will allow users to retake the course and wipe out their previous progress (which is why it’s so important to have the historical record in place).

Another option here is our Uncanny Automator plugin. With it, you can create “triggers” that reset progress for a course. An easy Automator recipe here would be to set up a recipe that resets a user progress in a course as soon as they complete it. This is what the recipe might look like:

Reset Course Progress on Completion

If you’re a developer, you can even build your own workflows for resetting progress that better match your context. The Reset Button module mentioned above as part of Pro includes some tools that make it possible to incorporate our reset functions into your own code. More information is available in the Knowledge Base article.

Other Options for Compliance Tracking

The solutions above require the use of 2 to 3 paid plugins, but there are possible workarounds that can be used with a bit more work. If you use a CRM and a tool like WP Fusion, you could potentially use Tags to track completion records instead of our Continuing Education Unit plugin. On an annual basis, what you could do is change completion tags in your courses so that it identified the course and year. In other words, maybe on completion of a course called “Physics” you set a tag of “Completed Physics – 2019”. You could then filter on the CRM side to show only users with that tag to see who was assigned that tag. You will still of course need some way to reset course progress, and for that options are more limited.

By adding plugins to your LearnDash site like the ones mentioned above, it is very possible to offer annual compliance programs on your site that keep historical records and do allow users to retake the courses every year.

If you have your own solution for offering annual compliance training that’s different than what’s outlined above, let us know your solution in the comments!

Delivering Training with Virtual Classrooms

What is a virtual classroom?

A virtual classroom is a digital teaching and learning environment in which participants can interact with learning resources and with one another like they can in a traditional classroom.

The keywords here are, of course, virtual and classroom. In a virtual setting, face-to-face activities such as presentations and discussions that are traditionally done in a physical classroom are simulated with web conferencing technology. Communications take place in real time just like in a physical classroom.


How do virtual classrooms work?

As a technology, virtual classrooms are not as foreign a concept as you might think. They are often built on (or share many similar features with) web conferencing technologies that are used to run virtual meetings. Like web conferencing software, in a virtual classroom:

  • There can be one or more hosts, presenters, moderators, and participants
  • You can participate by video, audio or both
  • You can use text chats to communicate with other participants
  • The presenter can show their presentation or share their screen

To turn web conferencing into a virtual classroom, additional technologies like the following are often used:

  • Break-out rooms for group discussions/activities
  • A live whiteboard for real-time collaboration
  • Indication of participant status (which changes when participants raise their hands, temporarily leave the room, etc.)
  • Participation control (e.g. listen-only, one person speaking at a time)
  • Feedback tools, such as polls and surveys

Like any type of elearning, there is more to it than just the technology. It’s a different way of delivering training.

 What are the benefits of virtual classrooms?

Unlike face-to-face classes that require participants to be physically present, an online facilitator or learner can be virtually anywhere in the world. This opens up many learning opportunities for those who can’t travel to attend a training class in person. In addition, training becomes more affordable because there is no travel or accommodation cost.

An added bonus is the ability to record the class so that participants can review sessions afterwards. These recorded sessions can serve as refreshers or resources for future reference, or become on-demand content for those who did not attend this training in the first place.

How can you implement virtual classrooms?

There are many virtual classroom applications out there—most of them are commercial, some open source. If you are interested in adding a free virtual classroom solution to your WordPress/LearnDash site, we suggest reviewing Pamela Hogle’s article on five questions to ask when choosing a virtual classroom platform before you begin. At Uncanny Owl we don’t see virtual classrooms incorporated into sites very often, but we have seen it done with BigBlueButton, BrainCert, and WizIQ. It tends to be more common to rely on offsite services.

Once you have the technology, setting up a virtual classroom is often quite straightforward. Running a virtual classroom effectively to deliver training online, however, takes some skills and can involve more planning than traditional instructor-led training. We will highlight some best practice advice from industry experts in the next section.

What are some best practices for delivering training via virtual classrooms?

The first thing you need to realize about virtual training is that it’s different than face-to-face training—not better, not worse, just different. Cindy Huggett, a virtual training consultant, identifies three key differences between virtual and face-to-face training. Pamela Hogle elaborates on these three key differences and explains why it’s worth investing time preparing in these three areas if you are considering going virtual. Here is my take on the three key differences:

  1. Technology is the main platform in the virtual classroom. This doesn’t mean that technology should drive your training, but you’ll definitely feel the pain (and your training may fall apart) when technology fails. If you are comfortable with web conferencing technology, keep in mind your learners may not be. So start with a simple setup, do a test run, and be prepared to deal with unforeseen situations. Be flexible with your programming and always have a backup plan in case something doesn’t work.
  2. Different strategies are needed to engage virtual learners. Remember, as a facilitator you cannot see all the learners at once (and sometimes not at all). You need to keep your learners engaged, and regularly check in to make sure they are still with you.
  3. An online facilitator needs to simultaneously present, engage learners, and use the technology platform. You need to acknowledge that you can’t do everything yourself, and you need help managing the classroom. It’s not uncommon for an online facilitator to team up with a silent partner (often called the moderator) whose main role is to help manage participations in a virtual classroom.

To deliver effective virtual training, you’ll find that employing the following instructional strategies can go a long way:

  1. Use audiovisuals strategically to attract and prolong learners’ attention. Inevitably your training will include some presentation, most likely done with PowerPoint or something like it. Unlike in a classroom where you can walk around and switch to a whiteboard or demonstration very easily, you might have to bake a lot of content into your slideshow in a virtual classroom. Keep information in your slideshow in smaller chunks so your audience can follow along with slide changes and animations. Use tables, charts, diagrams to visualize ideas rather than bullet points.    
  2. Design interactive activities to engage learners. This isn’t a new concept and many facilitators already master it in the classroom, but now you need to find ways to do it effectively online. There isn’t a magic bullet on how to do this and your activities will vary depending on the subject of your training. The good news is that many activities you use in the classroom should still work online with some adaptation. Keep thinking about what the learners will see and hear, and how you want them to interact with you (or the materials) individually or in groups.
  3. Provide guided practice and feedback to participants. You may find that this is the most difficult to do online and you may be limited to the technology that’s available. If possible, take a blended approach. Provide quality feedback to individuals outside of class and provide general feedback in class to which most participants can relate. You can also utilize a breakout room if your virtual classroom platform has this functionality.

More best practices are included in some of the resources listed at the end of this article.

Are there drawbacks to using virtual classrooms?

Although virtual classrooms can reduce ongoing training costs and make learning more accessible students, they are not for everyone or for all types of training. For example, virtual classrooms wouldn’t be suitable for hands-on computer skills training. The instructor can’t easily see participants’ screens during practice, and it would be cumbersome to have each participant share their screen. There are also limitations as to how many participants can effectively share an online classroom space, especially if everyone is expected to use audio and video to communicate with others in class.

With planning and practice, however, virtual classrooms can be a powerful complement to your training programs.

Further Reading

Beck, Jacqueline. Best Practices: Deliver a Great Virtual Training Event! Learning Solutions Magazine. March 24, 2014.

Clark, Ruth. Four Steps to Effective Virtual Classroom Training. Learning Solutions Magazine, May 16, 2005.

Hogle, Pamela. Five Essential Skills for Virtual Classroom Facilitators. Learning Solutions Magazine. April 11, 2017.

Hogle, Pamela. Designing Engaging, Interactive eLearning for the Virtual Classroom. Learning Solutions Magazine. February 22, 2017.

Hogle, Pamela. Going Virtual: Tips for Moving Instructor-Led Training Online. Learning Solutions Magazine. February 1, 2017.

McKinnie, Randah. Best Practices for Delivering Virtual Classroom Training. Adobe.

Perego, Kim. Tailoring Virtual Training Delivery for Adult Learners. Learning Solutions Magazine. March 14, 2011.

Stone, Adam. Five Best Practices When Converting Classroom Content for the Virtual Classroom. Learning Solutions Magazine, February 15, 2017.

How to Choose a LearnDash Developer

As LearnDash developers with some visibility in the WordPress LMS community, we get a lot of requests to fix bad projects. It’s so easy for things to go wrong, and selecting the wrong partner can often mean the project is doomed before you even start. In this post we’ll explore the most important things to consider when choosing a developer for any WordPress elearning project. Our expertise is in LearnDash, but all of this applies equally to LifterLMS, Sensei, and any other WordPress LMS plugin that you’re building your platform around.

This post isn’t about selling our services; we’re already at capacity and have unfortunately had to stop accepting new clients several times recently. What we want to do with this blog post is raise awareness so that when you are looking for a partner to help build your LearnDash site you better understand how to choose an organization that is competent and will be able to deliver a robust platform that meets your needs.

If you’re starting out on your first LearnDash development project, here are some things to consider as you look for a partner:

Start with a conversation. We really find that emails don’t work well enough to ensure all parties are on the same page and to ask questions easily. It’s great if you can come to that conversation with clear goals and questions. The vendor should have questions too. Relationships are absolutely critical to successful projects and this is where they start. Take notes and be thorough. If you’re comparing vendors, make sure you have a consistent way to assess them and document everything immediately after the conversation. Also be prepared for several conversations; it’s rare that initial discovery and planning can be completed in a single session, unless it’s a very small project.

learndash discussion

Ask if you can see some of the company’s other projects. Do keep in mind that for LearnDash projects most of the development work tends to be behind registration or a paywall, so the access developers can provide is limited. Again, this is where a call (or preferably web conference) can be very helpful, as on a call the developers can actually sign into sites and show how things are set up or created. Experienced LearnDash experts should have easy access to a variety of representative samples. Ask for some walkthroughs and get more information about what specifically the developers did. Give consideration to what works and what doesn’t, and how similar previous projects might be to your own. Experience is extremely important when setting up intuitive, effective elearning platforms with WordPress.

learndash testimonialsCheck out community feedback. This can be really hard to find in the LearnDash space, but it’s still important to make an effort and solicit experiences about working with the vendor. Maybe there’s feedback on social media, plugin reviews for things they may have developed, the LearnDash support forums, even reaching out to previous customers. Also look for negative feedback, which can often be more telling than positive comments.

Don’t just look locally. There are very few WordPress agencies and developers that have a significant amount of LearnDash experience. We’ve seen a lot of projects where businesses chose someone they know who’s done other work for them (LearnDash is just one plugin, right?) but couldn’t transition to considerations like the signed-in experience, student workflow, making things work together, etc. To get the best partner, expand your search range, potentially even to other countries. We’re in Toronto but we have many clients in Australia; it’s not as hard as you might think to make projects like that work.

Get to know who you’ll be working with. Without question, the #1 reason we’ve taken over several projects from experienced LearnDash developers hasn’t been bad code quality or poor implementation—it’s been a communication breakdown. Communication issues are painfully common with these projects and site owners come to us because they have a site they don’t know how to use, isn’t what they expected or they’re tired of saying the same thing over and over.  Whoever is setting up your site is someone you’ll be working with for over at least several weeks, perhaps even several years. There has to be a rapport. There must be trust. And it has to be really easy to communicate and make sure everyone is always working towards the same goals and scope. You don’t want to be talking to 5 different people and for discussions to only happen by email with week-long gaps between them.

Try to assess technical competence and workflow. While communication issues abound, there are still a lot of developers out there that simply bite off more than they can handle with LearnDash and don’t really know what they’re doing. They might be great people that really want to help, but that doesn’t mean they should be building LearnDash sites. Just last month we took on a site where the developers had made changes to LearnDash core and even WordPress core—and that should never, ever happen.  The client, of course, wondered if it was normal for everything to break and have to be fixed on updates (it’s not). So ask LearnDash partners how they work and look out for red flags. How do they implement changes? How do they test updates? How do they work collaboratively? Who’s responsible for testing and validation? How does a project actually come together? If they have public plugins, what are the reviews like and what issues are people having? We have also seen individuals take on projects that were just too big for one person and then, when they’re overwhelmed, they’ve walked away. Try to get a sense of whether or not the developer or development team has the right skill set and/or the right people in place to handle everything that’s needed.

Ask about training and maintenance. Building a LearnDash site means a lot more than setting up a site and installing some random plugins—yet we see that happen a lot. Your goal also shouldn’t just be to have a site that seems functional at the end; it should be to have a LearnDash site that you understand how to use and leverage to improve your business. When we’re investigating a new site, we almost always have a conversation that goes like this: “Do you know why this is set up this way?” “No.” “Do you have any documentation that might explain it?” “No.” “Is there any way you could find out?” “No.” As a site owner, we understand how scary it can be for you when we ask those questions and you realize you don’t really understand your site. From the beginning you need to make every effort to ensure you’re working with a partner that won’t leave you in that situation. Training and communication throughout a project are absolutely essential. We average creating maybe 4 screencasts per project so that clients always have a point of reference for how things work and why. Find out what your partner’s process is to make sure you’ll be left in a place where you’re comfortable. Also confirm what’s typically required following projects in terms of maintenance and who will be taking care of that. For most projects we are able to hand things off in a way that clients can safely make updates themselves and we’re only needed for answering questions on an ongoing basis—not to keep things up and running.

Don’t be driven just by price. You will inevitably get what you pay for. We’ve taken on a few projects that we scoped out months or even years previously; the business decided to go with a different vendor that was a lot less expensive, and then they came back to us to fix them, often at a higher price than they would have paid if we’d just done the project originally. Budget is a huge consideration, of course, but it should be carefully balanced against other factors like the competence of the developer, your relationship with them, the developer’s experience in similar projects, etc.

Understand exactly what will happen during the project. If you start a project, then leave it in the developer’s hands for 2 months and suddenly get an email at the end saying it’s all done, you’re going to end up with a bad site. Take some time to understand what’s going to happen during the project and how collaboration will work. What do you need to provide? What are your responsibilities and what are the developer’s? What are the milestones? To meet the timelines, how do reviews work and how quickly do things need to be turned around from both parties? Are there any dependencies or bigger risks that everyone should be aware of? How will you and the developers keep each other updated and make sure things are progressing as expected?

The tips above should go a long way in helping you select and retain a vendor that’s the right fit for your LearnDash project. Sometimes, however, it’s still not enough, and due to unforeseen circumstances projects can still go off track. While this is just a quick list, here are some things you should be doing during the project to encourage positive outcomes:

Be involved. Some of our worst projects (and yes, we’ve had a few that disappointed both parties) were when clients just dropped communication. They got too busy or had other priorities, or just stopped caring about the site. We’ve had projects delayed 6-12 months because of client delays, and when that happens it inevitably leads to bad outcomes. Objectives get lost, people stop caring as much, the results just aren’t there. The best projects are when everyone is on the same page and working collaboratively at the same time. We’re adding features and testing while the client is adding content and providing feedback. We’re having discussions to address scope creep or new problems. Being active and engaged is one of the best ways to see good results.

Test continuously. Very recently we took over a project where testing on the site by the client didn’t begin until the day before launch. The site was extremely complex and, of course, everything was broken. That’s when the developer realized they were in over their heads and the client realized they were in an unimaginable amount of trouble. It’s an avoidable situation though. With WordPress LMS sites it’s not like everything is suddenly ready one day; pieces will be finished throughout the project that can be tested independently. Be involved and testing often not only helps identify issues early but it’s a chance to understand your site better and work collaboratively.

Maintain a good relationship. Yes, even if your developer is doing a terrible job and you’re miserable, try not to throw the entire relationship away if you’re in the middle of development. We’ve seen angry developers lock companies out of their sites. Like it or not, and the legal side can be messy when you’re working with partners in other states or countries, your developer can make things very difficult for you if they host and/or have admin access to your WordPress site. If you need to sever a relationship with a WordPress developer try to gain control of the site before things sour too much.

The goal of your LearnDash development project is to always end up with win/win situations for you and your developer. They are possible, and by following some of the guidance in this article we hope you’re able to partner with a great LearnDash development team for your WordPress LMS project.

To Quiz or Not to Quiz?

Having gone through years of schooling, most of us are used to taking and passing tests during or at the end of our learning process. Some of these tests are major milestones and others may determine whether our learning is deemed ‘completed’ or ‘successful’. Some teachers may find constructing and administering tests more straight forward than developing other types of assessment. Often these tests get created at the end of a course development process, driven by the subject matter rather than by expected performance outcomes.

For workplace learning or soft skills training in which application is more important than memorizing facts, tests may not be the most appropriate assessment method. Most test questions are not designed to allow students to engage in critical thinking and reflection or a deeper analysis of the learning material.

There are alternatives to tests, such as writing assignments, collaborative projects, and case studies, that can avoid the problems often associated with tests and quizzes. The key is to design authentic assessments that simulate real-life situations so students can actually learn from the process (Palloff & Pratt, 2013)1. Although group projects can be harder to manage online, they allow your learners to create and be part of a community of practice. After all, if the application of skills doesn’t occur in isolation, why should learning of such skills take place in a vacuum?

There are, of course, benefits to tests. Here are some of the occasions when tests are not only appropriate but good strategies to enhance learning:

  • Use pre-tests to introduce new material: A quiz, when used as a pre-test, can provide your learners with a preview of what they are about to learn. The intention of the test is to get your learners to realize what they don’t know and make them want to know more. These questions can also help students focus on the most important knowledge and skills addressed by your course.
  • Use post-tests to reinforce main points and check understanding: After a lesson is concluded, consider using a self-assessment to review the material covered. A well designed post-test provides learners with personalized feedback tied to what they just completed. It helps them self-evaluate whether they have a good grasp of the material. These frequent, low-stakes assessments can also help students gain proficiency before they attempt the final assessment2.
  • Use formal tests to validate competency: At a logical break point, use a formal test to help learners synthesize their learning. Align test questions to the learning objectives. As much as possible, include application questions (e.g., case scenarios) in this type of tests to help learners apply what they learned in simulated situations.

To quiz or not to quiz? Perhaps there isn’t a straight-forward answer, but ask yourself what the intended learning outcome is before you make it the primary choice for assessment.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2013). Lessons from the virtual classroom: The realities of online teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Weise, M. R., & Christensen, C. M. (2014). Hired education: Mastery, modularization, and the workforce revolution. Redwood City, CA: Clayton Christensen Institute.

Introducing Native SCORM Support for WordPress

The Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting plugin has been a very interesting initiative for us. It opened up LearnDash in a bigger way to enterprise users and proved that it was possible to use WordPress as a viable Learning Record Store (LRS) with advanced reporting. Organizations around the world are now using it, but one thing that’s always been missing is a way to capture SCORM data inside LearnDash. Maybe a business had some content output to SCORM that they couldn’t republish to Tin Can/xAPI, or maybe they were using a product like Articulate Rise, which doesn’t even support Tin Can/xAPI. Whatever the case, today we’re very excited to announce that SCORM modules can be tracked natively inside WordPress with our Tin Canny plugin.

At this time of this post, the Tin Canny plugin officially supports SCORM 1.2 and 2004 as well as xAPI / Tin Can for Articulate Storyline 2, Storyline 360, Articulate Rise (SCORM only), iSpring, Adobe Captivate 9 and H5P (xAPI/Tin Can only). It’s been a lot of work but we’re especially excited to welcome Rise, iSpring and Storyline 360 to the plugin.

Please note that this is the first release for supporting all of this modules, so it’s a good idea to test your modules first and make sure data is being tracked as you expect it to be. The SCORM support is especially important to consider here, as what we’re doing is capturing the SCORM data and then using a wrapper to essentially translate it into Tin Can statements. This makes it reportable along with all Tin Can/xAPI data for consistency, but this also means it may look different than expected if you’ve been using another Learning Management System (LMS).

Version 1.2 of Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting includes all of these updates and more. We also added an easy way to clear all Tin Can data for testing purposes, additional quiz data validation and made some minor changes to user experience.

We hope you enjoy the addition to the Tin Canny plugin!

Create a LearnDash Site in 1 Hour

Creating your own WordPress LMS with LearnDash doesn’t have to be a complicated ordeal that takes weeks or months (and endless frustration) to set up. If your needs are simple, it’s entirely possible to have your platform set up and working well in under 1 day. In our most recent screencast, we run through all the most important steps in an hour, from setting up hosting to installing plugins and building an intuitive learner experience.

This demo platform does rely on a few key plugins and paid tools to make things a lot easier. Doing this with a free theme and your own plugins is possible, but site creation take many, more times longer. The first paid item we use is the University theme, and we added it because it takes care of styling LearnDash and WooCommerce elements so that you don’t have to spend hours fiddling with CSS and template files (which may not be styled at all with some things). I will add the disclaimer  that we don’t use the University theme at Uncanny Owl, but that’s because we can take care of our own styling and work with something more flexible. For beginners and fast projects, however, ease of use and ready-made styles are a lot more important that flexibility.

The LearnDash plugin itself is of course a requirement, and paired with both our free Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit and the associated Pro modules, it’s easy to build intuitive learner workflows and helpful pages in a few minutes. LearnDash and out Pro modules are paid plugins, but they both really are invaluable in building LMS platforms with WordPress.

The site in our demo is hosted on WP Engine. For beginners, we can’t understate how important it is to have hosting that’s easy to use and well supported. This is our main reason for doing the demo with WP Engine. Everything that’s needed is cleanly laid out and everything just works, including automatic daily backups, proactive security, a CDN, caching, a Staging site (that works seamlessly with SSL, unlike some other WordPress hosts), and much more. The difference for a novice WordPress users on WP Engine vs. a generic shared host with cPanel is like night and day.

We created this screencast to target enthusiastic DIY LearnDash and new WordPress users. We especially hope that it helps the people that aren’t able to use our consulting services (perhaps because of time, budget, location, or other considerations). For those users, we really hope the video helps you get your site off the ground.

What Is Tin Can? Should You Care?

What is Tin Can?

The Tin Can API (also known as Experience API or xAPI) is a specification in learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about a wide range of learning activities. Similar to SCORM and AICC, the Tin Can API describes learning data in a consistent format so it is cross-platform compatible. This means different elearning authoring applications (such as Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate) and systems (such as a Learning Record Store) are able to capture and report on learning activities using  a consistent vocabulary.

Why is Tin Can important?

Although SCORM (and the legacy AICC) are still the predominant elearning standards supported by most Learning Management Systems (LMS), they came about in a different era when elearning activities were limited to what happened in a single LMS. In the real world, of course, learners move around, use different devices in different locations, and do much of their learning outside of an LMS.

Tin Can was developed to address the need of learning beyond a single LMS. Mobile learning, simulations, games, and social learning are some of the things that can now be recognized and communicated well with the Tin Can API.

What Is Tin Can API
Image source: What is the Tin Can API?

How does the Tin Can API work?

  • A Tin Can enabled authoring application (such as H5P, Storyline or Captivate) creates markers for learning activities that need to be recorded. When these activities take place, the elearning module sends secure statements in the form of nouns, verbs, and objects to a Learning Record Store (LRS).
  • The LRS records all of the Tin Can statements. An LRS can share these statements with other LRSs and turn the data into meaningful reports. An LRS can exist on its own, or interface with an LMS.

You may be wondering whether you need both an LMS and an LRS. The main function of an LRS is to store and report on learning records (not deliver learning), whereas an LMS includes many other functions (such as user management, content management, and assessments) that aren’t included in an LRS.

Do you need Tin Can in WordPress/LearnDash?

Out of the box, LearnDash does not track user progress or completion of elearning modules created with Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate, two industry-standard authoring programs that allow the creation of portable and interactive elearning modules. Authoring elearning directly in WordPress is not always the right fit, and sometimes it’s necessary to leverage software like Storyline or Captivate to create highly engaging content with elements that include branching, scenario-based case studies, simulations, or even games.

If your elearning content was (or will be) authored in Storyline, Captivate, or H5P and you would like to track learner interactions with such content and/or have it integrate with LearnDash, you will need a tool like the Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting plugin. This plugin includes an LRS that’s entirely native to WordPress (as well as advanced reporting tools, an upload tool and LearnDash integration). Just upload Storyline or Captivate zip files, or create your own H5P modules, and statements are automatically captured right inside an existing WordPress site. Combined with the most comprehensive reporting tools currently available for LearnDash, the Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting makes a powerful addition to elearning sites with more advanced reporting requirements.

A Tin Can LRS and LearnDash Reporting for WordPress!

Uncanny Owl is very pleased to introduce the easiest way to incorporate Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate and H5P modules into LearnDash courses! We don’t just embed modules; we created the very first Tin Can (xAPI) Learning Record Store that’s completely native to WordPress. There are no other applications to install. No endpoints to configure, no complex upload tools, no segregated reporting or any of the other complications that have been historically required to track Storyline, Captivate and H5p modules in WordPress. Easy Tin Can/xAPI and LearnDash reporting is now available with the Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting plugin.

The Tin Canny LearnDash Reporting plugin is more than just a Learning Record Store. Capturing Tin Can statements is of no value unless there’s a great way to present the data—so we built a very powerful reporting tool that combines Tin Can data with all the rest of your LearnDash course data. In fact, even without the Tin Can piece, this is the most comprehensive reporting platform available for LearnDash sites. And that’s still not all—we wanted LearnDash and Tin Can integration to be as seamless as possible, so we modified LearnDash Mark Complete button behaviours so that they only appear after a user has completed all Tin Can modules on the page. (It’s all automatic; if are Tin Can modules on a page, we monitor Tin Can verbs to unlock the Mark Complete button at the right time.)tin_can_report

Everything that’s needed for effective Tin Can use is included in the plugin, from a Storyline and Captivate upload tool (that detects Tin Can vs. non-Tin Can automatically and parses XML files for slide names) and a Learning Record Store to dashboard, course, user and Tin Can reports. Simply install the plugin and everything is ready to go. In fact, the only setting is to toggle whether or not to use Tin Can (as this plugin is also a fantastic LearnDash reporting tool without Tin Can).


The reporting capabilities really can’t be understated. Here are just a few new metrics that are available for LearnDash courses in the drill-down reporting tool:

LearnDash course completion trendsAverage quiz scores
Topic completion recordsAverage course completion times*
Time spent in courses*Enrolment records

* Requires the Simple Course Timer module from the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit Pro modules.

And on the Tin Can side, all of the following are available as report filters:

LearnDash GroupUser
CourseTin Can Module
Verb/ActivityDate Range

Head over to our Knowledge Base articles to read more about how the upload tool, LRS and reporting tools work.


At the time of writing, this is the first release of a very large plugin. We wanted to get the plugin out to users as soon as possible, so there a few features that we’ll be adding in the near future to round out the plugin. They include the following:

  • Group Leader reports (right now they’re for administrators only)
  • Additional export functions
  • A report builder that lets you choose your own columns and filters
  • Controls for disabling the Mark Complete integration (it’s currently forced if Tin Can is on a page)

These are all coming in the near future! We will also be making performance improvements to query millions of records in under 5 seconds. Development testing included data for 10,000 learners, but we know we can make report generation even faster.

Please also note that the Learning Record Store is ONLY for on-site use (there is no endpoint for external Tin Can data) and has been built specifically to support Storyline, Captivate and H5P modules only. 

Get the Tin Canny Reporting for Learndash plugin now!

Branding for LearnDash Groups

Do you sell courses to organizations? If you do, you probably wish there was an easier way to tailor your course and site branding to your clients without having to use multisite or cloned courses. With today’s release of a new Pro branding module for LearnDash Groups, you can easily deliver organizational branding right inside your existing courses!

group_logoOur new branding module adds 2 important features to LearnDash sites: group logos and front-end group lists. After adding a logo to LearnDash groups, just add a shortcode anywhere you want users to see the logo associated with their group. It might be a learner dashboard, a contact page—it could even be in the header of your site. How much would your clients like their users to see branding associated with their organization? It’s completely dynamic, so users will only see the logo for the group they’re a member of. If you use our Group Registration module, you can even display the logo for the associated group on the user registration page. It helps users validate that they’re on the right page, and it helps your client organizations deliver the right branding for their users—all without multisite.

Our shortcode for group listings seems simple at a glance, but it’s actually an extremely powerful way to give courses the feeling that they were created just for an organization’s users. What the shortcode does is list the user’s LearnDash Group on the front end. Let’s suppose that a site has 2 users, Ryan in a group called “Uncanny Owl” and Ken in a group called “LearnDash”. Inside one of the course lessons we include the phrase, “At [uo_group_list], we embrace diversity.” When Ryan views the lesson, he would see “At Uncanny Owl, we embrace diversity.” Ken, on the other hand, would see “At LearnDash, we embrace diversity.” We’re very excited about using this new shortcode on client sites to deliver the experience of branded courses without the hard work and complexity that usually goes along with it.

Introducing the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit Pro Modules

Earlier this year we released our first public plugin to the WordPress Repository. The Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit has developed a huge following since its release, with over 1,000 active installs and over 4,000 downloads, and we wanted to take that foundation and add a number of new capabilities that would help LearnDash site owners really take their learner experience to the next level.

The Pro set of modules for the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit is our first paid plugin and represents the culmination of hundreds of hours of internal development time. The new modules are considerably more complex than what’s in the current plugin, but they’re also very powerful and fundamentally change what’s possible with LearnDash sites.

Here are the modules included in the initial release of the Pro plugin (usage instructions are left to our Knowledge Base articles in the links because of module complexity):

Autocomplete Lessons and Topics: As simple as it sounds, this module marks lessons and topics as completed when the page is visited so learners no longer have to click Mark Complete on lessons and topics.

Simple Course Timer: Adds time tracking to LearnDash courses. Both total course time (across course, lesson, topic and quiz post types) and course completion time are recorded as learners complete learning activities. Results are added to LearnDash reports and can be displayed to users via shortcodes.

LearnDash Group Expiration: Expire course access for LearnDash Groups by calendar date. On a specific date, all courses can be removed from a LearnDash Group (revoking access for associated users), making it easier to sell courses to organizations and remove access automatically.

Enhanced Course Grid: This module provides an alternative way to display courses in a grid-based system that’s particularly useful to signed-in users. It’s extremely flexible.

Course Dashboard: We took the basics of the ld_profile shortcode but modified the design (and content) to fit seamlessly into typical landing pages for learners.

Learner Transcript: This report shortcode generates a printable view of user progress across all LearnDash courses. It’s a better way for learners to share their accomplishments offline and with other parties.

Duplicate Pages and Posts: A simple module that clones LearnDash post types, but with proper support for quizzes and quiz questions. With this module you can skip the export/import quiz steps normally recommended.

Days Until Course Expiry: Show learners the number of days until access expires (rather than the calendar date available with LearnDash).

Drip Lessons by LearnDash Group: Set specific drip dates for every LearnDash group instead of every group being bound to the same dates.

LearnDash Table Colors: Adds a simple way to restyle LearnDash course, lesson, quiz and dashboard tables by changing the colors of the header background and text.

LearnDash Group Registration: Adds a front-end registration function for adding users to both WordPress and LearnDash Groups at the same time. It even supports users switching groups or adding additional groups to a user from the front end. Gravity Forms or Theme My Login are recommended for this module but not required.

The Pro plugin requires PHP 5.3 or higher, LearnDash 2.1 or higher, and the Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit version 1.3 or higher. These 3 things are really important, so please make sure your site is updated before you purchase and install the Pro modules!

Some of the new modules are reasonably complex, and it’s very important that you read the Knowledge Base articles and watch the screencasts before you start using the plugin. If you do run into any problems or questions, send us a note!

We hope you like the new Pro modules and that they help to improve your LearnDash sites!

Uncanny LearnDash Toolkit Pro

Who Reads Learning Outcomes?

If you do a search online, you’ll find plenty of resources on how to write good learning outcomes, and how not to confuse learning outcomes with learning objectives. “Outcomes” or “objectives”, the reality is your learners seldom pay attention to them. They skip this screen. They fast forward. So for whom are learning outcomes really written?

Don’t get me wrong. Learning outcomes are written for the learners. But they seem to be there as a reminder to the instructor and instructional designer of what the focus of the training should be, like how PowerPoint is often misused as the presenter’s teleprompter.

So should you skip learning outcomes all together? Not at all. There are ways you can state learning outcomes that are informative and actually get your learners’ attention. Here are some strategies.

1. Pose learning outcomes as questions

Rather than telling your learners what they should be able to do at the end of the lesson, consider asking them a series of open-ended questions for which they don’t yet have answers until they complete the lesson. These questions are intended to raise the learners’ curiosity and get them to want to learn more.

2. Use a pre-test to frame learning outcomes

An alternative to the first strategy is using a pre-test. The test should be short and fun. In fact, it should not look like a test. As with the first strategy, the intention of the test is to get your learners to realize what they don’t know from the cues to the key points of your lesson.

WordPress Tip: If you’re not grading pre-tests to support Level 2 evaluation, LearnDash and other LMS quizzes can be heavy for this type of pre-test. Consider an H5P element or simple text questions instead.

3. Use a case scenario to model learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are meant to describe desired behaviour. So, why not present a case scenario that models the intended outcomes? The learners get to see what they will be able to do at the end of the lesson. Have them buy into what they can achieve will increase their motivation to learn.

4. Use a short introductory video to tell a story

Contrary to the previous strategy, a story that makes personal connections will warm up the learner. On the other hand, a story that describes a problem causes tension; it will make the learner want to resolve it. Either way, your introduction will engage the learner and make the content more relatable.

Learning outcomes don’t have to be boring. If you take care of the presentation of your learning outcomes, your learners will be less inclined to skip them.

7 Principles of Good Feedback in eLearning

elearning-feedbackEvery  teacher knows that it’s important to provide students with regular feedback during their learning process. Without feedback, your learners simply don’t know how well they are doing. In self-paced online learning, how do you gauge the learners’ progress when there is no instructor to provide feedback and guide their learning?

Nicol and Macfarlane‐Dick (2006)1 identified seven principles of good feedback practice. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can incorporate feedback—in particular, how to apply these principles—in self-paced online learning.

  1. Good feedback helps clarify what good performance is

    What’s been done: An approach that has proved particularly effective in clarifying performance goals and standards is to model exemplary performance. Without concrete, worked examples, concepts are just abstract ideas. In self-paced online learning, this can be achieved with case studies in which learners can identify good performance in the presented scenario.
    What you can do: When designing a case scenario, consider breaking it into multiple parts. After presenting a case, ask the learner what they would do in that scenario—this could be done with a multiple-choice question with possible reactions. Reveal the answer only after the learner has given it some thought. Your answer will be more meaningful if they interact with the material first.
    WordPress Tips: Quiz tools in LearnDash and other LMS plugins can be disruptive to learning for short reflective assessments; try an H5P module instead, which can be embedded directly into the lesson page.

  1. Good feedback facilitates the development of self-reflection in learning

    What’s been done: Provide opportunities for learners to ask “where am I now?” In self-paced online learning, this is especially important if your course is broken down into many lessons, and the learner has the option to take them in any order.
    What you can do: At the end of each lesson, consider providing the learner with a concept map showing them where they are in the course. If possible, tie it with the lessons that the learner has completed to show connections. This gives them an opportunity to do a self-check before they move on to a new lesson.

  1. Good feedback delivers high quality information to students about their learning

    What’s been done: Good feedback is personalized, specific to the individual learners. This can be done with a self-assessment, which may include multiple-choice, true/false, or short-answer questions with feedback tied to the lesson or topic that the learner just completed. This helps the learner self-evaluate whether they have a good grasp of the material.
    What you can do: Consider including customized feedback that helps the learner adjust their learning. For example, you may suggest that they review the lesson (or certain sections of it) if they answer most of the self-assessment questions wrong. You may provide more feedback if a key question that is directly linked to a performance goal is answered incorrectly.
    WordPress Tips: Conditional feedback can be difficult in WordPress, but most quiz tools support feedback or graduation text that can be used to provide insight and recommendations based on learner answers (or use something that supports conditional feedback, like Gravity Forms). For personalized feedback, we like using the shortcode on LearnDash platforms to address the learner by name wherever possible.

  1. Good feedback encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning

    What’s been done: One way of increasing the likelihood that your feedback will be taken in by the learners is to frame it more as dialogue rather than as instruction. This can be done with a few follow-up questions at the end of a lesson that ask the learner how they might apply what they learned in a context that’s directly relevant to them.
    What you can do: In self-paced online learning, if there is a blog or forum associated with your course, consider encouraging the learner to discuss your follow-up questions with their peers. This can be very effective when the feedback is highly contextual. Using feedback to generate discussions also encourages communities of practice in which learners who share common interests can learn from and support one another.
    WordPress Tips: bbPress is a great way to incorporate a simple forum and you can link to specific threads inside LearnDash lessons and topics. Be aware that taking users to a forum removes them from the course context, so make sure it’s easy for users to navigate back to where they were (like with the Resume button in our Toolkit, or easy access to a dashboard page).

  1. Good feedback increases students’ motivation to learn

    What’s been done: As mentioned above, feedback can be embedded in a series of “check your understanding” review questions. The bite-size evaluation allows your learners to grasp concepts in smaller, manageable chunks, leveraging each step of their learning as building blocks.
    What you can do: “Drop-out” caused by low motivation is often considered the biggest challenge in online learning. Bite-size learning with self-assessment allows your learner to celebrate their progress. Success breeds success—the gradual approach helps to build up the learner’s confidence and increase their motivation to learn. You may also consider using badges to reward the learner’s milestone achievements.
    WordPress Tips: For next-level automated engagement, one intervention we really like is hooking LearnDash activities into Active Campaign, a powerful but inexpensive Marketing Automation tool. It’s not just for marketing—it’s a very effective way of keeping learners engaged by sending communications based on their learning activities. (At the time of writing, our Active Campaign integration for LearnDash isn’t available to the public but can be added to client sites.)

  1. Good feedback provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

    What’s been done: The end goal of providing feedback is to help learners achieve mastery and improve performance. Self-assessment at the end of a lesson can mimic the same ‘task-feedback-performance’ cycle.
    What you can do: Your feedback should help the learner recognize the next steps in learning and how to take them. It can also show how the gap between their current and desired performance is shortened each step of the way.

  1. Good feedback provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching

    What’s been done: Self-assessment is often not evaluated. However, there is significant learning data that can be extracted from these assessments to guide the student’s learning path. Their learning becomes more relevant and meaningful which, in turn, will further increase their motivation to learn.
    What you can do: Take advantage of the user progress reports that your LMS generates to better understand where your learners are. The data can help you assess the average performance of the class, and identify who may need more attention. It can also help you make improvements to your course that will benefit future learners.
    WordPress Tips: We know that progress over time can be difficult to track with WordPress LMS plugins. Running reports at defined periods and then comparing them can help; report customization is also an option.

In self-paced online learning, students are already assessing their own work and generating their own feedback. Well-designed feedback creates individualized learning experience that will result in more satisfied learners.

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.