We’re Going to Change How You Use WordPress

About 8 months ago, we had an idea that got us very excited. We wanted to personalize learning and give users the right direction and feedback they needed at the right time, and to do that, we started looking into an Trigger > Condition > Action model. We could watch for things to happen on an elearning site (a trigger), check a condition, then automatically do something else (an action) if the requirements were met. It’s a simple model, but with it, we would be able to completely personalize learning.

That led us to start thinking bigger. If we’re going to build this architecture for one plugin (LearnDash), why not just build it out and make it work with lots of WordPress plugins ? The possibilities seemed endless. We could make one plugin, or several plugins, trigger actions in other plugins. Not only would it would a system like that make it easy to connect plugins and automate workflows, but we could eliminate the need for one-off plugins that just connected 2 plugins together in very simple ways.

So, one thousand development hours and 6 months of development time later, we built the framework for a plugin that does all of this. It’s not ready for wide release yet, but we are starting a limited beta over at https://automatorplugin.com/. (Make sure to check it out if you want to participate.)

You may still be wondering why our team is more excited about this work then anything else we’ve ever done. The possibilities with this plugin really are unlimited, and every day we’re thinking of new ways the plugin might be used. Let’s start off with a possible eLearning workflow to demonstrate how powerful the plugin can be.

Suppose a student demonstrates very poor performance in a course and we want to automate an appropriate intervention to get the student back on track. With the Uncanny Automator plugin, we can create a “recipe” that does this: If a student scores below 50% on quizzes X and Y (these are the triggers), enroll the student in a remedial course, notify his or her Group Leader, delete his or her progress from the current course (so they can retake it), unenroll the user from the current course, and send an email to the student with feedback about what happened and appropriate next steps.

With our new plugin, creating that complex workflow can be set up in about 3 minutes with absolutely no coding required and no further administrator or instructor involvement. It’s just automatic. And every recipe is created using a clean, intuitive user interface.

The possibilities for this plugin aren’t just limited to eLearning. Here’s a sales example:

A user submits an application form, visits a landing page and completes a purchase (these are triggers). The system then adds the user to a private bbPress forum, changes the user’s WordPress role and adds a tag in Infusionsoft (these are all actions). That entire workflow can be in a single Automator recipe.

We want to get the Uncanny Automator plugin in everyone’s hands as soon as we can, but for now anyone interested is welcome to apply for the beta program.

We hope you’re as excited as we are about the possibilities this opens up for WordPress end users, administrators, and even developers (by integrating with only Automator, plugins could instantly be connected to 20 other plugins). Stay tuned for more Automator news in the next future!

 

How Are We Doing? Part 2

One year ago today we posted a reflective article about feedback from our customers about our performance. At that time we had been using a Help Desk system for over a year, and that allowed us to start collecting metrics and feedback from some of our plugin customers and development clients.

A year later, we wanted to look back and reflect on how things have changed for us. For one thing, we’re definitely a lot busier! And, as we come up on our 5 year anniversary (next week!), it’s even more important to take a look at what growth has meant to our level of service. Here are some key stats for Uncanny Owl over the last 12 months:

Uncanny Owl 2018 Stats

(The number of sites using our plugins may actually be a fair bit higher than 10,000, as we can only accurately say that it’s somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000; we suspect it’s around 11,000 at the time of writing.)

It’s a lot of growth! Installs and support requests have more than doubled over the last year. And even with that growth, we’ve been able to improve the level of satisfaction across our support channels. Keep in mind too that those are only users that had issues or questions and took time to leave a rating or comment.

And what are people saying about us in the feedback they provide? Here are some selected comments from our users:

All of the features work and if you ever run into issues, the support team is top notch. They go out of their way to help and you can really tell that they care about their product. Thank you UO team for being so AWESOME!
- $avageMan
Ryan has been fabulous! His solutions correct the issue, and he is always so fast to reply. Uncanny Owl has provided fantastic support and their plugin is great!
- Kristie
Fast and clear reply. Took my vague query and provided a concise and brilliant answer. Thanks for making things much clearer... as a result I'm buying more licences today.
- Michael N
Very responsive. Direct and helpful.
- Thomas O
Excellent support and very fast!
- Nathan H
Always responsive!
- Alan C
A great detailed answer to my inquiry that will really help me! So appreciate it.
- Richard M
The support I have received has been phenomenal. Thank you very much!
- Abena E
I really appreciate the quick, knowledgeable, and detailed reply. Great!!
- Lisa D
Great response and very fast. Thank you very much for your efficient support.
- Sara C
Thanks for going above and beyond! Your service is amazing.
- Jacqueline H
You guys are amazing! Thank you for your incredible products.
- Will P
Ryan was very prompt with a response to my question and was very informative. I appreciate the quick assistance as this is time sensitive for us.
- Dan P
As someone who is new to the WP and LMS game, I find Uncanny Owl’s products and service to be a life-saver. I can’t recommend them enough!
- Leah
Ryan quickly pointed me in the direction I needed to resolve the answer. Within minutes of reading his response I had both issues resolved.
- Chris T

Of course, maintaining this level of service as we continue to grow is only possible with a great team. If you know LearnDash and are as committed to great products and service as we are, please consider checking out our open positions at http://jobs.uncannyowl.com/.

Use BadgeOS? Try This

If you’re a BadgeOS user, you’ve probably noticed that the plugin hasn’t been updated for almost a year. Conflicts with the latest version of WooCommerce and other plugins have made it virtually impossible to use BadgeOS on many sites, and as we have a lot of LearnDash sites relying on BadgeOS, the situation became rather difficult for us.

As future support of BadgeOS is unknown, we decided to implement some fixes ourselves for our clients. We know a lot of people are affected by these issues though, so we thought it would be helpful to release our patched plugin to the wider community. Having said that, there are some caveats:

  • This is not a plugin we will be maintaining or supporting. If you want to use this code, it’s at your own risk. This is purely to address some common issues that we know site owners are struggling to address themselves with BadgeOS version 1.4.8.2.
  • We currently have no plans to keep this updated. Right now it’s a short term fix.
  • This plugin may or may not work with third-party integrations. We fixed some common issues that affected our clients and plugins.
  • We have no relationship with the BadgeOS developers. We’re just filling a gap temporarily that was affecting a lot of our users.

If you are running into BadgeOS problems, we invite you to download the plugin below and see if it fixes your issues. It is a drop-in replacement for BadgeOS, so make sure you remove your current BadgeOS plugin first.

New Code-Based Enrolment Plugin for LearnDash

If you’ve ever wished for an easier way to get your learners into LearnDash Groups or courses, our newest plugin is perfect for you! We’ve built a really easy way to generate codes that can be used by learners to self-enrol into LearnDash groups and courses when they register, make a purchase, or are simply signed in.

If you sell course access to organizations, you can use the Uncanny LearnDash Codes plugin to generate and distribute codes that can be redeemed for LearnDash access. Using Gravity Forms, Theme My Login or the included registration shortcode, users can enter a code during registration that adds them directly to a group or course. Create codes with custom prefixes and suffixes to identify clients, and distribute codes in CSV files to your partners. You can also control how many times a code can be redeemed, so if it’s better for your situation to distribute a single code with multiple uses, that works too.

Here’s a screencast that walks through exactly what the plugin does and how it works:

The plugin also supports integration with WooCommerce and independent enrolment. For ecommerce transactions, you can identify specific products that can only be purchased with a valid code, making it possible for learners to buy access to a LearnDash Group. For signed in users, we also make a shortcode available so users can enrol themselves in additional courses and groups using a code.

view-codes

Here are 3 business scenarios that are a perfect fit for Uncanny LearnDash Codes:

  1. Offer a promo where the first 50 customers to enter a code from their profile page get early access to a new course. (Use the plugin to generate a single code with 50 uses that enrols the user in a course.)
  2. Send a CSV file with codes to a college professor that allows students to self-enrol directly into a LearnDash Group and associated courses. (Use the plugin to generate 100 single-use codes in bulk for a group and download as a CSV file, and force code redemption on registration.)
  3. Generate codes on your LearnDash site and sell them from another website. One of our clients is now able to sell course access from a Shopify store by creating the codes with our plugin, loading them into Shopify, and then letting users redeem them on the LearnDash site.

All codes have a detailed audit history, so you can see when codes were generated, when they were redeemed and by whom. Codes can be used for one or more courses or groups.

We hope you enjoy the plugin!

LearnDash Review Revisited

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing).  Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons, quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)   Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!  We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode for quiz display and to display a list of courses without descriptions.   In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University http://themeforest.net/item/university-education-event-and-course-theme/8412116?ref=uncannyowl now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.   It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The community is still vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace. Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons and quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now enforcing a 1:1 relationship between courses and lessons/quizzes/topics). All of these changes make navigation much easier and intuitive, though building out courses can still be a very tedious process. (In that area, we would love to see a way to duplicate courses that retains course objects as well as an easy way to import and export quizzes from Word.)

Quizzes have been simplified in LearnDash 2.0, with Standard and Advanced Quizzes now combined into a single “Quiz” object. It’s great to have all quiz settings and questions in a single location, but the number of options is still going to overwhelm new users. Make sure you use quiz templates to make the quiz creation process as efficient and consistent as possible!

We would still love to be able to customize LearnDash more easily and to have access to additional shortcodes. Certificates are one such example; it’s hard to retrieve someone’s certificate without either displaying the learner’s full profile or having them retake the quiz. We’d love to see a shortcode to display certificates (with a single link if you passed at least once, regardless of the number of attempts) and one to display a list of courses without descriptions.

In the comments of the original article, another LearnDash user mentioned wanting a custom theme for LearnDash. In earlier days of using LearnDash we certainly agreed, and we spent a lot of time making CSS changes to get unsupported themes working seamlessly with LearnDash. With LearnDash recently confirming that they won’t develop a theme themselves, it’s great to see themes like University now showing up that have explicit LearnDash support.

It’s great to see the positive changes with LearnDash and many of Ken’s earlier criticisms being addressed. The LearnDash community is still very vibrant and it’s reassuring to see development continuing at a good pace.

Keeping Client Sites Up and Running

Secure WebsiteAt Uncanny Owl we do everything we can to make sure our clients are happy before, during and after projects. We design simple, straightforward solutions that are easy to manage, yet the platforms will be do sometimes require periodic updates and oversight to stay secure and operational, just as any other software does. That’s why we build long-term relationships with our partners and help out proactively—so they can focus on their business rather than their systems.

In the past we’ve managed ongoing maintenance on an individual basis. It worked, but coordinating everything on a monthly basis just wasn’t a good use of anyone’s time. As a result, we’re pleased to now offer standard maintenance packages to all of our clients—past, current and future. Packages start at just $100 and give clients the peace of mind that their systems will stay up and running no matter what.

More information about the packages and details are available on our new Worry-Free Website Maintenance page. If you’re a client and have questions, drop us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

Chrome Broke Captivate

Crying ManDo you retest your elearning whenever a browser update is released? If you don’t, a recent issue affecting Chrome and Captivate HTML5 content might have you reconsidering.

I was recently on our LearnDash demo site and happened to notice that the sample lesson with an embedded Captivate module stopped working. The module simply wouldn’t load. Fearing the worst (how long had visitors been staring at a broken site?) I tried the page in another browser and, lo and behold, it was still working. I did a bit of digging, searching for recent pages with the keywords “Chrome HTML5 Captivate” and discovered a very significant issue that causes the latest Chrome release to not render HTML5 Captivate files properly. Shocking! And how many other elearning developers aren’t using Chrome or checking olds course regularly, so wouldn’t know anything’s broken, and how many others would know what to search for and discover the Adobe article?

If you have publish elearning modules from Captivate 7 or 8 in HTML5, you need to visit this page and follow the instructions now. Try your modules in Chrome and see if they work. If they don’t, it’s not enough to drop the HTML file into existing content; you really do need to republish the files.  If you don’t, your users on Chrome could be having a really bad time.

LearnDash Demo Video

Our LearnDash demo site has been great to give people a taste of what can be done with LearnDash, but for companies interested in using LearnDash themselves, it’s not enough. They want to get behind the scenes and get a tour of things they might have missed on the front end.

To help companies develop better explore our LearnDash demo and get a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes, we’ve created a 6-minute screencast that goes over some of the highlights. We hope it helps in your evaluation and use of LearnDash!

Check out our LearnDash demo screencast below. Make sure you watch it on YouTube or in full-screen mode so you can read everything!

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!

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!