More and more small businesses, professionals and experts are starting to realize that they can make a good living from selling access to their expertise online. And while this area used to be dominated by ebooks and downloadable pdfs, these days the way to get your customers through the door is by offering courses, often including interactive discussion forums, video and other assessment tools.
And be they called eLearning, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or plain old course builders, WordPress is an awesome platform on which you can build your profitable online course.
So, to help you make the decision of which course building plugin for WordPress to choose, we’ve done a roundup and review of the top contenders, rated them and chosen our winner (at the end of this post).
CoursePress (WPMU DEV, Free & Paid ($19) – unlimited sites)
CoursePress comes from the folks at WPMU DEV (and also, interestingly, the people behind Edublogs, so they clearly know a thing or two about online learning). There are two versions of the plugin; the free one, and a paid version currently retailing for $19 (which allows more payment gateways).
The plugin comes with all of the tools you need to create a course (Multiple choice, videos, student uploads and downloads, drip feeds etc.) and also, perhaps more interestingly, you can include live chat sessions (using their very popular chat plugin) as well as integrated discussions. That’s also available for purchase for $19, or you can get a full WPMU DEV membership and get their entire collection of plugins and themes for (currently) less than $40.
And even more impressively you can use the plugin on as many sites as you like and easily sell courses through the free plugin.
If there was an area that could be improved it would be for the plugin to come with more ‘out of the box’ themes for a broader design experience, but apparently they are working on that right now (and the plugin already works just fine with 99% of existing WP themes) so expect more from that soon.Our rating: 9.5 / 10
Namaste LMS (Free & Paid ($87) – 1 site)
Namaste LMS is a plugin designed to specifically turn WordPress into an LMS, and it’s got a lot of different features.
Assignments are dealt with as custom post types, and as such are fully customizable.
The plugin is set up with a number of different modules, and the pro version includes a range of other different features:
- Create classes and limit access to courses based on them
- Assign teachers to the classes to have your team members manage content
- Delayed access to course material.
- Reorder courses and classes.
- Shortcodes to let users sign-up for classes.
- Progress bar shows users how they do in each course.
- Premium support.
However, it is worth noting that unfortunately the pro version is only allowed to be used on one site, and can quickly get expensive with extra themes costing more, and extra modules… it can quickly add up.
Overall while the pro version looks like a fully featured plugin, the free version is pretty poor and the limitations (and extra expenses) of the pro plugin make it a pretty pricey choice.Our rating: 6.5 / 10
LearnDash (Paid – $99)
LearnDash have had a real go at providing a fully functional and featured LMS for WordPress, not only allowing users to create lessons, set assignments and generally create and manage courses, but also really going to town on the extension and integration side of things.
They’ve integrated with the vast majority of WordPress plugins out there (although this only seems to take the form of allowing a course to be sold, for example, as a link… so whether it’s a real integration or not is another thing), but it’s an impressive list.
Importantly though, all of their extensions are free, so there are none of the nasty costs involved that you might get with some other products – and LearnDash also offer customizations, which might be pretty useful if you get stuck.
It’s a shame though that there isn’t a free version to play with, although you can take a tour here:Our rating: 8 / 10
Sensei (Paid $129 – $279)
Sensei is one of the more established course building plugins and brought to market by the team behind Woothemes and Woocommerce, so it’s obviously got a bit of heft.
The plugin itself allows you to relatively easily put together a course (it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience; we had quiet a few moments of confusion putting things together) and comes with all of the required modules you’d like to create a decent course (quizzes, charging (with Woocommerce) and grading) – although there’s little to no focus on communication and discussion.
Probably the most frustrating thing about Sensei though is it’s price; the $129 (plus extensions) price seems extravagant when compared to competitors in the space and that’s for only a single site license… want more sites and you’ll have to cough up the full $279… which is a crazy price for a piece of fairly simple software such as this.
Also there’s the precedent with Woocommerce, while most of their extensions are free (currently BadgeOS is the only one with a charge), surely it won’t be long before you end up being dragged into paying $$$$s for a setup you could have got for free with other sites.
Also, unfortunately, development seems to have slowed as Woo has focused more on commerce.Our rating: 7 / 10
To be honest this wasn’t a very hard decision, with their experience and other range of successful plugin releases, WPMU DEV’s CoursePress very much takes out the competition.
Not only does the plugin have all the features you’re going to need to set up a course, it’s also a delight to use, and the free version is basically entirely fully featured – only being limited by a few payment gateways and for those wanting to run 3 or more courses.
There are no extra costs (unless you want to pay $39 and pick up their ridiculously large catalogue of premium plugins) and as the most recent addition to the WordPress LMS space you can expect some serious additions and extra features over the next year.
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