Issue #418

Sent to members on February 20, 2023

You Don’t Necessarily Need An Online Course Plugin To Do Online Courses

A lot of people out there want to create and sell online courses these days. It is quite the trend.

Frankly, I think there’s a fair amount of inflation in the world of online courses. So much supply out there that the perceived value of courses has dropped. This is something I’ve talked about before.

But, online courses are here to stay. They still sell well when done correctly. There are so many uses for them, whether it be as a flagship product, part of a larger library for a membership site, or even a lead magnet.

I do think there is a trend toward SHORTER online courses, tho. People’s attention spans don’t really effectively support the notion of a large, multi-module course. People don’t have time for it. They lose interest. It is too much bulk and too time consuming.

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Short, to-the-point courses can be really powerful. But, here’s the question…

Do you actually need a full online course plugin (known as a learning management system, or LMS) to do online courses?

Perhaps not.

See, a lot of folks who want to do online courses go out and look for a plugin to do it. And inevitably, you’re going to find LMS plugins like LearnDash, TutorLMS or Thrive Apprentice.

A lot of times, though, these plugins are simply overkill for short courses. If you just want a course with a single video, some text and perhaps a download or two, then one of these LMS plugins is overkill. LearnDash, in fact, can’t even do courses like that without weird add-ons.

If your courses don’t need the fancy gizmos like certificates, assignments, grading and large multi-module setups, then you can totally get away without buying an LMS plugin.

I’m actually in the process of doing this right now for a client. It is actually fairly simple and here’s how I built it.

See, my client wants to have a library of almost exclusively one-video courses. Each video will be hosted on Vimeo. There will be some text under the video and she is likely going to have downloadables for them.

So, I just created a custom post type called “Courses”. I used the CPT UI plugin to create a custom post type. Now, she has posts and pages (which are default WordPress) as well as a new custom post type of Courses.

I then used Advanced Custom Fields to create a few custom fields specific to her online courses. Those fields are:

  • A URL field to be the URL to the course video on Vimeo.
  • A repeater field with name and file URL where she can set up downloadables for each course.

As her project develops, we may add additional fields as needed. But, by using a custom post type and custom fields, we can tailor an online course setup specific to her needs without all the bloat of an LMS.

I also set up a custom category structure for her courses (called a taxonomy in WordPress lingo) so that she’ll be able to categorize her courses and we’ll have some nice filter options in place as her library grows.

Now, there’s the matter of what these courses will look like on the front-end.

I decided to use Elementor and the Hello Theme as the building block for her site. And I created a unique template using Elementor specific to the Courses post type.

For the video, I use Elementor’s built-in integration with Advanced Custom Fields in order to dynamically pull in the video from Vimeo that she enters in. It will be right there at the top of the template.

Now, displaying a repeater field in Elementor is a wee bit more geeky. But, the beauty of Elementor is all of the third-party addons. So, I installed a plugin called Anywhere Elementor Pro. One of the many abilities of this suite of addons for Elementor is more in-depth usage of custom fields… namely repeater fields.

Using Anywhere, I created a template for the display of her course downloads (using Elementor, of course). Then, I used the widget for displaying a repeater field to set it up in her course template.

So, what we have then is a theme template specifically for displaying her online courses. We can customize that template to look like anything she wants. It will include a video, text and links to downloadables. It can be expanded to suit future needs as time goes on.

Then, for her Course Library, we’ll just set up a page and use Elementor’s “Post Grid” (or the Loop Builder, if you’re using that new addition) to show her courses. Each course will be categorized, have a nice feature image and description.

She’s going to want them to be protected only for members, so I’ll be using WP Fusion for that (see 7 cool things you can do with WP Fusion). She will be using FluentCRM, so WP Fusion will provide a perfect content protection system for her. And we’ll sell access using WooCommerce, in all likelihood.

It’s simple, really.

Perhaps at some point I’ll record a video for the blog on how this is done. Or if you’d like me to build this for you, you can have me do that and I’ll have it for for you pretty quickly.

But, the point here is just that….

You don’t need a fancy LMS plugin on your site to do online courses.

Most LMS plugins contains features that most people just never use.

And for simple courses that are most likely to actually get completed by your customers, you don’t need such plugins.

WordPress is a highly customizable system. We’re not stuck with just posts and pages. It can literally be turned into anything you want.

Tech Talk

One of the things I come across a lot when a new client signs up for webmaster support… is that they’re running a bunch of plugins they’re not using.

It is usually stuff they purchased or tried at some point in the past, never actually ended up using it, but it still sits there as an active plugin.

So, one of the first things I do is a little inventory to see what we can turn off. WordPress plugins are awesome, but depending on the nature of the plugin, there can be some issues. In my post How Many WordPress Plugins Are Too Many?, I spell out the 4 chief issues:

  • More HTTP requests on the server
  • More database queries (and more bloat)
  • The potential for software conflicts
  • The potential for security holes (mostly on older, non-maintained plugins)

In a lot of cases, there are plugins you can turn off. But then, you’ll get down to the ones you are actually using. And the number of plugins varies. There’s no hard “max” on this stuff. In fact, my site currently has 49 active plugins. So, how can you make sure running that isn’t going to bog down your site?

  • Run caching plugin. If your host provides caching built-in, then use that. But, your site needs caching.
  • Use a performance plugin. I personally use PerfMatters and I often set it up on client sites, too. You can optimize the site’s code, disable stuff you’re not using…and more.
  • Use selective plugin loading. You actually can turn on plugins only in the places on your site where they’re needed… and disable everywhere else. Again, I use PerfMatters for this. Plugin Organizer does it, too.
  • Run supported plugins. Usually this means paid, but not always. They need to be actively maintained and supported plugins, not some dude’s hobby project he does on the side.
  • Use solid web hosting. Also, tweak the hosting to be optimized for your particular site.

If you want to delve a little deeper into this, How Many WordPress Plugins Are Too Many? Surprising Answer…

And if you’d like me to dive into your site and help tweak the site’s performance and do an audit for you, I can do that for you via technical services.

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