Managing online courses with Wordpress

Managing online courses with Wordpress

When we left off last week in the development of our perfect “tech stack” for blog-based online business, we were talking about the “sales” end of things. We had discussed membership site plug-ins as well as shopping carts, and our evolving stack looked like this:

But, as we discussed, none of this stack is going to take care of online course delivery. If you were selling simple downloads, then Gumroad or Easy Digital Downloads would work just fine. But, if you want people to consume your content right there on your site behind a log-in, then you’re going to need something more.

You will need a way to organize training content for your customers. Let’s discuss…

First off, we can mention that there are third-party services that can do all this for you. One of the most popular is Teachable. Teachable is a proprietary environment aimed specifically at creating and selling online courses. In other words, if you use Teachable, you don’t need any shopping cart, no membership plugins, nor any of the stuff we’re going to discuss below. Teachable does it all.

Of course, you pay for it. Teachable starts at $39/month… and they’re also going to charge 5% of every sale you make. If you up to their professional plan, you get more features and they will stop charging transaction fees. Needless to say, though, Teachable isn’t exactly cheap. They are a good solution, however. You may find some limitations, such as limits on what you can make pages look like since they have a limited selection of themes. However, if you like a solution that holds your hand and takes care of all the headache for you, then Teachable is a good option. The sales side of your business will exist separate from your main website… and your blog and emails will simply refer people to your Teachable site for training and purchases.

Since I like to maintain control of everything and do things my own way, I prefer to build my own solution in-house.

So, how can we build and organize online courses within our Wordpress site? Let’s start with:

  • Thrive Apprentice. From the Thrive Themes collection, Apprentice has a pretty nice setup for displaying online courses. Right now, you need to be a Thrive member to be able to get access to it.
  • WP Courseware
  • LearnDash
  • WPEP (now GrowLearnTeach). Started out as a clone to the “execution plan” idea of Digital Marketer, but now has been developed into a much more robust solution.
  • LifterLMS
  • LearnPress (free, but has paid add-ons)

And yes, there’s more. 🙂 There are quite a few options out there for organizing online courses inside of Wordpress.

The big thing to keep in mind is… keep things simple. 🙂 In other words, don’t install some beast of a plug-in that does a bunch of things you have no need for. Once you get into learning management systems (LMS) for Wordpress, you will typically find features like quizzing, grading, certificates, gamification and scoring. Those features are all great if you need them, but chances are you don’t really need them.

Do you really intend to assign grades? Probably not. Do you really need to send people certificates? Probably not. Do you really need to set up advanced quizzes for your online courses? Not likely. These kinds of things are great if you’re running a full online school, but most of us don’t. So, while systems like WPCourseware and LearnDash are great, you probably won’t actually use most of it.

For most people, I think Thrive Apprentice is a good solution. It has what you need to build and organize online courses, but it isn’t over-engineered to be a full LMS.

Keep in mind, too, that technically you don’t need ANY fancy plug-in in order to display online courses on your site. Not to get geeky, but if you use custom post types in Wordpress and make your theme display it in a certain way, you can pretty much bake online courses right into your theme. But, that’s a topic for another time. 🙂

In the end, an online course is just CONTENT. So, you can display your training content on your site just like you would any other page of your site. Embed a video, attach some documents, you’re off to the races. Use your membership plug-in to secure access to that material and you’ve got yourself a course.

Where a course plug-in comes in is just displaying things in a pretty way automatically. And, of course, any of those fancier features like quizzing and stuff.

So, let us update our evolving tech stack…


As we continue with our perfect blog marketing tech stack, we’ll be getting into opt-in forms, social media management, calls to action, site personalization, and much more. We’ll also get into how to make all these things talk to each other and how to make your website interact with the world it sits in.

Keep in mind… I’m not saying you have to go out and acquire or use every element of this stack. My job here is simply to show you what I think would be a full-featured setup… that does pretty much everything.

We’ll see you ….. on the next issue of The Edge. 🙂

– David