One of the first things you have to determine before building your online courses or online learning platforms is whether you will build the platform yourself using a product like WordPress and a Learning Management System (LMS) plugin, or if you will opt to use a created and hosted for you service like Thinkific, Teachable, or Kajabi.
There are pros and cons to either selection.
Pros of Building Your Own WordPress Platform
There are many positive aspects of building and maintaining your own WordPress platform. The biggest pro surrounds your ability to have the most control over the features and aesthetics of the site. Probably the biggest downfall is having to build (or pay to have built) and then maintain over time this WordPress installation.
This is the same challenge with any WordPress installation and the more plugins and integrations included presents more possibilities of breaking the site during upgrades as well as possible security vulnerabilities.
Control of Features and Aesthetics
In your own WordPress installation, you can select the plugins and themes that provide the functionality you desire. Many times when using a done-for-you solution, you’ll find limitations of how things are configured.
For example, when using Kajabi, there is no 100% off coupon option. Since this is a frequent request, in order to work around it, you must create a contact form that grants free access to an offer. As part of the form, you can add a coupon code, but tracking of the code is manual. Anyone who has access to the form has access to the offer.
Platform limitations also arise when it comes to sales and checkout pages. For those used to managing their own websites, particularly companies with developers on staff, working within the constraints of a fully configured and managed solution may be challenging.
Cons of a WordPress Solution
The biggest cons of creating your own platform in WordPress are the time and money to develop the platform, extra hosting requirements, and ongoing maintenance.
Keep in mind that most LMS and Membership plugins are premium, and will therefore have a cost to implement.
Things to Know About Building Your Own Platform
There are several things to keep in mind and plan for when you choose to create your own WordPress learning platform. Here are a few of the most often overlooked.
Hosting Your Platform
When creating and maintaining your own platform, you must select and pay for hosting. This is not a time when a basic $3.95 per month hosting plan will work. I recommend selecting a WordPress Managed Hosting company like SiteGround or Kinsta. You will need at a minimum a medium sized plan. As your membership and student numbers grow, plan on increasing your plan to accommodate use.
Many times when people compare WordPress solutions to Done For You, they only look at the monthly cost of the done for you solution. Remember, that you will have monthly fees for hosting, also.
Should You Use a Subdomain?
One of the mistakes many people make in their online learning platform is to attach it to their current WordPress marketing site. Unless the complete purpose of this company is a learning platform, and even then much of the time, you are better off placing your learning platform on a subdomain or different domain. The key is keeping this as a separate installation.
You will very likely want a different theme and aesthetic layout for your online learning platform than you do for your marketing site. The user experience for your learning platform should completely support student engagement and learning.
Note that managing an additional WordPress installation adds extra overhead in that you are building and maintaining a separate WordPress installation for this use. You will also most likely need a separate hosting account. Rarely are the hosting
Theme and Software Selection
When you decide to build your own online learning platform, you will then need to select a theme and plugins that meet your needs.
Selecting a WordPress LMS
Before spending your time implementing a WordPress plugin, creating your course content, and then finding out it doesn’t do what you need, it’s important to plan ahead.
Things to consider for your WordPress LMS include:
- Do you need to also have private membership areas or pages outside the course content? If so, what level of granularity do you need? Some LMS plugins include basic membership functionality while others integrate with some of the most functional membership plugins like MemberPress and Restrict Content Pro.
- What level of quizzes or interaction do you need?
- What level of other plugin integration is required?
- What type of reporting do you need. Some LMS plugins have more robust reporting than others.
- Do you need to have the ability for multiple instructors?
For more information on the features of different WordPress Learning Management Systems, see the LMS pages.
Pros of a Done for You Solution
In selecting a done for you solution, one of the biggest positives is that you can immediately focus on creating your course content and then plugging it into a platform that is ready for you. No need to create your own platform.
Ongoing maintenance is also not a concern, here. The product is updated and maintained for you.
Even if you get into the platform and realize it doesn’t fit your needs, most are billed monthly, so you haven’t wasted more than 30 – 60 days worth of money, and the content should be able to be moved to another configuration. This is one of the main reasons I don’t recommend signing up for a year to get the discount in case you find it doesn’t work for you and you need to change. Once you test it and know it’s the right solution, then you can pay for the year to get the discount.
Cons of a Done for You Solution
One of the biggest is control and feature requirements. They are building for the masses, not to meet your needs, specifically. This means specific needs of yours may not be available. While WordPress plugins are not created specifically for you, there are more options for making changes to fit your needs than are available in a done for you solution.
You also have no options for planning when they make changes. If there is a feature you like and they cancel it, you have no options. Note that sometimes this can happen when using WordPress plugins, so it’s something to consider for either option.
Selecting a Done for You Platform
As with your WordPress selection, done for you solutions should not be selected strictly on cost. What are your needs for the platform?
Stay tuned for more articles including:
- Kajabi versus Thinkific
I’m also Working on Updates to the Courseware Pages:
- WP Courseware
Never want to miss an article, sign up for alerts and get your Free eBook Planning Guide for Selecting a Platform.
Grab Your Free Workbook and Stay Informed
Grab my Platform Planning Workbook. This is Workbook 1 in the How to Build an Online Course Series. Plus I'll send you additional information to help you build and launch your online courses.