5 Ways WordPress Learning Management Systems Outperform Standalone LMSs

Why WordPress Learning Management Systems Outperform Standalone LMSs 

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) have come a long way since PLATO -short for Programming Logic and Automated Teaching Operations- was first conceived by the University of Illinois back in 1960 (yep, that’s how old they are). They have gained a lot of popularity ever since, particularly at the turn of the millennia, bolstered by the rise of the internet as a tool of mass communication and eLearning on the whole.

eLearning is now widely accepted as an efficient and effective means of imparting education, and is poised to increase its reach even further with advances in education technology. Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas cater to millions of people worldwide, enabling eLearning like never before.

WordPress forayed into the Learning Management System scene around early 2010s, not long after establishing itself as a dominant web publishing tool. The idea of using a CMS like WordPress as a platform to develop eLearning websites can be conceptualized as a LCMS - Learning Content Management System. eLearning on WordPress is usually set up by implementing one or more plugins specifically developed for the purpose, which augment its CMS capabilities and turn it into a full-fledged LMS.

Despite being relatively new to the eLearning picture, the WordPress Learning Management System niche is catching up with the big players and it’s catching up fast. Amongst the more widely used Learning Management System plugins for WordPress are LearnDashWP Courseware, and Sensei, with a combined download figure of over a hundred thousand. An ever increasing number of education entrepreneurs are opting for WordPress as their choice of platform to build their eLearning sites.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. Ease Of Use. 

WordPress, being a more contemporary ecosystem, offers tremendous ease of access and a modern user interface as compared to the complexity of standalone systems like Moodle. This is evident while carrying out tasks as simple and elementary as adding a new course. Sample this:

Creating a new course in Moodle (as shown in Moodle documentation):

  1. Go to Administration> Site Administration> Courses> Manage Courses and Categories
  2. Click on the category where you want your course to be. 
  3. Click the New Course link. 
  4. Enter the Course Settings
  5. Then choose either Save and return to go back to your course, or Save and display to go to the next screen.

That’s five distinct steps and an option that’s nested 4 levels deep, folks. May not seem like much, but what about when you multiply it with setting up and editing content for tens and tens of courses? I don’t imagine things to be any simpler.

On the other hand, we have Learning Management System plugins on WordPress like LearnDash which lets you publish a course in two clicks straight (it’s true!), accessible right from the dashboard. Or even WP Courseware, with a neat drag and drop interface to structure/re-structure all you eLearning content from a single screen.

Additionally, the back end controls are simplified and easy to use even by the standards of a novice user. All one would need to do is find his way around the dashboard and he’s all set to author content and publish them. Navigating through and configuring the settings is easy and intuitive, and even customizable to an extent when you consider the possibilities like coding in Meta Boxes for a quick access to options that you require often.

Configuring standalone Learning Management System to achieve an equally efficient back end UI will take hours and hours of coding and wishing you had chosen WordPress instead.

2. Front End Design And UX (User Experience).

The internet is a place where the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” does not apply. Netizens do, and will always, gauge your website in terms of design and user experience, no matter how great the content.

Not an area wherein standalone Learning Management Systems specialize.

The design offered my Moodle or Blackboard is pretty much standard and non volatile. Granted, there is room for personalizations, but it’s limited at the very best and nowhere close to what we have on the other side of the discussion. User experience on the front end of these systems echoes back end which, as we discussed, is cluttery.

WordPress Learning Management Systems have the distinctive advantage of being a part of the ecosystem which is primarily designed to develop great looking websites, and it excels at it. There are literally thousands of WordPress themes that you can choose from to glam up your eLearning site, and transform it in a visually striking internet entity.

And it’s NOT all looks.

A great WordPress theme not only improves upon the design, but also takes your website leaps and bounds ahead in terms of user experience. Smooth browsing, slick navigations, convenient widgets, tremendous ease of access and even awesome CSS animations are some of the things you get to incorporate to the front end of your eLearning site. This is bound to retain a significant amount of visitors as subscribed users, provided the content is relevant, of course.

You even have themes developed specifically the purpose of eLearning, that reduce the effort required for eLearning related customizations by manifolds.

With great design comes great traffic!

3. Less Demanding.

To give you an idea of how WordPress stacks up against conventional Learning Management Systems in terms of resource requirements, consider the installation zip file sizes for Moodle and Canvas, which are close to about 50 megabytes each.

WordPress, meanwhile, clocks in around a measly 4 to 5 megabytes of data. That’s about one tenth of the former, and should tell you how light it is when used as a LCMS. Even with 10 resource intensive plugins extending the functionality of your website, the size of the installation comes out to be less than 15 megabytes, which still is less than half of standalone set ups.

Additionally it can function just as well whether it’s hosted on a shared network or dedicated one. Moodle has been known to stutter on shared hosting and would cost you a small fortune in terms of the hardware required, when scaled for a large number of users.

Computational requirements are going to be just as high. While WordPress, no matter the scale, will work with virtually any contemporary operating system and processor with RAM needs as low as 512 megabytes (all you need is a server that run PHP and MySQL), system requirements for various stand alone set ups have been listed as high as 4 gigabytes of ram (for enterprise level set ups) along with 2 or more gigahertz of processing speeds.

Half the cost is double the profits.

4. Business And Marketing.

One of the USPs of WordPress is that it can be modeled as a powerful business and marketing tool with very high returns on investment.

When you’re looking to sell courses online, WordPress plugins like WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads offer a single step solution for all your ecommerce needs. Not only do these extensions set up an online store, ready for you to add a variety of products, but they also set up a payment gateway and provide you with business tools like shipping gateways, inventory management, CRM, invoicing... The list is endless really.

An added advantage would be the level of scalability that can be achieved with these systems. Consider the online store for WooThemes, the creators of WooCommerce (as the name might suggest). While the number of products is limited to under 500, the site itself has over 500,000 registered users and tracks up to 11,000 orders a month. That’s huge!

Of course their store is built on WooCommerce.

How do standalone Learning Management Systems compare, you ask?

Not particularly well. While systems like Moodle do let you sell courses online, things are nowhere nearly as efficient as ecommerce plugins. There are no payment gateway integrations, no ecommerce tracking and definitely not much of management. Tasks like building a course marketplace may as well be a distant dream.

In terms of marketing, plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast or SEO Made Simple optimize your website to rank higher for organic searchers, which is definitely a marketing strategy you’d want to take up in a world where Google is a man’s best friend.

Other marketing tools would include extensions that allow users to share content on social media, email marketing integrations, web traffic analytics, Google XML Sitemaps and loads of other useful plugins, all of which can be found in abundance on the net.

5. Community And Plugins.

I recently had the good opportunity of interviewing Nate Johnson, founder of Fly Plugins and the brain force behind WP Courseware. Here’s a snippet from the same:

Me: WordPress, in a word, is?
Nate: Community.

Matt Mullenweg couldn’t have stated it better himself (he probably would have used the exact same word though).

What started a little over a decade ago as a personal blogging software built on PHP has eventually go on to become an extraordinarily powerful web publishing tool that powers over 25% of the internet as of 2015.

And it’s growing at astronomical speeds.

The WordPress community is undoubtedly huge, with hundreds of thousands of developers constantly innovating and contributing to the code base, being an open source platform that it is.

Take a quick look at the release history of WordPress and you’ll see what I mean. Till date, there have been over 98 versions or WordPress, that’s about 8 updates per year. With over 29,000+ plugins, the level of functionality achievable within the WordPress environment is unmatched. So much so that “there is a plugin for that” is an inside joke within the community.

Support is just as tremendous. WordPress Codex is a Bible-of-sorts when it comes to documentation. It’s a massive online wiki that contains almost about everything you would ever need to know about using WordPress. Any other queries you might have during the development process of your eLearning site, chances are it will have already been asked and answered in any of the numerous forums all over the internet.

It’s all just a Google search away.

Not to say that the support for standalone Learning Management Systems isn’t satisfactory. In fact, Moodle, for one, has a significantly large community backing it up in terms of support and houses about a 1,000 plugins too. But the numbers for any of those systems are nowhere near the ones for WordPress. The force is much, much stronger with WP.

And it definitely a force to reckon with.

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