Recently, a cousin of mine completed a language course online. She even got the certificate mailed to her within a week. Pretty cool! However, the interesting fact was, that even though the teaching institution was actually in the same city as her, she chose to take the online course. “It’s just more convenient”, she said. Interestingly enough, that’s the advantage students see when taking up online courses; and the reason most students prefer it. Searching for courses online increases their options as well. They don’t have to think about where the institution is physically located – they can learn from anywhere in the world, as long as they are connected to the internet.
Owing to this fact, a lot of learning institutes are moving online. They see the same advantages:
- Increase in Reach: An online institute is not restricted by physical location. It can be accessed by students from anywhere in the world, thus increasing its reach.
- Convenient for Teachers: It’s convenient for teachers to create and set up course content in advance, and add it online.
- Convenient for Students: Students needn’t take down notes, they have access to course content whenever needed.
- Advanced Teaching Methods: Teachers can use innovative techniques, like make use of animated videos, presentations, and images as teaching material.
- Low Maintenance Costs: The cost to set up and maintain an e-learning site is low, and the profit margins are higher.
If you are a teacher, or run a learning institute, you could move online for these very reasons.
The Journey from Learning to e-Learning
To clarify things a bit, a transition to e-learning wouldn’t necessarily involving moving base from a physical institute to an e-learning website. It could involve having your presence in both places. It is also a great option for those, looking to start a learning institute anew.
To continue, having a presence online, involves creating an e-learning website. Your website is a learning portal for interested students. And the core of any e-learning website, is the Learning Management System. The Learning Management System you choose, will decide the platform on which your site will be built, the features your e-learning site will be able offer, the scalability of your website, and so on. So, the LMS should be your primary focus, when looking to venture into the e-learning, or rather e-teaching space.
Learning Management System: The Core of Your e-Learning Website
Although you have varied options when selecting an LMS, to cut down on costs a bit, you can choose an open source platform. You can opt to select an entirely independent platform like Moodle (which is by far the most popular independent LMS), or choose a CMS like WordPress, and build an e-learning website over it.
To narrow down your options further, while keeping things simple, let’s decide on three options:
- An Online Learning Website on Moodle
- An e-Learning Website on WordPress using an LMS Theme
- An e-Learning Website on WordPress using an LMS Plugin
Each of the above options, provides all the basic features needed in an e-learning website. For example, features such as course or lesson creation, options to add tests and quizzes, creation of student or teacher roles, student progress tracking, are all possible with either of the alternative. You needn’t worry about that. However, it’s the additional features and drawbacks of each option, which set them apart. Hence that’s exactly what we’ll look at next.
An Online Learning Website on Moodle
We begin with Moodle. Moodle is by far the most popular LMS, and it warrants the reputation. Moodle is a high-end learning management system, which has been primarily designed for large teaching institutions, like universities. This fact makes Moodle highly scalable. But Moodle can very easily be employed, for smaller, private institutions as well.
Since Moodle is a dedicated LMS, it contains all possible features you’d need in an e-learning website. And if needed, additional features can be added using plugins.
Moodle offers collaborative tools, which can be used by student groups for knowledge sharing, as discussion forums, and to complete group assignments.
Moodle has a clean code base, and is highly secure.
However, the primary drawback, and the reason why most new users stray away from Moodle, is that it has a steep learning curve. It’s difficult to configure Moodle, so you probably end up hiring a developer, which can increase development costs. There are also very few Moodle themes available, so you might not be able to customise the look and feel of your website easily.
Moodle by itself lacks e-commerce capabilities, and hence isn’t the best option when it comes to selling your e-courses. However, there are options to overcome this drawback. You can couple Moodle with a dedicated e-commerce plugin like WooCommerce, to sell your online courses.
An e-Learning Website on WordPress Using an LMS Theme
Next, we move on to WordPress. WordPress is the most popular CMS. And its popularity has garnered a wide community. The primary advantage of a large community is that, there are a variety of themes and plugins available to build a site for any sort of business. So, you can use an available theme, for example WPLMS, to create an e-learning site easily.
The advantage of using a theme, is that you do not need any additional plugins on your site. The LMS theme is your one-stop solution. Your entire site can seamlessly function as an e-learning site.
The theme also provides you personalisation options, so you can fine tune the appearance of your WordPress website.
A theme like WPLMS, provides the possibility to create a social network for student using BuddyPress, has discussion forums using BBPress, and has e-commerce capabilities, because it contains the WooCommerce plugin as well.
The primary disadvantage here is that there could be some issues when trying to integrate additional plugins into your site. And since a theme like WPLMS integrates several plugins, it has regular updates which can be an overhead when it comes to site maintenance.
An e-Learning Website on WordPress Using an LMS Plugin
Another option we have, while still using WordPress, is to use a dedicated LMS plugin, like LearnDash (since LearnDash is quite a popular LMS plugin for WordPress). With a plugin like LearnDash, instead of a theme, you have full control over the appearance of your website. You can decide and add any theme you prefer.
You can selectively choose additional features as needed, by using add-on plugins. Since popular LMS plugins seamlessly integrate with e-commerce plugins, like WooCommerce, you can sell your courses directly from your site.
An interesting feature LearnDash provides, is the ability to integrate with Event Espresso, an event management plugin. Using this integration, you can associate courses with events, and offer auto-enrollment upon event registration.
LearnDash also integrates with Gravity Forms (a superior form builder plugin), making it simple for you to set up any kind of forms (for example, a registration form with custom fields), on your e-learning website.
The disadvantage here, is that an LMS plugin might not be able to offer the entire capabilities of a complete LMS like Moodle. A major point of distinction would be the complete absence of collaborative tools.
A point worth mentioning, is that as compared to a standalone LMS like Moodle, the major advantage of using WordPress CMS, is that it is very easy to install and setup. Whether you choose to use a theme or plugin, you could probably have your e-Learning site, up and running yourself, without the help of a developer. But, the choice you make, depends on your requirements, and is completely subjective.
When it comes to setting up your e-learning website, you have to make an informed decision. It helps to go through LMS reviews, or contact consultants. And if you think you have a piece of information which might help others like you, feel free to leave a comment below! :)