WordPress is a powerful platform with the flexibility and functionality you need to build an online course.
Whether you set out to build an online course because you’re a professional educator or simply to supplement your larger-scale business venture … chances are, unless you’re a developer, you might be wondering how to set your course up so that it is both professional and functional.
Fortunately, there are a number of established themes and plugins available to do the heavy lifting for you, turning your hopes for an online course from “someday” to a realistic possibility.
Whether you’re creating a single course or a multi-course membership program, WordPress gives you the flexibility you need to start as small or complex as you want.
Let’s take a look at the foundation you’ll want to build for this “flexibility” to work for you.
Table of Contents
- Online Course Creation Checklist
- WordPress Tools For Online Course Websites
- How to Build an Online Course on WordPress
- Schedule a live demo to see how AccessAlly
Online Course Creation Checklist
To create an online course powered by WordPress, you’ll need:
- A quality hosting provider
- WordPress (.org, NOT .com!)
- Your content plan
- A WordPress theme so you can get the design & layout you’re hoping to achieve
- WordPress plugins (LMS, shopping cart, etc.) to give you the functionality you need to deliver your content effectively
Let’s take a moment and look through each one:
1. Website Hosting
First and foremost, you’ll need a quality, established hosting provider for your website. This gives your site security, speed, and reliability.
Think of this as your school building: if you’ve got a run-down, ramshackle building with doors that don’t alway open, a roof that leaks, and a floor that’s rotted through … on a road that’s only accessible sometimes … then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
We have a selection of recommended hosting providers here: read the article.
2. WordPress (.ORG!)
Fun fact: there are TWO ways to “get” the WordPress platform:
- WordPress.org, which is a free, open-source tool that you can install on your hosting account.
- WordPress.com, which is a paid tool (although it does have a limited free plan) that is hosted and maintained by Automattic.
For online courses and sites with special requirements (like plugins, themes/layout preferences, etc.), WordPress.org continues to give the ultimate flexibility and stability.
For this reason (and because we believe in transparency), we recommend building your site using your own hosting provider and a free WordPress.org installation.
If your website hosting plan is comparable to the building you’ll be teach in, using WordPress as your CMS is like having a contractor on call, ready to take on any challenge. You want to add on a couple of classrooms? Cool, he’s on it. You want a second story and a kitchen? He’ll make it happen!
3. Your Content Plan
Before you ever start thinking about your course design and functionality it’s important to stay focused on the course content.
- What information and value will you deliver to your students via your online courses, and in what format?
- Are you going to deliver the material through pre-recorded or live videos, written content, slides, audio recordings, or a combination of these mediums?
- Are you going to teach them one skill or many?
Take time to plan out your content and create it …
4. A WordPress Theme
What makes a WordPress website look pretty? The theme and customization behind it.
So those fancy, attractive course websites that you see usually have a flexible (or custom-coded) theme and a team of designers and developers behind it.
Don’t worry, though: there’s no shortage of resources when it comes to WordPress themes … and we’ve even found a few that make giving your online course the look and feel of a custom design easy (with a drag-and-drop visual builder, no less). They even require next to no coding ability to implement.
So when it’s time for you to start thinking about your online course page layouts, colors, and typography, check out our theme recommendations below to get started.
Your WordPress theme is the paint, flooring, and decor for your online classroom … and you’re the one who gets to pick out the design theme (and implement it!). Take note: unless you’re skilled at web design and theme implementation, you might want to hire a designer who can put the pieces together for you!!)
5. WordPress Plugins
Ah, now we come down to the real functionality pieces: things like plumbing and hooking up the electricity. You’ve got the building set up, designed your digital classroom, and your course content is outlined and created … but you’re still missing an extremely important component: the WordPress plugin that will power your online course..
With WordPress, all functionality (besides the ability to create pages, add basic written content, and upload media files) comes through the installation of various plugins.
So if you’re hoping to create courses and make sure the only people who can view it have paid the free … you’re going to need a plugin that’s developed specifically for this purpose.
If you need a shopping cart, checkout forms, and other e-commerce features, you’ll need a plugin for that.
If your goals include enhancing the learning experience through the use of checklists, progress tracking, or even quizzes, you’ll need a learning management system plugin.
As you might imagine, things can get overwhelming, fast: you might easily find yourself installing dozens of plugins to try and accomplish each specific goal … only to realize that they were all made by different companies and don’t actually work together.
The most efficient way to utilize plugins is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What functionality do I absolutely need starting out? (You’ll use this as your pass/fail criteria. Keep it simple: it’s better to start small with a strong foundation than to try and do it all at once … a total recipe for burnout.)
- What functionality might I need down the road as I grow? (This is your tie-breaker criteria as you compare your top options.)
- Do any of the plugins on my list cover multiple needs? (all-in-one solutions reduce the chance of technical conflicts on your site, although they often have an increased learning curve)
- Is there good documentation available to help me with the setup? (Look for a knowledge base of support articles, set-up guides, and Facebook groups dedicated to the plugin.)
- Is there a support team available for the plugins on my list to help out if I get stuck? (There WILL be questions/hurdles that you run into. It’s great to have an active, competent support team on call to help you through those)
Download our free guide, Membership Sites That Sell to help you get started planning your online course and filling out the criteria for your course needs.
With your list in hand, it’s time to start looking at your options for the perfect online course plugin…
WordPress Tools For Online Course Websites
We have a recommended suite of products that we use personally for our online courses, and we’re happy to share that with you here:
WordPress Theme for Your Online Course: Beaver Builder Theme
This is the theme we use for our websites, and confidently recommend it to others!
Beaver Builder is a theme + plugin duo, designed to give you ultimate flexibility in terms of layout, colors, typography, and — important for online courses — the option to add multiple menus to a page, so students can navigate between the top-level site (homepage, account, etc.) and the course itself (lesson 1, lesson 2, etc.).
Beaver Builder is pre-loaded with a variety of attractive templates … and when you use AccessAlly as your online course plugin you’ll receive access to an additional suite of Beaver Builder templates designed specifically for AccessAlly users.
WordPress Plugin for Online Courses: AccessAlly Pro
This is not only the plugin we use for our online courses (complete with a LMS), but it’s also the plugin that handles all of our e-commerce needs, membership subscriptions, and affiliate program, as well …
We've tried and tested so many plugins for our own membership site and online courses, but couldn't ever find one that met all of our needs. We finally got tired of settling and built AccessAlly, our own custom solution.
It’s a more comprehensive, all-in-one plugin solution that covers course creation, selling, content delivery and LMS … plus some other business-enhancing so we have less moving pieces to have to manage separately.
Our customers loved their experience with our membership site so much, we released the plugin to the world at large. We continue to develop new features and are now solely committed to sharing it with other businesses. (You can read more about the story here).
It's hard to find an online course solution that is going to flex and work WITH you and your business, without limiting your functionality.
AccessAlly does all of the heavy lifting for you and doesn't limit your creativity when it comes to building a membership site or online course that you can be truly proud of.
See what AccessAlly can do for you and your business here:
Other Recommended WordPress Plugins
There’s always room to grow (and shopping for WordPress plugins is a bit fun/addicting), so take a peek at our list of the top WordPress plugins we love for our own websites here: Top 25 WordPress Plugins to Get You More Traffic and Social Shares
(But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might prefer keeping it basic at first: Online Business Tools Checklist: Do You Really Need to Pay For That New Tool?)
How to Build an Online Course on WordPress
What does it look like to actually build out an online course on WordPress? Here’s a quick peek into the visual process:
Ready To Start Creating Your Online Courses?
Explore the possibilities at your feet when you choose AccessAlly for your online course during a live demo with a member of our team.
Schedule a live demo to see how AccessAlly
Hi, I'm Kimberly
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