WordPress is a powerful platform with the flexibility and functionality you need to create online courses.

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 that 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 WordPress themes and plugins available to do the heavy lifting for you, which turns your hopes of “someday” creating an online course into 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 would like.

Let’s take a look at the foundation you’ll want to build for this “flexibility” to work for you.

Online Course Creation Checklist

When exploring how to create an online course powered by WordPress, you’ll need the following core components:

  1. A quality website hosting provider
  2. Self-hosted WordPress.org software (not the .com version)
  3. A course content plan
  4. A WordPress theme so you can get the proper design and layout
  5. WordPress plugins for LMS, shopping cart, and email sequences to give you the functionality you need to deliver your content effectively

Let’s take a moment and look through each one component.

1. Quality Website Hosting

Screenshot of WP Engine's Home Page

First and foremost, you’ll need a quality and established hosting provider for your website. This hosting company will deliver the site security, speed, and reliability needed for creating a successful online course.

Think of your website hosting packages as your school building. If your school building is a run-down, ramshackle structure with doors that don’t always open, a roof that leaks, and a floor that’s rotted through then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Now assume the school uses a road that is only accessible part of the time. You won’t be able to get students in the door and they won’t be happy once they finally do arrive. That dilapidated school represents the same type of issue with poor website hosting.

We explore this topic further and provide a list of recommended hosting providers in our article titled How to Pick the Best LMS Hosting Service.

2. WordPress.org Software

Screenshot of WordPress.org's Home Page

Fun fact: there are two ways to utilize 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, WordPress.org continues to give the ultimate flexibility and stability. This is because WordPress.org offers maximum flexibility for selecting and installing themes, page builders, and plugins.

Note: WordPress.com by Automattic states plainly that you can use plugins at the higher paid tiers. However, because much of the functionality (hosting, security, code, etc.) remains “under the hood” and inaccessible, many of the plugins and themes we recommend end up being glitchy and ineffective when installed on a WordPress.com account.

For this reason (and because we believe in transparency), we recommend building your course website using your own hosting provider and a free WordPress.org software installation.

If your website hosting plan is comparable to the building you’ll be teaching in, using WordPress as your CMS is like having a contractor on call, ready to take on any challenge. What if you want to add a couple of classrooms? Cool, he’s on it. What if you want to add a second story and a kitchen? He’ll make it happen!

That is the beauty of WordPress.org. You have total control to create awesome online courses any way you’d like.

3. Your Course Content Plan

Before you even start thinking about your course design and functionality it’s important to stay focused on the course content. Your website design should match your course content and you should not be forced into matching your course content to the constraints of the website design.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What information and value will you deliver to your students via your online courses?
  • In what format will you deliver content? 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?
  • Will you offer one course or many courses?

Take time to plan out your content and create an outline before diving into course website design and development.

This part of our analogy is pretty straightforward. A good teacher with meaningful content can make a difference no matter where you are: on a street corner, in a one-room hut, or even at your own kitchen table. Conversely, you can have the prettiest building, scrumptious treats, and the perfect chairs to sit in, but if you are fundamentally unprepared as an educator, your efforts will fall flat.

4. A WordPress Theme

Screenshot of Beaver Builder's Hero Image With Text WordPress Templates That Sizzle

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 let that worry you! There’s no shortage of resources when it comes to WordPress themes. We’ve even found a few WordPress themes that provide a custom look and feel for your online course but use a drag-and-drop visual builder. They are easy to use and require little or no coding skills 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. You’re the one who gets to pick out and implement the theme design.

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!

Photos of AccessAlly Certified Experts with words meet the experts

5. WordPress Plugins

Now we come down to the real functionality pieces and we get to explore things like plumbing and hooking up the electricity. So far you’ve got the building set up, designed your digital classroom, and created an outline for your course content. You’re still missing an extremely important component, which is the WordPress plugin that will power your online course.

WordPress’s core software offers the ability to create pages, add basic written content, and upload media files. When we want to augment that functionality, we select and install plugins to make that happen. And with over 55,000 WordPress plugin available, we have lots and lots of functionality to use.

If you are planning on building an online training course and restrict access to who views it, you’ll need a plugin that’s developed specifically for this purpose.

If you want to charge for your course, you’ll need a WordPress plugin to serve as your shopping cart, checkout forms, and payment processor.

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 fairly 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.

Click to get these 28 membership site examples

The most efficient way to utilize plugins is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. 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, which is a total recipe for burnout.
  2. What functionality might I need down the road as I grow? This is your tie-breaker criteria as you compare your top options.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Is there a support team available for the plugins on my list to help out if I get stuck? There will be questions and hurdles that you run into. It’s great to have an active, competent support team on call to help you through those.

With your list in hand, it’s time to start looking at your options for the perfect online course plugin.

WordPress Tools For Creating Online Course Websites

We have a recommended suite of products that we personally use for our online courses, and we’re happy to share that with you.

WordPress Theme: Beaver Builder Theme

Screenshot of Beaver Builder Website Sales Page

This is the theme we use for our websites and confidently recommend it to others!

Beaver Builder is a theme plus plugin duo. It is designed to give you ultimate flexibility in terms of layout, colors, and typography. It also offers the option to add multiple menus to a page, which is a very important element for online courses. Multiple menus allow students to 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.

Other theme options: Elementor, Divi, Thrive Architect, and Astra are all themes that online course creators love.

WordPress LMS Plugin: AccessAlly Pro

Screenshot of Access Ally's Hero Image for WordPress Courses

This is not only the LMS plugin we use for our online courses, 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 WordPress 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 functionality. It also offers other business-enhancing features 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.

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 creating online course that you can be truly proud of.

See what AccessAlly can do for you and your business here:

Click here to schedule a live demo

Are there other options? Absolutely.

You can check out our lists of the best LMS plugins and membership site plugins currently on the market if you’re wondering what else is available.

Other Recommended WordPress Plugins

There’s always room to grow and shopping for WordPress plugins can be fun and totally addictive. You can 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.

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?

You can explore all the possibilities available when you choose AccessAlly. Just request a live demo with a member of our team. We’ll show you how you can use AccessAlly to create great online courses and membership websites.

Click here to see a free demo of AccessAlly

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