How to Compare WordPress Learning Management Systems for Your Organization
Has your organization asked you to research WordPress for use as a Learning Management System (LMS)?
Over the years, I have been asked to evaluate different software applications for multiple purposes for clients. For example, I evaluated survey software applications for use for both an online assessment tool and a large web survey. I also evaluated data visualization software for use in support of a large government organization.
I think evaluating WordPress for use as a Learning Management System (LMS) would be more of a challenge. For one, you have to think about all of the skills of the people who will be using the WordPress LMS, including the web developer, the course developer, the course administrator, instructor, and students.
You will also have to decide whether an open source, free WordPress LMS will work or whether a paid WordPress LMS would be best for the organization. There are the questions of cost, control, and support to consider. There is also the all-important questions of what your organization will get out of the box and what your organization will have to build and set up for itself.
You also have to understand that as with WordPress for any other use, there are both themes and plugins to consider and compare. A plugin is a small application that performs a set of special functions on a website. The theme is the template and CSS stylesheets that are used to design the look of a WordPress website. You can learn more about plugins, themes, and how to set up a WordPress website from the “Beginner’s Guide for WordPress” glossary and blog.
Additionally, there are a number of good online lists comparing WordPress learning management systems for you to consider, including lists of plugins and themes. The best place to start your search is through the WordPress website for LMS plugins and LMS themes.
I recommend finding your WordPress LMS plugin(s) first because they perform all of the LMS functions. You will want to know up front if the LMS will meet your course design, development, and administration needs.
You can perform a comparison of WordPress plugins before you install any plugins through the following websites: 6 Best WordPress LMS Plugins Compared (Pros and Cons), 9 Best WordPress LMS Plugins Compared (2019), 7 Best WordPress LMS Plugins in 2019 (with Free Options), and Top Six Best Learning Management System (LMS) Plugins for WordPress (2019).
You can then compare WordPress LMS themes to see if there is a theme that you like best for your course. I recommend looking at themes through the following websites: Top 19 Learning Management System (LMS) WordPress Themes 2019, 18 Best LMS (Learning Management System) WordPress Themes & Plugins 2019, and 50+ Best LMS (Learning Management System) WordPress Themes 2019.
After you have identified plugins and themes that you like, you may want to do as I did and set up a number of subdomains with WordPress and then install plugins and themes for comparison purpose. I installed 10 WordPress LMS plugins and looked through many themes.
I will let you explore themes on your own. Through the links that I provided above, you will see that there are themes that can be used at all levels of education and for all educational purposes, including courses, program or department websites, admissions and orientation websites, and online school websites.
Plugins are where I really think you need to take your time and consider all of the options. You have to be able to decide whether an open source, free WordPress LMS will work or whether a paid WordPress LMS would be best for the organization.
You have to know how much your organization is willing to pay for a learning management system. You have to identify the cost up front, how much it will cost for additional or continuing services, and how much it cost for additional plugins.
You also have to know whether you want full control of LMS or whether you are open to using a WordPress LMS where you pay for additional services for setting up, hosting, or managing your LMS.
You also have to know how much support you will need for your LMS and whether that support is available in house or will have to be provided by an LMS company.
You must also think about how many courses that your organization will be developing. There are WordPress learning management systems that have no cost and are perfectly capable of meeting an organization’s needs to develop one to ten courses or more. There are also WordPress learning management systems that are designed to be implemented for an organization with many categories of courses.
Finally, you must think about the skills of the people who would be using the WordPress LMS, including the web developer, the course developer, the course administrator, instructor, and students. Does your organization have the right people in place?
Ultimately, you may decide that a WordPress LMS is the best, most reasonable option for your organization. Or you may decide to just use an established LMS that your organization can purchase.
In my case, I was evaluating WordPress learning management systems as part of a professional development learning path goal for an instructional design course that I am taking towards my Master’s of Education in Instructional Design through the University of Massachusetts Boston. I chose to learn as much as I could about all of the possible options there are for a WordPress LMS for a course. I was free to explore existing WordPress learning management systems and the differences that I could find between them. I was under no pressure to justify why I would recommend a WordPress learning management system or not.
However, based on my findings, I would categorize the WordPress learning management systems that I found into three basic categories: established with higher cost, established with no or little cost, and smaller or newer, less established.
In the established with higher cost category, the WordPress learning management systems that I compared are LearnDash, LearnPress, and Lifter LMS. The links I have provided are all to the pricing pages for each of these learning management systems. That has to be the first consideration. Although the pricing is likely lower for a high end WordPress learning management system than that of other high end, established learning management systems.
For me, depending on the circumstances, I think my choice out of these three would be LearnPress because of its transparency and the fact that it has so many available plugins. Plus, the core plugin is free to install. The organization pays for themes and add-ons.
Lifter LMS is free to download but is more expensive to add features and add-ons. I also ran into the problem of having to upgrade the version of PHP installed on my sub-domain even to be able to test it.
LearnDash was not available for download directly from the WordPress website, which kept me from installing it. I read a lot about it and it is widely used by all types of organizations. But I think for a smaller organization or a non-profit, it would likely be too much and not the right choice.
It is important to note that all of these learning management systems have similar navigation and the same core components. What you are paying for with learning management systems in the established with higher cost category is for the add-ons and for additional services.
In the established with no or little cost category are Tutor LMS and Sensei. Neither costs to install the plugin. The real cost for both is for additional services and add-ons. Tutor LMS is more costly to purchase a pro version of the software and plugins. Sensei seems less expensive out of the box and had more plugins available. If I had to choose in this category, I would choose Sensei because there seem to be more developers creating plugins for the platform.
In the smaller or newer, less established category are Learning Courses, Cluevo, MasterStudy, and Namaste. I must say that I like this category the most if you only have one to ten courses to develop. Any one of these learning management systems will work for developing a simple course. This category is also the best for instructional design students who are wanting to explore creating courses with a WordPress learning management system. If I had to make a choice in this category, it would likely be Learning Course if I was just developing one course. My second choice would be MasterStudy learning management system.
Undoubtedly, I could have gone into a lot more depth describing the pros and cons of the different WordPress learning management systems in each of these three categories. Plus, there are so many other WordPress learning management systems out there. However, I thought it was more important to provide you with the parameters that you can use to make your own comparisons and final decision on a WordPress learning management system to test or use for your organization or to develop your own courses.
Would you consider using a WordPress learning management system for your organization or to develop your own courses?