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How to Create an Online Course with WordPress

  • Matthew TurnerMatthew Turner

Should you create an online course with WordPress or use a third-party course builder like Thinkific, Ruzuku, or Teachable?

We hear this question a lot. When we work with our students and clients, they’re usually sold on the idea of creating an online course. They’re aware of the benefits and how it’s one of the best ways to build a new income stream.

They’ve heard how it will soon become part of a $325 billion industry!

They want an online course. They’re ready to create an online course. Many of them already have done so in the past, but what most of them have in common is that they’re unsure of HOW to best do it.

After all, there are so many options…

Each option has its benefits and shortcomings. There is no perfect solution, but there’s often the ideal solution for YOU, your business, and your audience.

It may surprise you, but creating an online course on WordPress is often the way to go. It’s ideal for course creators that value:

  • The freedom to create as many courses as you like and update them in the future…
  • The power to take control of pricing, promotions, and affiliate marketing/joint ventures…
  • The positive impact of SEO and organic traffic…
  • AND having total control of your brand!!

Yet creating an online course on WordPress does put many people off. It usually comes down to the perception that you need to understand coding, be great at building websites, and have a keen eye for design. All these skills can help when building your online course on WordPress, but none of them are essential.

There are WordPress LMS Plugins that do all the hard work for you.

All you have to do is know how to use these plugins (and which one is right for you).

That’s what this article is about.

We’ll walk you through:

  • How to Create an Online Course in WordPress
  • The 5 Best WordPress LMS Plugins for Creating an Online Course
  • The Different WordPress Themes You Can Use To Promote These

AND… the pros and cons of creating an Online Course with WordPress. This is where we’ll begin this journey because the first step is to help make sure you know it’s the best option for YOU.

The Pros and Cons of Creating an Online Course with WordPress

Should you create an online course with WordPress? That’s why you’re here, and although we’d love to give you a definitive answer, we can’t. The truth is, it depends.

It’s the perfect solution for many course creators, but it’s not right for many others.

The point of this article is to help you understand and choose the best option for you, your business, and your audience. Let’s begin by covering some of the biggest benefits of an online course on WordPress.

PROS of an Online Course in WordPress

  • 1: Control: You have the freedom to choose what’s best for you now and in the future. You’re not at the mercy of a third-party platform changing their features. You’re not limited by what you can and cannot do. It’s all in your control.
  • 2: Traffic: Rather than sending traffic to a site owned by Thinkific or Teachable, you direct all traffic to your own site. For SEO and Google Ranking, this is a huge benefit that can dramatically impact your entire brand.
  • 3: Branding: Speaking of branding… hosting your online course in WordPress allows you to keep everything on-point and on-brand. You can do this on a third-party platform, but only to an extent. 
  • 4: Cross and Up-Selling: One of the big benefits of hosting courses on your own site is that you can seamlessly cross-promote other products and services. This isn’t as easy to do on other platforms, and in some cases, not possible.
  • 5: Authority: Keeping everything on your own site keeps all focus on you, allowing you to build your authority and expertise.

CONS of an Online Course in WordPress

  • 1: Costs: Hosting your own online courses can lead to spiraling costs as you grow your brand. It’s not just the WordPress LMS Plugin you have to consider, but email marketing, CRM, analytics, and other such software/services.
  • 2: Resources: You and your team only have so many resources, and hosting your own courses will take up more resources than hosting them on a third-party platform.
  • 3: Customer Support: If there’s an issue of any kind, it falls on YOU to fix it.
  • 4: WordPress Updates: WordPress constantly updates its platform, and each time they do, the plugins you use have to be updated, too. If they don’t, they can quickly create errors and issues. So although you have control over most things, you don’t get to control everything.
  • 5: Security: Data is a huge consideration these days. When you host your own courses, it’s important you make sure your site is secure and updated. This not only adds to your costs but your stress levels, too.

How to Create an Online Course with WordPress

Screenshot of WordPress platform

To create an online course with WordPress, there are several tools you need and certain steps you should follow. It isn’t a difficult or necessarily long process, but a lot of this does depend on the size of your course (and how many courses you plan to publish).

Let’s dive in, starting with the website that will house all your content.

1: Set Up Your WordPress Website

If you don’t already have a website (or one that isn’t hosted on WordPress), this is the first step you must take. This in-depth guide by WPBeginner breaks down how to do this in detail.

You can do everything yourself or use a Managed Hosting service that takes care of most of the steps for you. There are many options and providers to choose from, including WP Engine, FlyWheel, and BlueHost. 

Typically, you’ll pay a monthly fee for these service providers to maintain your site, keep it secure, and ensure it’s fully up to date. You can do this all yourself, in which case you just need to arrange a domain name and hosting provider (such as TSO Host, GoDaddy, or Dream Host).

If you already have a WordPress website up and running you don’t need to worry about this step. 

But you need to complete this one before you can focus on anything else.

Also keep in mind that as your course grows (both in size and customer base), your hosting, security, and site speed needs to grow with it. Because of this, we recommend studying Managed Hosting options as they do remove a lot of stress from your shoulders.

2: Install Your WordPress LMS Plugin

Once you have your website up and running you need to choose your WordPress LMS Plugin. We dive into some of the best options toward the end of this guide, so make sure you study each one in detail.

They all offer similar features but are each different in their own way.

You’ll likely find one WordPress LMS Plugin stands out for YOU.

This is all that matters… YOU finding the right plugin for your course.

One you choose the best option for you and your students, you need to install the WordPress LMS Plugin on your site. It’s often a simple process with step-by-step guides, but to help walk you through each of the main plugins, here are some tutorials you may find valuable.

How To Install The LearnDash WordPress LMS Plugin

Installing The Sensei WordPress LMS Plugin

How To Install The WP Courseware WordPress LMS Plugin

Installing The LearnPress WordPress LMS Plugin

This process often takes minutes, and once complete, you have everything you need to plan and create your online courses.

3: Plan and Create Your Online Course

Now you have your website, the excitement begins to build. You likely have a good idea about what your course will look like, but now is NOT the time to dive in and create it. First, you must plan and outline it.

We go into detail on how to do this in our 10,000+ word guide: How to Create Online Courses: The Ultimate Guide for 2020 (click here to open in a new tab).

This guide gives you everything you need to plan, create, promote, and sell your course. Each step is as important as the last, yet it’s the Planning stage that arguably keeps everything else intact.

So, do you have a detailed plan and outline for your course?

Not just your lesson plan… but also your customer profile, goals, and pricing strategy?

Now is the time to get crystal clear on all this. 

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The planning stage includes several steps, including:

  1. Choosing a Profitable Topic…
  2. Doing Your Research…
  3. Creating Your Goals…
  4. Planning and Structuring Your Course Content…
  5. Validating Your Course…
  6. Finalizing your Course Format…
  7. And Finally… Creating Your Course Content!

We’ve found, after working with thousands of course creators, that the better the plan, the better the course. You can only execute as well as your plan allows. Will your ideas and course as a whole evolve over time? Of course it will.

Yet this is no reason to jump straight into creating it.

Lay the foundations for true success. Not just a short-term win, but long-term value that gives more to both you and those you serve. Our 10,000+ word guide: How to Create Online Courses: The Ultimate Guide for 2020 details each step so you can stand out from everyone else who rushes this process.

4: Add Your Lessons and Course Material

How long the planning and creation process takes depends on the size of your course. It may take a matter of hours or many months. It really depends on your topic, the problem you’re solving, and who you are solving it for.

A $30 course solves a very different problem compared to a $3,000 one…

Whatever this does involve, we recommend you create your content using something like Google Docs (and the other tools in Google Drive). Don’t create your content directly in your WordPress LMS Plugin.

Why? Peace of mind, above everything else.

It’s important to have a separate copy of your content. Not only to cover you if something goes wrong with the plugin but also so you can easily add your course material to other platforms in the future.

Create as much of your course content outside of your plugin as possible. Import it once it’s complete. It may add a few minutes to your process, but in our experience, it’s well worth the investment.

When you’re ready, this is how to import your lessons and other course material

How To Add Content To The LearnDash WordPress LMS Plugin

How To Add Content To The Sensei WordPress LMS Plugin

Adding Content To The WP Courseware WordPress LMS Plugin

How To Add Content To The LearnPress WordPress LMS Plugin

How long this takes once again depends on the size of your course. Importing your core course material is usually the easy part. Your lessons likely include a video, audio, text transcription, and possibly a PDF workbook or two.

It’s the other ‘interactive’ elements that can take more of your time, but it’s these interactive and engaging elements that can make all the difference to your end result.

5: Make Your Course Interactive and Engaging

It’s no longer enough to create an online course that only talks “at” your students. 

You need to engage them, involve them, and create a conversation.

There are several ways you can do this:

Quizzes, in particular, are a great way to engage your students and create a sense of competition for your courses. Not only will your students compete against themselves (tracking and visualizing their progress), but they’ll compete against one another.

This in itself is one of the most engaging and interactive things you can achieve as a course creator.

Most WordPress LMS Plugins allow you to add quizzes and surveys to your courses. They’ve become a staple in the online course world and are truly something you need to think about if you wish to create a course that captures your students’ attention.

It isn’t enough to teach them. They need to do more than learn.

They have to take action, and it’s your job to ensure they do (and can) do this.

Where possible, make your course interactive and engaging. Think about how you can incorporate quizzes and surveys to turn a one-way lecture into a two-way conversation.

6: Create Certificates and Awards for Your Students

Another way to make your course more interactive and engaging is to create awards and certificates for your students. When they complete certain modules, reward them. Give them a badge of honor to share.

Many WordPress LMS Plugins like LearnDash allow you to upload certificates like these when your students make progress. You can download certificates online or create your own via Canva (using one of their many templates).

Certificates and awards like these add a sense of gamification to your courses. One of the best examples of this comes from the Nerd Fitness community, which uses badges, quests, and challenges to fuel engagement.

Remember, it isn’t enough to simply “teach” your students.

They need to take action. Yet they have so many other things to do.

Using challenges and quests to spark engagement, and then awards, badges, and certificates to reward their progress can redefine your students’ entire experience with you. The most successful course creators we work with strive to do more than teach.

It’s about creating a conversation, ensuring your students make the most progress they can.

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7: Test Your Online Course

You’ve now completed your course material, added interactive and engaging elements, and created certificates to reward your students for their progress.

Your course is ready, but is it ready for the masses? No. Not yet!

Most products need beta testers to ensure it does what it says it will. Your online course is no different. 

Now is the time to TEST it.

The most common way is to create a Beta Group of students where you can:

  • Gather their feedback.
  • Test your ideas and tweak your goals.
  • Work with them one-on-one so you can better understand their pain/problem.
  • Observe the questions they ask and the actual actions they take.
  • Create a series of testimonials (and build greater social proof).

You’ll often do this by offering your Beta Students a unique price/offer that nobody else in the future will get. You’ll work with them in a more one-to-one manner, not only providing them greater value… but so you can observe their questions, feedback, and what they actually do with your course.

This is how you turn a good course into a GREAT one.

Many course creators skip this step, only to regret it later. You have to TEST your ideas and validate the course you’ve built. On your own, you WILL miss certain things. There will be holes. You will overlook opportunities. Your Beta Group helps you fix all this (and more).

No matter what course you build and which platform you use, make sure you TEST it with an initial batch of students that get a unique experience.

8: Promote and Sell Your Course

The final step is to Promote and Sell your online course. There are two stages to this:

  • The Education Stage: where you introduce your course and build trust and anticipation
  • The Selling Stage: where you convert warm leads into paying students

We cover both of these stages in detail inside our 10,000+ word guide: How to Create Online Courses: The Ultimate Guide for 2020 (click here to open this guide at the correct step).

It’s important you focus on both stages to create a course that lasts the test of time. Many course creators get this all wrong, either selling too hard or not “selling” hard enough. It’s a fine balance and one that isn’t always easy to find after you’ve spent weeks (maybe months) building your course.

It’s your baby. YOU are proud of what you’ve built. YOU see its value. Your job now is to make sure everyone else sees this. 

The good news is, most WordPress LMS Plugins offer features that help you.

And because you host your course on your own website, it’s easier to promote other products and services as well as sharing your story, values, and purpose as a whole. The more you promote your course, the more traffic you drive to your website. This builds social proof and authority. 

This generates greater trust and rapport!

Hosting your courses on your own website isn’t for everyone, but it’s the perfect solution for many. By now you should be getting clear on whether it’s the right solution for you. If you think it is, here are the best WordPress LMS Plugins you should consider.

5 Best WordPress LMS Plugins for Creating an Online Course (+ WordPress Themes)


Screenshot of LearnDash platform

PRICE: Starts at $159 per year

STANDOUT FEATURE: Automatic triggers based on student actions

Used by many Fortune 500 companies and major universities, LearnDash is renowned for its overall speed, feature set, and impressive online course design.

It gives you everything you need to create an online course with WordPress, with more than enough features to satisfy your goals today and in the future. 


Screenshot of Lifter platform

PRICE: Starts at $299 per year

STANDOUT FEATURE: Huge selections of integrations with other tools and platforms

Offering similar features to LearnDash, LifterLMS is a great alternative that provides superior service, integrations, and many add-ons so you can tailor your course around your needs.

It also integrates with drag-and-drop WordPress editors like Divi, allowing you to make beautiful pages and designs without any coding knowledge or experience.


Screenshot of Sensei platfomr


STANDOUT FEATURE: Integrates perfectly with Woo Commerce and its other plugins

Different from the other WordPress LMS Plugins in this list, Sensei is an extension for the Woo Commerce ecosystem. This makes it an ideal solution for those that want to include an online course in their existing store.

WP Courseware

Screenshot of WPCourseware platform

PRICE: Starting at $99 per year

STANDOUT FEATURE: An intuitive and easy to use visual ‘drag and drop’ designer

WP Courseware is used by some of the top universities in the world, including the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin Madison, and by companies such as CNN and Sheraton.

With its impressive set of features, WP Courseware gives you everything you need to build the course you desire. It’s one of the least expensive options, too, making it ideal for those just starting out.


Screenshot of LearnPress plugin


STANDOUT FEATURE: A badge and points system so you can ‘gamify’ your course

Considered the cleanest and simplest WordPress LMS Plugin, LearnPress is the ideal solution for someone new to all this. Although the plugin itself is free, you’ll likely have to pay for a compatible theme. Still, compared to other options… it’s a very affordable offer.

This brings us to our next section, which highlights a selection of WordPress themes that keep online courses and course creators in mind. It’s not just the features of your WordPress LMS Plugin that matters, but the entire look and feel of your site.

With this in mind, here are some themes you may like to consider.

WordPress Themes to Help Promote Your Courses


Screenshot of CourseCats theme


Screenshot of LMS theme


Screenshot of WPLMS theme


Screenshot of Academy theme

Explore these themes and see which best suits you and your needs. You’ll likely need to decide on a WordPress LMS Plugin for your online course first, as some of these themes cater to certain ones.

You can also use a drag and drop editor like Divi, which allows you to build beautiful pages without any coding experience. There are multiple options to choose from, allowing you to create the course your students need.

Your Next Steps to a Winning Online Course in WordPress…

Should you create an online course with WordPress? Maybe. Maybe not. There are other options to choose from, including third-party platforms like Thinkific and Ruzuku, and marketplaces such as Udemy and Skillshare.

We encourage you to explore those options before you make a final decision. Here are some resources you may find useful:

Hosting your online course on your own site, on the other hand, is the perfect solution for many. It not only helps you build greater authority and drive traffic to a platform you own, but allows you to cross-sell, up-sell, and promote other services that you offer.

We discuss all this and more in our 10,000+ word guide: How to Create Online Courses: The Ultimate Guide for 2020. Bookmark this link as it’s one you’ll revisit throughout the course building process 😀

We also run a FREE Course Builder’s Bootcamp that takes you through the process step-by-step. Whether you create an online course with WordPress or not, it’s the all-in-one, complete training that shows you how to create, sell, and profit from your courses (even before you build them). Join The Course Builder’s Bootcamp For FREE Here.

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