What Are The Best Fully Hosted &  WordPress LMS Solutions?

This week, host Jonathan Denwood and co-host Kim Shivler discussed learning management systems including fully-hosted third party platforms like Thinkific and Kajabi and WordPress Learning Management System (LMS) plugins like LearnDash and LifterLMS.

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In other show episodes, Jonathan and Kim have interviewed Justin Ferriman of LearnDash and Chris Badgett from LifterLMS to discuss their products. This time they ventured beyond self-hosted platforms into fully configured and hosted options including Kajabi, Thinkific, Teachable, and Udemy.
For many people, a self-hosted plan is a better option. It does provide the limitations of working in someone else’s platform and provides the freedom to create content without worrying about building and maintaining a platform.


Here’s a Full Transcript of This Episode

Jonathan: Welcome back folks. This is the WP-Tonic Show. This is episode 251 and we’ve got a great show here. We’re going to be talking about Learning Management Systems, the best plugins, the best fully hosted solutions. And I’ve got my great co-host Kim Shivler with me. Like to introduce yourself quickly Kim?

Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a Communications and Instructional Design instructor focusing on WordPress, online courses and actually live workshops and presentations too.

Jonathan: And you’re the Queen of Learning Management Systems, aren’t you Kim?

Kim: That’s how I’ve gotten known in this community for the last few years.

Jonathan: Yeah. There’s not much she doesn’t know about it. And basically, I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a fully specialized WordPress support, fix your problems company with an emphasis on Learning Management Systems. And before we go into the show that we’re both really looking forward to, I want to talk about our great sponsor and that’s Kinsta Hosting. I use Kinsta myself for the WP-Tonic website. We’ve been using it now for about a month. It’s just a great company, great support. They migrated the site and it’s just been a joy working with them. They’ve just got a great team as well. The support is amazing. I just can’t say more about Kinsta. They are sponsoring the show but I wouldn’t host my own website unless I was totally happy with the service that they provide and I am. So go to the WP-Tonic, look at the show notes and go to the WP-Tonic website in general and we have banners, links and it will take you straight to the Kinsta site and sign up for them. So, Kim, how shall we start the show? We start with the fully hosted solutions, shall we?

Kim: That’s a great place to start.

Jonathan: All right.

Kim: If we’re talking about fully hosted solutions, as with any other website type hosting, that means it’s all plug and play. It’s already there for you. You don’t have to maintain your site. You just create an account and build your course. The pros are you don’t have to update it. The negatives are you have to play within their arena and you don’t have as much functionality.

Jonathan: Yeah. A good metaphor is learn the difference between WooCommerce and Shopify, isn’t it?

Kim: Absolutely. Or WordPress.com versus your own hosted WordPress.

Jonathan: Yeah. Well, that could get really confusing especially with the changes we’re seeing at the present moment. But I think the Shopify WooCommerce is a good metaphor because obviously all sites are hosted. But what we’re talking about is a turnkey product which they host, they keep maintained which you can get up and running really quick. But you have reduced ability to customize. Would you say that’s pretty good, Kim?

Kim: That’s it. That’s definitely the difference.

Jonathan: So, we’re going to look at some of the fully hosted. I apologize about the pronunciation of this. Kajabi? We’re looking at Kajabi first. Did I do a reasonable job pronouncing that, Kim?

Kim: You did. It’s Kajabi.

Jonathan: Kajabi.

Kim: Yes.

Jonathan: All right. So what do you think of this one? And then give a brief outline of what you think it’s strengths and maybe some of its little weakness because nothing’s perfect, is it?

Kim: Of course nothing’s perfect.

Jonathan: Apart from me.

Kim: Absolutely. You’re perfect.

Jonathan: I wish were. No. I’m definitely not.

Kim: So, Kajabi is very interesting. It’s really a platform to create and sell products. Whether it’s an online course, whether it’s a membership site or even eBooks. You can do all of that within the Kajabi platform. It’s a hosted site. It has email integration. They’ve redone it and I’m just working in it right now for a client. It’s kind of exciting what they’ve got going on. The downside is really the same as all of them. You are playing within their structure. If the way you want to sell isn’t quite working the way they have it set up, then you’re kind of out of luck. It’s also a little pricey. The mid-range plan which is what most people I work with need is $300 a month. That is pricey.

Jonathan: That is pricey, isn’t it? You’ve got to be pretty serious about it, haven’t you?

Kim: Yes. It’s very easy to set up. I do love that. You really could log in and create your class today. That $311 a month gives you up to 100 products and 10,000 active members. So it is a site where they’re limiting your members. Not limiting but you’re charged based on members. Kind of like an email service does.

Jonathan: $311 is a bit pricey. But unless you’re going to do everything yourself, you can spend like $3,000 to $5,000 getting a WordPress site up and running quite easily, couldn’t you?

Kim: Absolutely.

Jonathan: Realistically?

Kim: Oh, easily.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kim: Yeah. You would still need your basic WordPress site though most likely because you’re going to have your blogging and that type of thing.

Jonathan: Oh, you don’t do that? It doesn’t do that bit?

Kim: Not to the extent that you would want in a WordPress site that I have found yet. Let me say that. I am just now really putting it through its paces. And we’ll be writing a review of it here in the next couple of weeks.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. So, it’s one of these systems where you still need your WordPress. And then, can you mask the domain when you go to this or something?

Kim: Yes. For most of what my clients would need, they’re still going to need a website. And that’s true of most of these online learning platforms. In fact, most of the online learning platforms are strictly to sell classes. Kajabi is more advanced in that you could sell any online product. You could sell classes, downloads, membership areas, etcetera. And that’s the one thing I really like about it compared to the other ones we’re going to talk about that are just courses. Because those of you who have heard me speak on learning platforms, I really find the strength of a learning platform is where you have the online course that is your step by step by step piece. But then also a membership wrapped around that. That is your resources pages that doesn’t go into that mark complete lesson. It’s a separate step.

Jonathan: Yeah. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Also, the other thing is that you offer a load of stuff like this system and it becomes a Swiss Army knife. And the problem is it offers a lot but it doesn’t do anything that great. Do you understand what I mean by that?

Kim: Yes. However, I would say for this one I think that its options for the course, the quizzes, etcetera are very functional.

Jonathan: Right.
Kim: In fact, they’re more functional than some of the online course “plugin options” even.

Jonathan: All right. I’ll have a look at it. I’ll have a look at that one. Think it.

Kim: Thinkific.

Jonathan: Thinkific. I just love these names. These are perfect for somebody that suffers from Dyslexia, aren’t they?

Kim: They made them just for you.

Jonathan: Just made it just for me, didn’t they? What’s this one about then Kim?

Kim: So, Thinkific is fully hosted training. It’s very easy to get up and running quickly. It doesn’t have that membership piece. It’s just really that step by step course if that’s all you’re looking to do. It’s very popular. There is a free version so you don’t have to commit. However, most of my people that I’ve worked with do end up in a paid plan. For example, there’s a lot more options if you’ll go into one of the paid plans. And they range from $50 a month or $49 a month to $279 a month. Most of the people I work with are in this $99 a month where they can have multiple instructors if they want. They can have private or hidden courses because Thinkific also has, like Udemy which we’re going to talk about also, it has a marketplace. Now when you build a course, you can put it into their marketplace or if you want to hide it, then it requires one of the premium options. So if it’s just doing for your own company or members etcetera, then you would have to pay for the premium.

Jonathan: Right. My ignorance of these are probably surprising but I just live in WordPress folks. I don’t venture forth. I leave this to Kim, the Queen of Learning Management Systems. That’s why she’s my co-host as well. I live in my little WordPress bubble folks. So there we go. But it looks a nice website. Any kind of real weaknesses you observed with it at all really? Any peculiar weakness?

Kim: Really just the theming. You’re playing with their themes and if you want more or you want it closer branded to what your site is, then you may run into some limitations. We’ve run into that with some people I worked with. But these were people who did not want to build their own, maintain their own or pay someone even to do a separate for them. They just wanted it taken care of. I will say for both of these, Kajabi and Thinkific, the support is phenomenal.

Jonathan: Oh, great. I was going to ask you that actually.

Kim: Great support.

Jonathan: On to the next one, Teachable. Tell us about this Kim.

Kim: Teachable is very similar to Thinkific. It predates Thinkific. Thinkific’s kind of the new kid on the block. They work very similar. Through the grapevine for people I have worked with, a lot of them are moving over to Thinkific. It has some features that people really like more than teachable. I believe they’re both priced the same way. I need to double check that.

Jonathan: What normally happens is you go through all the pain of moving it and then they do an upgrade and it’s probably got better features than you moved to. That’s what normally happens to me.

Kim: Yeah. The pricing is about the same. I believe it was the multiple instructors that a lot of the people I was working with who wanted to kind of build their own marketplace where they could have different instructors, that that was the feature that they liked. But again, I haven’t worked with it in depth. I’ve worked much more in depth with Thinkific and now working with Kajabi for a client.

Jonathan: Kajabi. All right. Kajabi. It’s starting to grow on me Kim. On to the last one Udemy.

Kim: Udemy is a little different in that Thinkific, Kajabi, you can sign up, pay and it’s all yours. Udemy actually is a marketplace and they have to approve your course. So you have to not only follow their guidelines for the platform but they have to approve the course. They want to make sure that they’re delivering quality to their marketplace. Udemy was really really popular. And a lot of people still use it to try to be found because they do have this huge. They have very very strict rules about trying to take people out of Udemy. So don’t think you can just build a course and say, “Oh, by the way, come see me over here at kimshivler.com”. They’re not going to let you do that.

Jonathan: No. You can’t use that. But they don’t stop you from your name and having your own website.

Kim: Right.

Jonathan: Will they stop you from promoting your own courses on your own? They can’t stop you from promoting your own courses on your own website though. Can they?

Kim: Yes. You can’t promote within their courses an outside course.

Jonathan: No. That’s what I mean is, but you can have your URL and promote your own courses. You just can’t talk about them in Udemy.

Kim: I’m not even sure what URLs you’re allowed to give. They’re pretty locked down tight. The other thing . . .

Jonathan: You can’t go to, I don’t think you, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m being rude and I apologize Kim. I don’t think they allow you to go to like to kimshivlermemberships.

Kim: No.
Jonathan: You can go to kimshivler.com.

Kim: Again, it’s very limited as to where you can put that information. But the biggest limitation you have on Udemy if you want the fullest exposure is you lose control of your pricing.

Jonathan: Yeah. Totally.

Kim: And a lot of people have left because of that.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kim: You can have a $300 course but they can put it on discount to whatever they want to their marketplace. They are ways not to do it but then you don’t get the full exposure.

Jonathan: Yeah. Just to wrap up before we go to our break Kim is that the reason I put that in is I think it’s a really good testing ground for somebody that’s not never done any kind of course or anything. Because I understand they are fussy. It’s like your first book. You’re getting a really snotty editor but when you reflect it, it was a good teaching experience. What do you think about that? Or am I talking rubbish here Kim?

Kim: No. I think that that’s true. However, I think that if you’re a subject matter expert and you take the time to learn how to put a good class together, you’ve got to put all this effort into it. I would go ahead and do it and do it one a platform where I can establish a price that is a fair price. Look, if you want to sell $39 courses, do it all day long.

Jonathan: Oh, well, that’s what I meant. I think it’s a good testing ground. You’ve got to meet their standards and try. And also, if there is a market in a way in the future plannings to produce, it’s a good testing ground but I wouldn’t put my heart and soul in it. Because it’s what you just said. You’ve got no control over it. You’re signing it away to them basically.

Kim: Pretty much.

Jonathan: Well, we’re going to go for our break and we’ll be back. We’ll be talking more about Learning Management Systems but this time the WordPress solutions with my co-host Kim Shivler, the Queen of Learning Management Systems. Be back in a moment folks.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back. Kim’s been putting me right on these hosted solutions. Like I say, I live in my little WordPress bubble which I’m very happy about. On to the, sorry, aren’t I? No. I’m just trying to be funny. On to the WordPress solutions. I thought we’d start with the big baddie of this. The CEO has been on this show. Great guy, Justin. LearnDash. Tell us about LearnDash, Queen of LMS.

Kim: Okay. Well, LearnDash is absolutely hands down one of my favorites. It is probably the most powerful of the Learning Management Systems for WordPress. Between what it can do natively and the amount that they’ve put into partnering with people for add-ons, there’s just almost nothing you can’t do with it. It’s fabulous. It is a little harder to learn than some of the others. Now, having said that, within the last 3 years, they have just gotten easier and easier and easier.

But it does take a little bit more planning when you’re working with a course to make sure that you’re going to get it to look like what you want or to get it in the order etcetera that you want. A big part of that is this is really the one that started out very classic for those of us who are professionally trained Instructional Designers. And we would always be coming to our course planning with a little bit more detail than what some people when we’re thinking of more Internet Marketers building an online course would do.

Jonathan: Yeah. I think that’s a really good, the way I see this playing out is that you might be best looking at one of the hosted solutions that we’ve gone through in the first part of the show. If you’re not from a professional education or instructor background or you’re not hiring somebody like Kim to help you do some pre-planning, you might be best to try and work with one of the hosted solutions just to give you an idea how all this works. I don’t know. What’s your feelings about that Kim?

Kim: I think looking at the hosted solutions is great. When I work with people, I really work with them. “Okay. Are you sure you want, what it’s going to take, the commitment it’s going to take to configure this all yourself and then to maintain it? Because that’s one thing, right? WordPress websites are not one and done. Now, what I also recommend is that they hire someone like you. WP-Tonic is there to keep it maintained for you as well as to help you, either build it for you or to help you build it. But it is definitely a commitment you’ve got to make for yourself.

Jonathan: I think also, we’ve had a couple discussions with some possible clients, haven’t we, lately. The main thing is they think it’s just buying the plugin, getting it set up. And then, like what your pre-introduction to LearnDash is, that they learn rapidly that they’ve got to have some understanding about structure, what they’re really wanting from the plugin to get at the end result. They struggle in actually visualizing or understanding how to get there, don’t they?

Kim: Yes. And the other thing that we run in with, with any of the plugins in WordPress is the same question that I get from any WordPress installation and that is, “How do I make the sales pages look good?”. And that’s not a plugin issue. That’s going to have to do with your theme. Or maybe you are going to use a page builder plugin to tie it. But that has the theme combined or that is the theme’s to role to manage that look and feel as opposed to the plugin is not going to plugin and redo your whole site so that you’ve got pretty sales pages.

Jonathan: What’s the one thing, I don’t know if anything comes to mind. Is there any one thing and feature that comes to mind with this that you really really love about LearnDash?

Kim: For LearnDash, I have a couple. I love the add-on that they have for a course catalog. They have a really nice add-on that lays out the course in a grid and it just looks fabulous. There’s another add-on that lets students have notes so they can be in there and have their own notes on what they’re learning. From the just regular perspective, hands down the best quiz options out there.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. On to a company that, he’s a member of our Friday panel, Chris, the CEO and that’s LifterLMS. So, tell us a little bit about LifterLMS Kim.

Kim: Well, another one that I love. We had Chris on last week.

Jonathan: We did.

Kim: And he and I can get together and geek out on this stuff for hours. LifterLMS is fabulous. It is a freemium option. In fact, it’s the only freemium option we’ve got here which means you can start for free. In fact, if you don’t want to sell your courses, if you want to just build a free course, you can keep it free. You have to start buying add-ons and upgrades if you want to do extras. So if you want to sell your courses, if you want to have advanced questions, if you want to have private areas. So, for example, if you’re a coach, this is one of my favorite things that they’ve now added. If you’re a coach or an instructor who wants one and one time, your students can have their own page that you can both share information on. It’s really powerful. Again, that would be premium. Lifter is very easy to configure and it’s very easy to learn, to lay out your classes. The basics are very easy. And then, of course, as you add some of those add-ons etceteras, you are going to add a little bit more complexity as you add more functionality. That’s just true with pretty much any plugin.

Jonathan: Yeah. I find its got the odd little thing. Like Chris said, it’s amazing. They’re in their fourth year. But they’re rapidly developing this product out, aren’t they? Thomas, he’s Joint Founder. He’s coding away. But one of the main things between it and, is they have their own membership solution integrated in it. And Thomas has admitted to me that it works but it’s not as powerful or slick as some of the, on their own plugin membership solutions, isn’t it? Because I think with LearnDash you can utilize your own membership, third party membership plugin, can’t you?

Kim: Yes. So LearnDash works both with MemberPress and Paid Memberships Pro and has a lot of functionality. In fact, most of my sites when I build out a LearnDash, it’s a combination of MemberPress and LearnDash. When I’m using LearnDash, I use MemberPress to control the granularity of where people have access to. Now, I actually love Lifter’s membership piece.

Jonathan: Yeah

Kim: It’s not a robust as MemberPress but again, it is that easy to set up. Any of kimshivler’s sites, one of mine is LearnDash and MemberPress and one of them is LifterLMS. I’ve built with all of them. But the two that I’m actually right now live with from my paying customers, those are the two options that I’m using.

Jonathan: Yeah. I just want to point out folks is that what I mean by that is that it’s fully open code. And if you hire a company that’s got a bit of experience, they can integrate some of the other membership plugins. If you need more power, more customization, it’s quite possible to utilize one of the third party. It’s just that it’s going to need more customization. What I mean by it is where with LearnDash, the two membership plugins, it’s already been adapted to plug and play with those two membership options. But if you choose another one for some reason, you can still get hold of the code and manipulate it. It’s just going to need a lot more customization.

Kim: Right.

Jonathan: I thought I’d just put that in there just to clarify. Otherwise, people think, “That’s the only membership plugins it will work with”. Or, “Lifter won’t work with another one”. Well, it will but it just needs a lot more customization and custom development. So on to another one. I always struggle. Sen . . .

Kim: Sensei.

Jonathan: Sensei. I struggled there. I always do. Sensei. Love it. Tell us about this Kim.

Kim: So Sensei comes from the folks at WooCommerce, WooThemes. And it’s wonderful. It’s very powerful. It has some really cool options for reporting and assignments. The big drawback if you’re not a WooCommerce shop is Sensei requires WooCommerce to sell your classes. If you’re a WooCommerce shop, it’s a perfect fit to plug right in. But if you’re somebody who wants to just sell one or two classes, you don’t have the physical needs, WooCommerce is a lot of overkill for that. For example, you have to do special things to set it to where people don’t have to enter their physical address. And if all you’re doing is selling a virtual product through PayPal, a lot of people don’t want to put in their physical address. So they’re definitely some things you need to consider as far as what that’s going to take if you’re not already a WooCommerce shop.

Jonathan: Yeah. We’re going to wrap up the Podcast part of the show folks. And we’re going to continue the discussion for 10 minutes, 10, 15 minutes which you’ll be able to watch on the website. And also, by going to the website, you’ll be able to sign up for Kinsta as well. So we’re going to continue the discussion which you’ll be able to watch on the website. Kim, how can people get a hold of you?

Kim: You can find me at kimshivler.com where you’ll find all the things I do. And if you’re very specifically interested in online courses, you can look up howtobuildanonlinecourse.com.

Jonathan: And if you want to get a hold of me it’s really easy. We love feedback. Go to the WP-Tonic Facebook page. We’ve just recently started a group. We haven’t done much with it yet but we’ve got plans in the new year. That’s a great way. Or Twitter me directly @jonathandenwood or just send me an email and we love your feedback. And if you’re in a very generous mood, if you could go to iTunes and give us a review for the new year, that would be fantastic. Just to show your support for the amount of content that we have produced for you in 2017. We’re going to wrap up this Wednesday show. We have somebody from the WordPress world or the world in general that’s doing something interesting. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye


WordPress Plugin Solution



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