How To Build A Course With LearnDash 3.0 & WordPress

How To Build A Course With LearnDash 3.0 & WordPress With Joe Casabona

We interview Joe Casabona who has produce a number of the training video connected to LearnDash 3.0 which you can watch on the LearnDash website. We go into what are some of the best new features of LearnDash 3.0 and what tip and tricks Joe can
give to the individual who looking to build their first course with LearnDash and WordPress.

Joe Casabona is an accredited college course developer and professor.

He also has his Master’s Degree in Software Engineering, is a Front End Developer, and hosts multiple podcasts.

Joe started freelancing in 2002, and has been a teacher at the college level for over 10 years. His passion in both areas has driven him to build Creator Courses, a school for those who want to create online businesses.

As a big proponent of learning by doing, he loves creating focused, task-driven courses to help students build something. When he’s not teaching, he’s interviewing people for his podcast, How I Built It.

his weeks show is Sponsored By Kinsta Hosting

Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP Tonic Show. This is episode 420. We’ve got a great guest. We’ve got Joe Casabona joining us. Joe, would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?

Joe: Yeah, thanks so much for having me on. My name is Joe Casabona. I am a developer educator and podcaster. That is the order in which I started doing those things. The order in which I do that most often now is probably educator, podcaster or developer though.

Jonathon: Oh, that’s great. And we’re going to be talking about. Joe’s recently published some really interesting stuff about LearnDash. He also divulges some of the videos in the support section of LearnDash. So he knows and also speaking into education. So I thought we could cover some really interesting areas in this interview. And I’ve got my great cohost with me Adrian. Adrian would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?

Adrian: Hi everyone. My name is Adrian. I’m the CEO and founder of Groundhogg. We produce marketing automation and sales tools for businesses that use WordPress.

Jonathon: And I’m the founder of WP Tonic. If you’re looking for a partner to help you with your WordPress membership or learning management system. We’re the people that can help you either hosting it, custom development, whatever your requirements are. So before going into the main part of the interview, I like just to quickly, you mentioned something about our great sponsor. And that’s Kinsta hosting. Kinsta hosting only hosts WordPress websites. If you’ve got a membership website, WooCommerce, learning management system. And you need a quality hosting provider. Kinsta provides everything that you would want for your clients or if you are a power use. They provide all the latest technology staging site.

Latest version of PHB one click. And the two main things that you get by going to Kinsta. Fundamentally they use Google cloud technology. So the actual hosting is superb. And the other main thing is you get some of the best support in the market at the present moment. They really know what they’re talking about. Their support team, they’re friendly, approachable and very knowledgeable. So if that sounds interesting for yourself or for your clients, go over to Kinsta, have a look at their packages. And then if you do sign up mentioned that you heard about them from listening to the WP tonic podcast.

So Joe let`s start with LearnDash 3.0. You produce a lot of content about that. What do you think are some of them most exciting things that you found in this sizable update of one of the most popular learning management plugins on the market?

Joe: The most exciting thing for me was focus mode. So Justin, as I was creating these videos, he was sending me the Betas. He was highlighting different things and he was like, by the way, don’t tell anybody about this yet because we’re like still working on it. But when he showed me focus mode, I got super excited. Because it’s something that I kind of tried to code on my own. When I say tried to code on my own, I mean I like a couple of hours and I thought, yeah. But the fact that now like most of the screen is dedicated to the learning experience, um, you know, it kind of takes away all of the extra stuff from the theme and it gives you a pretty blank page.

It gives you the course navigation and a nice big spot for the video. I custom coded my own thing with ACF to have a nice big spot to the video. I can now use Learn Dash’s native functionality. So I think that’s great. The thing that most people are probably excited about is the updated course builder. It’s a lot easier to create course outlines, add that content. It’s a lot prettier now. And it’s just going to make creating larger courses especially a lot easier.

Jonathon: Yeah. I would say there is basic improvement in basic UX design. Obviously they utilize the service of ten up to some degree in Sacramento even though they are a distributed company. With partnering up they did an excellent job on the UX design. What do you think?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always good to see the big design overhaul that doesn’t put the user back at square one as far as using the UX. As far as the UX goes, I should say. So the fact that they were able to redesign and really improve the user experience and the user interface. Is nice because you still have the intuitiveness of the WordPress dashboard, but it’s a lot prettier. You can find things I think a lot easier now. The first time I opened the Beta I wasn’t like, I don’t know where anything is. I was like, oh, everything is a lot more easier to find.

Jonathon: That’s great. Over to you Adrian.

Adrian: So for someone looking to start putting together their website, their course. Where would you rank LearnDash in terms of all the LMS tools that are currently out there? If someone was going and looking for comparison between value costs, features, et Cetera, where does LearnDash currently rank in the overall rankings for you?

Joe: As far as value versus cost in the plug in space. I think that LearnDash delivers the best value. They are at the risk of raising the price on me. They’re like stupidly cheap or what they offer. Now kind of the difference between that and something like that. I think the other bigger competitor is Lifter. Lifter you pay a higher price tag, but everything kind of comes included. With LearnDash you pay the base price and if you want like kind of specific niche features, you need to hunt and peck for them. If somebody were to ask me today, Hey, I want to start selling an online course, what should I use?

I usually give them one of two options. LearnDash with WordPress is one if you want complete control and other features and a separate store and whatever. LearnDash is it. If you just want to build content and then put that content somewhere to be able to sell it, I recommend Teachable, which is a hosted solution. But that’s like if you don’t want to worry about managing your website, if you just want to pay like a month, I think it’s like 39 bucks a month to sell your online courses and really focus on the content. is I think the best out there.

Adrian: Good. I think that’s useful. Jonathan.

Jonathon: Well, you know it is a conversation I have regular when I am a guest on other people’s podcasts. They asked me, you know, what are the benefits of WordPress? To things like Teachable or Kajabi. And I say there are two things. One is the difference between owning your own property and leasing an apartment. At certain stages leasing is a good idea. But fundamentally most people, if they came with like to own their property. And the second thing is SEO, search engine optimization. I still believe that WordPress over hosted solutions has a sizable benefit when it comes to search engine optimization. Would you agree with that Joe?

Joe: Yeah, definitely. Because I mean, you’re locked into a very specific format with some of these other hosted solutions. So I’m not an SEO expert, but I know that you can control a lot more of the content. And you have more tools available to you for improving SEO. And if there’s something wrong with like the html, you can fix that on WordPress. You can’t fix that on a hosted solution.

Adrian: If someone was looking to start up and they were choosing between Teachable and then the WordPress solution. What would someone be able to, if they’re listening to this right now in terms of like a learning curve of being able to actually take whatever concept they have at the moment? And put it up straight, if they’re going for WordPress or they’d be looking to just hire someone to take care of it for them.

Is this something that they can do at themselves? Or are they going to go towards the teachable, if that’s fully DIY, what would you recommend for someone who wants to pursue that?

Joe: That’s a fantastic question. And a lot of my kind of consulting clients is people who are trying to get set up on WordPress and some other thing LearnDash or WooCommerce. And they’re not fully familiar with the landscape. Or you don’t think of certain things like, I want to sell courses, but it’s telling me I need SSL. Like what’s SSL? I don’t know what that is. So if you want to do it yourself on WordPress, I think there are a lot of great resources out there to help you. That’s kind of the niche that I’m in right now is help site builders build their sites without code.

But again, I have this content, I want to get it up as quickly as possible. Especially if it’s like I want a proof of concept and see if this is viable. A hosted solution is better for that because you’re not sinking so much time into buying the hosting and setting up WordPress. And so you can always move it later, which is nice. But I mean, the other thing that you need to think about with LearnDash or any self-hosted LMS is where am I gonna put the videos? If you’re selling them, YouTube is going to put them up there for free. Vimeo pro is probably what I would recommend for like 299 a year. You can lock them down to a domain. But that’s another aspect that you would need to think about if you’re self-hosting versus going the hosted options.

So maybe the hosted option is good to kind of find your sea legs, understand what’s involved and then you could always move to a self-hosted option.

Adrian: Based on your experience, what would someone expect as a starter to have invested into a WordPress solution versus a SAS solution?

Joe: This is a great question and I gave a talk on this about a year ago. And if you’re looking at really good hosting I won’t name names because you have a host that is a of the sponsor. I host on liquid web.

Jonathon: I’ll forgive you.

Joe: Thank you. Thank you. But I mean if you really good hosting is going to be your biggest cost. If you’re using LearnDash. And that could cost you 25 bucks a month. It could cost you 100 bucks a month, whatever it costs you, that’s going to be your biggest expense. LearnDash is like maybe $200 a year or 159 a year for a single site, something like that. And then Vimeo Pro is I think 199 or 299 a year, depending on what you get. So those three I think are going to be the biggest costs. You’re probably looking at between 1,013 hundred bucks a year for a LearnDash site.

Adrian: But the tradeoff is that you get to own all the content rather than, yeah.

Joe: And you get to add more features. Like I have a forum, on my site that I wouldn’t necessarily have if I went to Teachable. Or I could sell physical products on my site if I want to because I’m using WooCommerce. And the biggest thing that I just rolled out is memberships. Teachable does not do memberships or recurring payments particularly well. Teachable does all its course for one price. One time really well. So if you want a recurring course or a membership already you’ve outgrown Teachable.

Adrian: So you just got maybe the initial starting investment is a little bit more, but options for scaling long-term ours is significantly improved.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. And if you’re selling a course for 49.99, 299, you’re going to make that cost back pretty quickly.

Jonathon: Oh, that’s great. I think we’re going to go for a break, folks. When we come back, I’m going to ask Joe some questions about education in general. His views on online education. We will be back in a few moments.

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Jonathon: We’re coming back. We’ve had a bit of a feast about LearnDash. Joe is a really fascinating character. So he’s got many hats and he’s very proficient in all of them, which is unusual and he’s friendly as well. So Joe like I said you’re a man of many hats. You’re wearing the hat now, but you are a man of many hats. So you’re a professor, your deeply involved in education. How do you think establish education like universities, colleges? How do you think they are viewing online education? We’ve been talking about LearnDash a lot is used a lot by universities as well. How are universities seeing online education in general?

Joe: I think, so my view might be like a couple of years old at this point. When I was full time at the University of Scranton, I sat on the staff counsel. It’s like the student government version for staff. And we started talking about massive open online communities or something like that, like online courses. Massive open online courses.

Jonathon: It`s a mouthful isn’t it?

Joe: Yes, yes. They said move. And I’m from New York, I’m like a New York Italian and that is a completely different word for me. Like it was like a derogatory, I was like, well, did I hear that right? But in the staff council meeting I asked, it was my first one, I was like, I’m going to keep my head down. And then this came up and I’m like, well, here we go. I asked what they thought of online courses and how that changing landscape is going to affect the university moving forward.

And I got some pushback and I said, well they’re not as good at as getting an in person education. And we’re not worried about it at all. And you see higher education institutions supplementing their on campus classes with online courses. But I don’t know how many higher Ed institutions right now fully embracing it. And that’s, I think at least in the United States, there is I think probably college is going to be the next big bubble to burst. I’m not an economist, but we’ve seen the housing bubble, we’ve seen the bank, and the continually inflating costs of higher education. It’s starting to see some backlash. People are saying you don’t really need to go to college, go to a trade school. If you want to learn a skill, you can learn certain things online and get certified and then just prove that, you know, you’re doing through your work. And so I think if higher Ed institutions don’t start embracing online courses and online learning seriously, they’re going to have some problems that they need to face. With enrollment and things like that.

Jonathon: Yeah. Before I throw over to Adrian I just got quick supplemental question. Do you think this was partly because it was seen as a way of cutting costs? And so it was a bit of a Cinderella thing. It was seen as a way of cutting costs and they just didn’t realize or didn’t care. This a sweeping statement that it doesn’t apply to colleges and other higher education institutions. But I feel it was seen as a cut costing mechanism. They could get a lot of people into online courses and cut the costs. And they weren’t prepared to spend the time and effort that it requires to build a really effective online course. Would you agree with some of those statements?

Joe: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I taught an online course at the University of Scranton for a while in health informatics, which kind of combined computer science and nursing or the health field in general. And there were no videos. I would just kind of, we wrote lessons and they had a book and it was basically like you read the book and if you have any questions, do the assignments. But those students needed a lot of. I don’t want to say handholding. I don’t think that’s the right word. But they were health professionals who were learning python code for the first time in eight weeks without proper instruction.

I was just like, here read about this and learn python. I’m really lost. And I’m like, yeah, I provided that feedback and they were like, well, you know, it would cost a lot to update the course and this and that. And I’m like, sure. We got to keep the bottom line right where we want it. So I think you’re absolutely right. It really upset me cause I want to be a good teacher. And I feel I wasn’t enabled to deliver the appropriate type of education that the students needed me to.

Jonathon: That’s great. Over to your Adrian.

Adrian: So as Jonathan was talking about earlier, you are indeed a man of many hats and one of those hats you wear is a podcasting hat. You do several podcasts of which I was on one of them actually how I built it, I believe was the name.

Joe: [19:34 inaudible]

Adrian: Brilliant. Brilliant. And you’ve also just gone ahead and you’ve actually soft launch your course. And we were talking a little bit about that. It’s core course creator 2.0. Do I have that right?

Joe: www.creative

Adrian: I’ve got it backwards. I digress. But well we were talking a little bit about this before the show started. And I was curious to know how you use podcasting as an authority. And took your audience from that and transferred them into an actual course that you designed and are now selling. Do you have any strategies that you can share or a plan? I think you mentioned that how does one who goes on podcasts and they share their content but they don’t do a whole ton of self-promotion. But how do they transfer that authority from listeners into customers?

Joe: Yeah, that’s a fantastic question because especially for people who want to get into podcasting, like launching your podcast is the next major course I’m working on both as a standalone course. And part of the membership is people think the only way to make money on podcasts is sponsorship. About a year ago I came to the realization that the biggest audience that I have is through my podcast. And I am not doing anything with that audience. I’m just like, hey, thanks for listening. Have a great day. So over the last year or so I’ve been toying with different ways to connect more with that audience. Not take advantage. That was the first term I thought of, but it’s not that it’s, I want to engage with them more. So I started asking them, rate and review the show, share the show, reach out on Twitter, things like that.

And when I launched the memberships, how I built the audience is I think a very good fit for the memberships I’m launching. Because they are business owners, they are developers. They want to learn how to do specific things. Or start offering the things that I’m teaching to their clients. So I’ve kind of developed a plan for the podcast where I’m going to really push my newsletter as the call to action at the end of episodes. I’m going to start doing more episodes that are solo. Right now it’s all interviews all the time. I’m going to take on more of a like Pat Flynn or Amy Porterfield approach where I still do interviews. But sometimes I do like these talking head podcasts where I talk through, you know, how I built creator courses 2.0, that’s one of the episodes that I released as a bonus.

I’m going to start integrating that into the regular feed. And so I’m going to start providing more specific value related to my courses. I’m going to launch guests or I’m going to have guests that kind of focus on the topic areas that I’m also teaching. And then the call to action at the end, we’ll be like, hey, if you want to learn more, go to how I built that it slash newsletter or whatever it’s going to be. And get more great information in your inbox or get these free five tools to build websites faster. And just kind of get the image into the funnel and get them more integrated with everything I’m doing. Because they liked the content I’m putting out. And I think I can probably, I’m well positioned to help them really well.

Adrian: So really it’s about transferring. So really putting in a call to action into the audio. Say hey, listen did you know that we have x service or x newsletter. If you sign up here are the things that you’re going to get. You’re gonna get your notifications, you’re going to get this free white paper thing that’s going to show you, here are the tools that you’re going to need in order to build the course. All right, so build the list. The money’s in the list as they say.

Joe: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And like, especially when you’re selling digital products like courses, people need to do three things. They need to know you. They need to like you and they need to trust you. My podcast listeners, the ones who come back week after week, the ones who stay all the way to the end and don’t just drop off after like the second sponsor read. Those are the ones who know, like, and trust me the best.

So I want to provide even more value for them.

Adrian: Thank you for that. Jonathan.

Jonathon: Yeah. I was wondering we discussed Teachable. We discussed WordPress. Something like Kajabi here they’re trying to offer literally everything in one system. That is a big selling point. But to me, I don’t know. I sense that there’s always a kind of tipping point between like LearnDash where a lot the functionality, like you said, you have to find it through third party add-ons. Or other plugin systems, but then you got something like Kajabi. It’s the Swiss knife approach. But the problem with Swiss knives. I always feel you get to a certain level where the quality diminishes. And the return from having everything in one place isn’t as effective.

Have you observed that yourself and that’s something you’ve been thinking yourself?

Joe: Yeah, and as a matter of fact, in my last mastermind group, I actually said up myself. I like I need to scale back and do less. Because I’m too divided. I’m not focusing on I think the right areas. I’m sure we’re all the same. We get an idea. We want to run with it. But they say Jack of all trades, master of none. If you’re focused on so many things and your kind of building a little bit here, a little bit there, you’re not really focusing on really well on one thing. I think a good case study of that is 37 Signals now Base Camp. They offered I think four or five products. They seemingly did all of them really well. And then they decided, you know what we don’t do live chat apps particularly well. Or we don’t do CRMs particularly well.

We do project management extremely well. So not only are we going to sell off all of the products that aren’t our project management product, we’re going to rename our company to the name of that product. So I think that if you’re looking for like a Masterclass on niching down, focusing really well, Base Campus is a good place to look.

Jonathon: I think that was a fantastic example. We’re gonna wrap up the protocols part of the show folks. But Joe’s hopefully gonna stay on. He’s going to stay on. We’re going to put some bonus content where we’d be discussing some other things around learning management systems. Well, I’m probably going to ask him what he learned from building his own membership sites. And any kind of tips or observations you’d like to share that would help you in your own journey. So like I say, we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Joe, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?

26:37 Joe: Well if you want to learn about my online courses, you can head over to My podcast is how I built that IT? And I am on most social networks, most notably Twitter at Jay Casabona.

26:50 Jonathon: You have to come back on the show. I’ve really enjoyed our interview. Adrian how can people find out more about you and Groundhogg?

26:59 Adrian: So if you’re looking to turn WordPress into a transactional email marketing and CRM solution, then we offer all of the marketing and sales tools that you need to do that for absolutely free. You can head on over to That’s Groundhogg spelled with two g’s at the end. You can download our free WordPress plugin and be able to build your list because the money’s in the list. I build funnels, marketing automation, and is able to communicate with your subscribers.

Jonathon: That’s great. And if you really want to support the show, give us a review on iTunes. It really does help the show. And also if you want to see the show listen and see the shows the earliest join the WP Tonic YouTube channel. Because I normally publish the shows there the earliest. And our member subscription has increased quite dramatically on our channel which is great news as well. We will be back next week with another expert giving you insights to help you grow your online educational business. We will see you next week folks. Bye.


Every Friday at 8:30am PST we have a great and hard-hitting round-table show with a group of WordPress developers, online business owners and WordPress junkies where we discuss the latest and most interesting WordPress and online articles/stories of the week. You can also watch the show LIVE every Friday at 8:30am PST on our Facebook WP-Tonic Show page.

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