Discuss LifterLMS 5.0 & WordPress Plus Online Learning in 2021
Chris Badgett is the co-founder and CEO of LifterLMS, a learning management system for WordPress. He helps education entrepreneurs create, launch, and scale high-value online training platforms. He believes in democratizing education in the digital classroom and contributing as much as possible to the open-source WordPress community.
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Intro: Welcome to the WP tonic podcast where each week Jonathan and his co-host interview, the leading experts in WordPress e-learning and online marketing. Jonathan, take it away.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back Folks to the WP tonic show, this is episode 609. We got our old guest. He is a regular on the WP tonic round table show a friend of the show, a personal friend. We’ve got Chris Badgett back on the show so Chris, would you like to quickly give us a 20-second intro to the new listeners and viewers?
Chris Badgett: Sure. I’m Chris from lifter LMS and we help WordPress professionals build better online learning environments.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. They’ve got a new update, lifter LMS 5.0. They’ve got some other new services and technologies and we’d probably have a chat about, how Chris sees WordPress, the latest developments with bug his own company’s position when it comes to Elementor and the other page builders it’s going to be a great conversation. I also got my co-host, Steven. Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?
Steven Sauder: Yeah, it’s good to be back. My name is Steven from zip fish.io and we make WordPress fast by optimizing the code that runs WordPress and the code that runs on the server.
Jonathan Denwood: Last week was a great interview. Wasn’t it? Stephen with Rand, wasn’t it?
Steven Sauder: It was, yeah, I enjoyed it.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. before we go into the main part of the interview, I want to mention one of our great major sponsors that are Castos. If you’re looking to get into podcasting yourself, or you’ve got clients that are looking to get into podcasting, you will need somewhere to host your audio files, produce the RSS feed, and a host of other minor things that you need doing, you can do all this yourself, but it’s great to have a centralized place. Castos is just fantastic I moved to them a couple of months ago from a previous platform. What I love about it is the simplicity, the power of the interface that they have built, they are WordPress people.
Matt Medeiros is the head of marketing and customer support. they’re just a great company with a great leadership team. So I suggest that you’re looking to get into podcasting for yourself, or you got clients, you go over to them, have a look, what they got to offer, and sign up for one of their packages. And if you do that, please, can you tell them that you heard about them on the WP tonic show that really helps the show. So let’s go into the main part of the interview so Chris, Lifter 5.0 what are the main features and improvements in the major update, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Well, one of the main players in a learning management system is the learner and learners are different, each person that uses the LMS to, or membership site, or course whatever you want to call it, to learn something or be coached or get access to content. they have different data around who that person is. And basically, what makes the LMS more advanced than just a membership site is, has a lot to do with the M in the word LMS, which is for management in order to manage a learning experience, you need to have a lot of data around things like progression tracking, you know, grades, how much of a video, somebody watched and stuff like that. These are all features that, LMS-like lifter LMS brings in. And what we found is people kept asking us, they wanted to be able to more customize the information that they could collect and display about students. and not everybody. When you think about registering on a website, you have, you know, often like an email address, first name, last name, choose your password, maybe a shipping address, your phone number, but with WordPress, especially being so customizable people really want the flexibility to design the options around user information.
So what 5.0 is, is it allows people to use the WordPress block editor structure, the three main forms, which most people just think about the checkout form or the enrolment form, but there’s actually other user forms like the edit account page and open registration, but people can customize this enrolment flow as much as they want to, from a data perspective, the text you see on the screen, the order of fields, the requiring and hiding basically what we did is if you’ve ever used Gravity forms or formidable or WP forms and ninja forms, and, you’ve used their user registration, add on, which is like a form builder for user fields. We just built all that right into Lifter LMS with 5.0.
Not only can you create these forms and collect this data though, we also built a shortcode system based on the feedback from our community where people could take this data and display it. in other places like on certificate kids, emails, even on pages of the website, achievement badges, text messages, all this is this new short co-system just makes it easy for a non-developer to just display dynamic user information, wherever they like. And then one more thing just in concert with 5.0 is, going back to the customizability that people want for managing this enrolment. They also wanted the ability to build unique forms for like different courses, different memberships, you know, maybe there’s an access plan, like a pricing option for this more expensive for coaching. And you want to collect a lot more information. Basically, we added the ability to do custom forms and custom fields, meaning that the problem that we ran into is people would want, well, I need to print my continuing education students license number on the certificate. Well, we didn’t have a feature for that, but now we do with our custom fields, when they enroll, they enter their license number, and then they have a shortcode that they can choose to put that information on the certificate.
So 5.0 is more of a, it’s a little more technical of a release It’s a little geekier, but it adds a lot of power for, dynamic personalization or just really just the collection and display of any user data you would like.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. Before I throw it over to Steven. I’m getting the impression that this particular version is aimed at [Inaudible 07:27] user strike developer type. Would you agree with what I just said?
Chris Badgett: I think it’s actually aimed at both. Like I’m thinking of Angela Brown who’s a regular user of ours who teaches, cleaning, people starting cleaning businesses, how to basically grow that kind of business. And she really wanted a company name. She just wanted a company name field and, we had technical documentation on how to create your custom fields with code. She wasn’t having any of that, so she’s super happy, but, also a power user could get really advanced with this kind of stuff-
Jonathan Denwood: I mean actually, both a power user and a developer I didn’t work that well
Chris Badgett: It’s really for both. And, it’s kind of like CRMs and tagging though, you could get yourself into trouble here in the sense that you need to have a strategy around, like, make sure you’re collecting the data that you need. And if you’re going to start reusing these fields all over the place in different areas, you’ve got to have a strategy around how to.
Jonathan Denwood: So, one quick follow-up question. about the form builder, was there a lot of internal discussion between you and your Tom and your other key members of your team? Because there are some very powerful third party, form plugins, you know, gravity forms have just recently upgraded, you got fluent forms and you got about half a dozen others. So why did you think you needed to increase the form functionality, the built for mobility when you got some very powerful, external plugins systems that deal with forms?
Chris Badgett: well, we also have integrations with those forms systems, so you can still use a gravity form or a ninja form inside of the lesson and require it to be completed and so on. But what we found is that people really want an all-in-one solution and, in our marketing, yeah, we do talk about the all-in-one, but the reality is you still need some extra things here and there. Like I know we’re fans of WP fusion here, as an example, it’s a great tool. We’re not going to build WP fusion. But people, people just wanted a native solution. Like user data information is pretty fundamental to LMS. So it’s almost expected that people, you know, really want it here. And also, we did something, even gravity forms. The new version is awesome. It looks great. And it works really well, but it’s not built on top of Gutenberg.
We built our form system directly on top of the native Gutenberg was really pushing the boundaries here and, is really innovative what he’s been able to do with the new block or it’s not new anymore, but the block editor.
Jonathan Denwood: Well that opens a whole group of valid questions, but I’m going to throw it over to Steven there.
Steven Sauder: One quick question about, the form system that you guys created. Do you pull information out of that from like, if you’re trying to get a company name and then you want to display it somewhere on your website, is that what the shortcode? You said you increased like the shortcode stuff that like, is, are you using shortcodes to do that?
Chris Badgett: Yes.
Steven Sauder: Okay, cool. So that you can create that custom entry, that kind of custom form, and then creating that shortcode. You can put it wherever you want to display that data. However you want, wherever on the site, essentially.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Like for example, here’s another example, even like on the top of the user dashboard, it could say something like, hi, Steven, from zip fish, what do you want to learn today? Like you can create that kind of personalized experience here. And your certificate of completion would- we’ve always had, like the name and the completion date and all that, but you can just get kind of fancy with certificates and whatnot.
Steven Sauder: That’s cool. Was it a hard decision to decide to support Gutenberg? I feel like, everybody’s at this like a place where it’s like, okay, so I keep building me, you could build it your own custom form solution, right? You could have not put it inside of Gutenberg. You could have had some sort of admin panel where you drag and drop your forms. And it’s just like, it’s just a form thing for forms has nothing to do with Gutenberg.
and then, you know, integrate it with shortcodes and [Inaudible 12:15] however you want to do it. was it a hard decision to build your form system inside of Gutenberg or was that a very obvious choice for you guys?
Chris Badgett: It wasn’t easy, but it was the obvious choice. And let me explain. I mean, we, we had the ability before to, to basically on a settings panel, you could like, hide or, require certain form fields of the default ones that just came with lifter, but it was not in any way a Wiziwig What you see is what you get an experience like the block editor is more like you’re looking at the exam as you build a form, it looks exactly like the form that your users are going to complete. It may not be completely styled inside your theme or whatever, but it’s, you can, you can really see what you are creating.
So from a user experience, instead of some lifter LMS settings panel, like tucked away somewhere, with some checkboxes and radio buttons, you could actually, you know, if you’re comfortable with making content with blocks, you could move to readjust, retitle, these, these form blocks. And if you look at something like, if I just look across the lifter LMS community, I hear more and more talk about the WordPress block editor Gutenberg, less talk about the page builders. so like going with WordPress, the way the core is going, I think is just a smart decision, especially because WordPress itself is so big. And so many people are working on it instead of building like a parallel system with just our small team, why don’t we just hook on to this wagon? And I mean, that’s really what the open-source kind of bizarre community thing, the cathedral and the bizarre, that whole thing. That’s what I was like, kind of all about
and who knows what innovation is going to come down the line from WordPress core or other block systems that are going to make just by default our forms even more powerful. I don’t like to fight the the core. And as an example, we built our course builder, which is like a block builder thing before Gutenberg came out. So we have, we have a, you know, like a parallel system, one screen, like course builder thing. you know, one day it’d be nice to put that all inside of Gutenberg, so you can do it separately as well. It’s not necessarily made for a bad experience. It’s just more of a long-term strategy thing.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. We need to go for our break actually. so we’re going for our break folks. And when we come back, we will be continuing this great discussion with Chris Blanchard, the joint founder of lifter LMS be back in a few minutes,
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back we got Chris, the friend of the show back, it’s always great to chat with Chris. He’s very knowledgeable about business and the WordPress ecosystem in general. before we continue our interview, I just want to talk about one of our sponsors, a new sponsor. That’s peach pie. Now, if you’re looking to set up, if you got a woo-commerce website for yourself or for a client, and you’re looking for a quick, easy way of improving the checkout, [Inaudible 17:41] or experience peach pie really offers a quick way of doing it. it’s a free plug-in, go over to peach pie it’s peach pie. app. there are all links on the WP tonic website, have a look at it. I think you’re going to be impressed for yourself, or if you’re working with clients as I say, go and have a look at it, it really does improve the WooCommerce checkout experience.
So Chris you got increasing with the 5.0 increase functionality. That’s inbuilt with Gutenberg but, but we are dealing with a very, at the present moment none of us know how this is going to all turn out. we’ve got a very fragmented situation. We’ve got, Elementor, beaver builder, we’ve got all the Divvy people. We got other page builders like oxygen gaining traction. And we’ve even got a couple of new players that I notice that our fellow panelists Spencer has been talking to. so especially Elementor and Divvy they are the two major I want to focus on how are you going to deal with their requirements or is this leading to the point where they will be able to use Lifter, but it’s going to be a reduced functionality level.
Chris Badgett: The way we designed software. We’d never exclude anybody. So for example, on the lifter LMS academy site, which is built with BeaverBuilder, we updated to 5.0, and our migration ran in the background. And then the forms, even, if the rest of your site is built in, Elementor the forms you just manage from the Gutenberg, sort of like how on a page by page or post basis, you can choose whether or not to use a page builder or a Gutenberg there. So forms are really not really a battleground for, you know, page builder versus Gutenberg this form and all this user data and display stuff is really more functionality. So it shouldn’t really matter how an elementary user or divvy user, just when they’re modifying their checkout form or their enrolment form, they just pop up in the forms. They open in Gutenberg and then they can, they can modify it.
And the cool thing is, you know, we released this custom fields add on, on Monday this week of this recording and, within 24 hours, Jack from WP fusion built an integration with WP fusion so that the custom fields that happened through your registration on your WordPress LMS site automatically sync with the custom fields in your CRM, which is really powerful. And so, and we’ve seen this where other, this is the beauty of the WordPress ecosystem, like Gabriel Gallagher over at tangible, created a tool called lifter elements, which allows Elementor users to style, all the lifter LMS components using Elementor and do the templates and everything. So I think we’re going to be just fine. this user stuff is so like just kind of base layer functional. It’s not really a conflict with the page builders.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, yeah. Can see that, over to Steve.
Steven Sauder: I’d love to know, like, as you like, look at your user base and I’m sure like you saw a big growth like during the pandemic at least I saw a big growth of people like doing online courses, moving in that direction. is that continuing, has it slowed down at all? Or are people still ramping up like this? If you are somebody who’s an educator today, like there’s almost in my mind, it feels like there’s an expectation that you have an online course presence, all of a sudden, just over the last year and a half. do you feel like that’s true and are you seeing like numbers keep increasing or is it kind of falling off now that people can do more in-person type stuff?
Chris Badgett: The numbers are continuing to climb? I think the main way I look at it is right as the pandemic started for about three to four months, there was an extreme, mania where- like a year from that period. We did have a little bit higher churn rate. Like there was just a lot of like kind of chaos and mania and panic. And, but at the same time, you know, our business grew quite a bit just from that push of people going online. And it’s one of the reasons why I recommend putting a phone number on your website. I was on calls, like just listening to people totally pivoting their company to online, new to WordPress need a solution, walking them through what to do. And, yeah, there was definitely an increase there, but as we’re kind of rounding the corner from all that time period, I just see nothing but just steady growth, but that mania is not there like it was, but I do think there was a, it did bring forward like more customers sooner. It basically accelerated the adoption of online learning.
And, I don’t think it’s going to be like a full snapback. I think it’s actually just been, a driver of growth and what we’ve seen in WordPress, specifically, a lot of the bigger schools and whatnot. Now we do have some universities and regular schools using lifter, but most of the lift or user base is its bottom-up adoption. So they’re innovative expert entrepreneurs. They are teachers that are more techie and already have a blog and are leveraging WordPress and stuff like this. These people aren’t going to stop. And, I also just think the comfort level people have with the technology has just increased as more and more people forced at home have, just kind of up-leveled their skills with online and websites and zoom and really video creation, all cameras, microphones, all the tools that we use as education entrepreneurs, building LMS website. So yes, continued growth from here.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s cool. So, now most of my listener base are developer implementers, WordPress junkies, people that are really interested in WordPress. Now, if they’ve got clients coming to them that are looking to have them help them build out a membership, course-based website, and it’s more than one to the simple course they need a learning management system. What do you think are some of the real core strengths? Why an implemented developers should look at lifter enemies compared to some of the competitors in the WordPress space, Chris?
Chris Badgett: Well, there are two levels to this question. The first level is, is like, why WordPress? And I know that’s not what you asking, but you know, the LMS industry is huge. There’s like 500 or so. LMSs out there. It’s, it’s crowded. It’s kind of insane really. Most of them are traditional SAS solutions. They have metered pricing, meaning the more students, the more courses, the more your bill goes up, and you’re boxed in, and you don’t have design freedom and you can’t extend it beyond their feature set for all those reasons, a large, or I shouldn’t say a large-
Jonathan Denwood: I’m sorry to interrupt, but also enough. A key thing is you haven’t got access to a platform that’s driving over 40% of the website and the enormous ecosystem that’s built around that.
Chris Badgett: Exactly. Yeah. So once you’ve discovered WordPress, there are not that many options for, LMS. And the first thing really is before you get into the LMSs some people I have, like what I call a membership site, first mentality. And only later if they’ve gotten into this membership plugin, do they realize that they actually, what they actually needed was the LMS. So lifter has all the membership functionality you need already included and built-in, but it adds all this other stuff like progression, tracking, reporting analytics, all the, you know, structuring of the content into courses and memberships and prerequisites and all this stuff. So, at lifter, what makes us, you know, really shine in the space. And I have a lot of respect for the other, LMS tools and entrepreneurs behind them out there. There are a few things that really make us different. One is our level of support. Like there’s a live call that I’ve run every week, once a week with our top customers. Jonathan, you’ve been on that. that’s an example, I don’t know of another company that does that we have these live lift-off session calls for now.
Jonathan Denwood: I think the other factor is that you’re a well-established company with deep roots in the WordPress ecosystem both you and Tom. And you, also have available and go on a, my own round table show, but you go on a lot of other things and your commitment and your company’s commitment to be part of the guide system is quite clear. obviously, there’s a lot of learning management kind of plugins, you know, from companies I’ve never heard of, but the way I see it, there’s probably about three to four serious WordPress focused players in LSM. your major competitors learn dash and Justin, and his wife I’m not as close to them as I am with you, but I totally respect Justin and his wife and it’s a great product. And, that’s how the cookie crumbles, I wouldn’t say a bad thing about Learn Dash and we are totally happy at WP tonic to use that as well. but there’s a couple of others, but fundamentally, I would say there are only about four players that serious.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. And that’s, it’s a really big market. And if you want, if you want to talk to, we’ve got a Facebook group, if you go in there, we’ve got threads of people who’ve used both. And they compare lifter to learn dash, and there are conversations in there. You can check-
Jonathan Denwood: They are both quality products with, their own strengths and weaknesses. being strong in one area can mean that your focus has been on other. So when somebody comes to me and says, you know, should I use Lifter LMS? Or should I learn, learn dash? I said, well, I need to know a lot about you, what you plan to do. And, I said that decision is really linked to a lot of detail, so that’s how face it, but that’s how I see it. So in that space of, let’s say four serious players, do you think, your major strengths are which 5.0 has a serrated is that you have the benefits of still being able to use the power of the WordPress ecosystem, but you got now a very integrated product as well. Would you say that’s one of the biggest strengths now of lifter?
Chris Badgett: That is like all the components that make up a course can be arranged using the block editor. And we have settings and stuff around that. you know we have a free version so that people can get started super easy. A lot of people say we’re expensive, but really what I would encourage somebody to do is to get the free version of lifter LMS one payment gateway and compare that to the other options. They’re both from a feature set and a price point.
Jonathan Denwood: I find that irritating, you must find it more irritating because the truth is lifter LMS is the cheap way of using Because, like you say, you could just buy add on for $99 and off you go, don’t you?
Chris Badgett: Yes. And then a lot of our really top-end addons are not even available features in the other tools., I know Steven will smile when I say this. the way we look at it is we take care of both ends of the spectrum and the middle takes care of itself. So if you’re a low-cost bootstrapper and you just need low cost, get started powerful, affordable, you’re good. If you’re a power user and you want to build like these advanced, like coaching programs and advanced assessments and your own social learning thing all into the site, we got you covered there. That costs more. So, we’re both the cheapest, but also in some ways the most expensive, but most powerful as well. So, but not everybody needs the Lambo.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, we’re going to wrap up the podcast, the show, hopefully, you can stay on for some bonus content can’t you Chris?
Chris Badgett: let’s do it.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m going to be talking about more, the business side of lifter LMS with Chris about, you know, you’ve got various things he and his partner have to look at when running lifter LMS in the WordPress ecosystem. I’m just going to, ask him some questions about that because being in that ecosystem has its benefits, but also makes in some ways, the situation a little bit more complicated than having just a pure science-based business. So Chris, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to.
Chris Badgett: Well if you like podcasts check out our podcast which is called LMS cast. And if you’re interested in learning about lifter LMS, just head on over to lifter, lms.com.
Jonathan Denwood: when are you going to have me or back on your show, Chris.
Chris Badgett: I’ll send you an invite link right after this call.
Jonathan Denwood: Thank you, Chris Steven, how can people find more about you and what you are up to?
Steven Sauder: Head over to zipfish.io to run a speed test see how much faster we can make your website.
Jonathan Denwood: And if you really want to support the show, I’ve got two small favors to ask you, listeners and viewers. can you go to iTunes and give us a review? it really does help the show. And secondly, why don’t you go and join the WP tonic Facebook group? all the panel members are joining and I’m trying to build a real community there. It’s about WordPress. We have a focus on marketing automation and membership websites. So go over there and join it. The links to the group are in the show notes. So you can just go there and click the button it will take it and you can join the group. We’ll see you next week. With another great guest and another great conversation.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the WP tonic podcast, the podcast that gives you a dose of WordPress medicine twice a week.
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