In this episode we discuss LearnDash 3.0 which is a major upgrade and what are some of the new powerful improvements with LearnDash founder Justin Ferriman.
Justin has made a career as an e-learning consultant where he has implemented global training programs for Fortune 500 companies.
Passionate about e-learning and WordPress, both Justin and LearnDash have been featured in multiple industry publications, including Forbes.com, MSN Money, ELearning! Magazine, Training Magazine, EdTech Magazine, Chief Learning Officer, and Learning Technologies by the Association for Talent Development.
Justin’s experience-based vision has helped make LearnDash the most trusted WordPress LMS plugin for major universities, continuing education providers, and entrepreneurs world-wide.
This weeks show is Sponsored By Kinsta Hosting
Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP Tonic Show. This is episode 405. That`s right 405 folks. I managed to last this long. I am really looking forward to this interview. We have got a returning guest. It’s Justin from LearnDash. And I’ve got my cohost Cindy Nicholson with me. Cindy, would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Cindy: Sure. Hi everyone, Cindy Nicholson here from thecoursewhisperer.com where I help people who wants to create online courses.
Jonathon: What’s the temperature like? Is it warm enough?
Cindy: It is. It’s actually a pleasant day today for a change. But we’re supposed to have rain on the weekend, so, but we don’t have any snow. I was asked that yesterday if we had any snow here. So definitely not this time of year.
Jonathon: And we got Justin. Justin, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Justin: Yeah, well excuse me. Thanks so much for having me here. I’m Justin Fairman. I’m co-founder of LearnDash, which is a LMS plugin for WordPress for creating and selling online courses.
Jonathon: And before we go into the main part of the interview folks. We will be covering everything, learn dash 3.0, a fantastic update. I have been playing with it myself and I’m really impressed. We will be discussing some of the new features. And the struggle that Justin has gone through to get this amazing product to you. But before that I’ll just want to quickly talk about one of my great sponsors. And that’s Kinsta hosting. And Kinsta only specialize in WordPress hosting. And if you’re looking for a great hosting provider for your Learn Dash Project, they are fantastic. They have all the latest technology. Latest version of PHP, staging site, one click update. We host a lot of our client’s sites on Kinsta. Can’t recommend them more. And the main thing, they use Google cloud as their backbone. But you get fantastic 24/7 support from people that really care. And it’s just a fantastic set up and really great values. So go and have looked at Kinsta.com. So Justin Learn Dash 3.0. A mega project that you’ve been going through a number of months. What are some of the key features that you are the most proud of?
Of this new level of learning management system?
Justin: It has been a great project. A long one. I remember I first teased it February, 2018 and we released in at the end of May. So it was a long journey, but we got there. And in terms of features, I mean the things that I like the most are probably the least exciting for a user. But what our users really love our new focus mode, which is just a new environment when you’re taking a course to help continue. I’m sorry to help with the course completion rates and to help learn or continue through the course content. And also we updated all our visuals. So all our templates, our profile, we made it super simple to create a login and a registration for the LMS, which can be a challenge, especially on WordPress. Because so many plugins leverage the native WordPress functionality as they should.
But sometimes that can be confusing and hard to customize. And so we made a really beautiful log in and registration process for online courses as well. So there’s a lot that goes into this project. There’s a lot behind the scenes. The new builder’s course builder and quiz builder that we have are in a league of their own. And so we’re really proud of those as well. So it’s a very comprehensive update. We really just addressed everything from front to back over the past few years of feedback we’ve been getting. And the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
Jonathon: Yeah I think you’ve done a great job actually. I have being very impressed. Over to you Cindy.
Cindy: Yeah. So thanks Justin for joining us today. I actually want to drill down a little bit more in terms of what you’re talking about with these updates. Because when I’m working with clients, one of their biggest concerns is kind of the whole course how do I get to make sure more people complete it. So you mentioned that you’ve made some updates around that whole course completion area. Can you kind of delve into that a little bit more in terms of how LearnDash helps with that?
Justin: Sure. So for a long time, and this was across the industry, especially in WordPress. The online course space and when your experience of taking online course was a lot like being on a webpage. There were elements that help that were conducive to online learning and that was great. But there were still distractions there, especially when it came to simple things like the navigation at the top of the page for example. Or so many sites use popups are something that are going to want an opt in address. And so, you know, maybe you click to another lesson in the pop up comes up and there’s all these other distractions that we wanted to remove. But not completely separate from the branding. And the business side of the business owner of the website. So we created focus mode, which takes a learner from the online course. Like when they’re looking at the course page, they click into a lesson.
And now you’re taken to a new environment. And the environment gets rid of all the distractions. Put your navigation in the left hand side, your content in the right. The spacing has been a very intentionally thought out. It’s easy to. We didn’t create this concept of having this full screen learning experience. But ours is definitely the best because we looked at what was out there and what they weren’t doing right. And we also what they were doing right and enhanced upon it. And right now it’s the most modern learning experience that you can have online. What I love about it is that you can easily pop in and out of focus mode. So what this does to a learner, as they come to a course page and they click in a lesson, and when the environment changes, it changes their mindset. They’re like, okay, I’m not cruise on a website anymore.
I’m learning content. And then when they need to get out, they just can easily use a bread crumb or click on the course title and then boom, they’re right back on the website, which creates a very seamless experience, which is great for a business owner or whoever’s offering online course. Because of this portal is actually branded and can be branded. Colors can be chosen, logos can be chosen. So it’s conducive to the entire business or course offering.
Cindy: Well, I love that idea in terms of the whole focus mode because really like taking any type of anything online opportunity for distraction is huge. So it’s cool that you give the learners that opportunity. Cool. Thank you. Jonathan.
Jonathon: I think one of the things I’ve been impressed with is the UX design. I think in some ways in general, all the WordPress plug in providers in the learning management space. I think they were slightly falling behind some of the SAS platforms. I think probably Kajabi comes to mind. I think with your update, you’ve really pushed UX design to a different level. Was that one of the main things that you were focusing on and took a long time to work on?
Justin: Yeah, Jonathan, it was. That was something when we are, we had phone calls with our customers before we ventured into the design or the redesign should say. Just to feel out some of their pain points and what those were and they echo what you say. It was sometimes difficult to find where certain settings were. They were confused by certain settings. And this is also, this is the backend. And then on the front end too from a learner perspective the Ux Ui design, which is kind of our focused mode, was born out of. I also realized that we needed to get out of our own way. We know e-learning extremely well, but we’re not experienced instructional designers, experiences designers in the term of software development. So that’s why we brought in two firms to help with us. We brought in 10 up who’s really well known in WordPress space. And we brought in 3.7 designs and they implemented LearnDash at the University of Michigan.
And with all three of our minds together, we created this experience both on the backend and the front end that we feel is cutting edge and a lot easier to use. And the response, like I said, has been positive. And it’s not just what people say in the number of support tickets that come in. We’re seeing that we’re fielding less about navigation. Less tickets are coming about asking where certain settings are. It’s more about performing higher level tasks.
Jonathon: Over to you Cindy.
Cindy: So how do you know you really highlighted some key things that you did in your update this time around. So how did you go? What was your process to decide what you would include in your update and what you would either defer or just not bothered doing?
Justin: It is funny when it started as the scope is actually smaller. It was only going to be the back end. We wanted to redo some of the builders. Our builders even before the update, some of the most advanced, not just in WordPress but in SAS platforms as well. Meaning like one example would be a lot of the builders that are out there, you can’t reuse your content. So when you create a lesson in Learn Dash you can pop that lesson into any course without having to create a copy or a clone the content. Or just do any rework. And it can be in different orders in the course. So it’s, it’s really independent and that goes for quizzes and quiz questions and topics and all that. So we were going to focus on the builders. That was kind of the main thing.
We really wanted to create a great course building experience. But then as we started talking as a team, we thought, you know, there are also comments about the front end templates being dated. And that was certainly true. And we were able to maybe not address that initially because so many great theme providers and other plugin providers created solutions that really made it look beautiful. So you could use Learn Dash and one of those and the experience was nice. But we decided at this point like 3.0 is going to be big, why don’t we go real big? And that was kind of the goal initially. And we did have to tone back the scope a little bit. So there’s one thing that didn’t make it in that we’re definitely going to be doing and addressing that we haven’t gotten to. It would have pushed out the release another eight months I feel like. But it was a quiz builder. So we got a course builder, we got a quiz builder. We don’t have a certificate builder. And that’s what I really want to address next. But we figured, you know, right now that’s fine. We have a way to create a certificate, we can get to that. So we did have to cut back scope a little bit, but it actually became bigger from the original idea.
Cindy: I can imagine once you start thinking of it making changes it can balloon for sure. Jonathan.
Jonathon: So Justin, what was some of the biggest hurdles that come up during the project then?
Justin: The stressor for me was the timeline. We ran into just more things during testing, which is ultimately good because our release was really smooth. But we thought we were going to release in a like best case scenario and a January worst case in February. We released in May. That was stressful for me because I’m big on communicating with our customers and kind of the people that are active in our groups. And letting them know, okay this is what we’re doing. This is our timeline. This is kind of the timeframe. I remember I told people Q one we’ll be out like for sure. And I told them that late last year. We went past Q one and everybody is like where is it in? It caused me a little personal anxiety because I don’t like letting people down.
But the project in terms of, we did have a lot of testing going on with the builders. We did some really big things because the builders are built using react. And we didn’t have that before and in our software. And as a result just required a lot of testing about how that integrated with what we are currently doing. And we found a lot of things popping up. So testing was a bear for this. We did two Beta rounds and then two release candidate rounds as well. Before we pressed the go. So there wasn’t any one like huge fire, a crazy thing that was like, we couldn’t get over. It was because of the changes were so extensive. It required so much testing and it felt like for a while, every time you tested it, we’re like, oh shoot. There was something there that’s conflicting with this other particular feature this template isn’t working with this particular WordPress theme. So yeah, that was my general feeling overall. But I’m happy to be on the other side of the finish line now.
Jonathon: I bet you are. We’re going to go for our break folks. When we come back we’ll be delving more into LearnDash 3.0.And we are going to be asking Justin how he sees the learning industry. Some of the trends you think that are coming up. So anyway, in general. We will be back in a few moments’ folks.
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Jonathon: We are coming back. We’ve had a great discussion with Justin. He seems relieved.
Justin: Actually I am a lot more at ease now. I’m getting meaning. I’m having a good time. It’s Friday.
Jonathon: Over to you Cindy.
Cindy: Again. I’m just going to drill down a bit in terms of some of the upgrades that you talked about it. So you talked about the course builder and the quiz builder. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that looks like? And what the user experience will be like for them?
Justin: Yeah, so one thing we wrestled with the builders was do we create a builder experience as kind of like focus mode where when you go into it, it takes over your screen. And then you’re focused on building your course and there’s compelling arguments for that direction. We decided ultimately against it because it felt a little too anti WordPress. I didn’t like the idea of hijacking the whole admin. So what we ultimately settled on was creating it within Gutenberg. So it has a very Gutenberg feel. But it’s really clean and easy on the right hand side. So it’s like, it looks like an APP, but you still have like the Admin menu items on your left so you’re not really like leaving anywhere. So you still feel comfortable where you are. We separated the builder aspect, which could be like adding, you add your lessons, and you add we call them topics which are underneath the lessons.
All this stuff can be renamed and learn extra modules or whatever. We have lessons. So you have your course, you create sections, you put lessons in your sections, you can divide your lessons up into topics. You can assign quizzes at any one of these levels. All drag and drop. Just kind of click a button, give it a title, and drag it into place. And so you have that screen. Then we kind of have like a tab approach where all the settings for the builder for the course. So the course level settings if you want. For example, we have like a forced linear progression, but if you want to open it up so people can go to any lesson in any order, you would do that on the settings side of things. And I want to point out like all our settings, every single setting we went through and gave it new help text and new labels if it needed it.
Like we had a label, this is kind of a smaller example, but it’s actually been really helpful in helping people wrap their mind around it. We had one called price type, which seems natural for a course, like what’s the price type? But people are struggling, rightfully so because there was bye now free, open, close. So we changed it to access mode and that seems to resonate more with people. What’s the access mode that you want? And then for each one of those it just has a nice description right underneath. And that itself, I mean we used to get a lot of questions about the differences and I don’t see any anymore. So that’s the course and we did something similar with the quiz. Quiz builder is a little bit more advanced and because just quizzes in general. But within the quiz builder you can not only just create your questions but you can change your question type, put different answer selections, choose more popular settings from within the actual question that’s an option.
Or you can go and create a bunch of questions independent of a quiz, come to create a quiz and drag on your questions if you want to do it that way. So you have like a huge question bank and you can just rifle those questions in the spin up an assessment. So those are really impressive and they’re really smooth and actually sense of release. We haven’t heard anything about, something not working in terms of the functionality of the builders, which has been great.
Cindy: Awesome. Sounds like it’s a lot more user friendly for your clients as well.
Justin: I think so. Yeah. And I know so when I compare it to our old builders, which a little bit more confined into like a WordPress post with the Gutenberg feel and approach. It does look very app like within WordPress. It’s kind of cool. It’s certainly nobody else is doing it. When 10 up was responsible for a lot of that design. And when they came in they really push the envelope on what we can imagine with the new editor in WordPress.
Cindy: Awesome. Thank you.
Jonathon: I think that was one of the areas I wanted to discuss with you. Because you kind linked it with Gutenberg quite a bit. So where most of our clients are using Elementor. And we have some projects using Beaver Builder. How does the update work with some of these leading page builders? Unfortunately seem to be confusing times, changing times. I think Gutenberg has moved on quite a lot. I don`t think it’s up to the standard of Elementor. Elementor are really pushing the envelope themselves quite drastically. There are a lot if choices out there. How do you see LearnDash coping with the leading page builders?
Justin: Well that’s a great question. Before the updates of pre 3.0 people still used Elementor and Beaver Builder with Learn Dash to structure their content. You can still do that with Learn Dash. We are still built on custom post types. I mean the builder itself. You create your structure and all that. But when you go to edit the lesson, sure it’s in Gutenberg, so you can choose that. But if you had like Beaver Builder installed, you could launch the lesson page and beaver builder and start adding your content and formatting it that way too. And that one thing that I wanted to be sure that it was true is that you could use these page builders and it would apply to focus mode as well. Because I knew people are going to, I know people love them rightfully so.
They do great things and make it so easy to create a beautiful looking page. And in the same respect to beautiful looking lesson in the structure of the content. So people can use that to create their lesson. And then when it’s launched in focus mode, it’s going to retain all that page builder aspect as well. Now when I say Gutenberg, the Gutenberg feel I mean more than just the blocks, when creating content. On pages that are even our settings, it just has a very Gutenberg setting. Feel the toggles, it’s clean. The dropdowns are consistent Ui, Ux with Gutenberg. That said it does work with classic editor and I think it looks actually pretty good with classic editor too.
Jonathon: It does. I agree with you. Over to you Cindy.
Cindy: So you just launched your 3.0, when did you do it specifically?
Justin: May 28th.
Cindy: May 28th so surely, you know, it’s the internet, there’s going to be something coming up next. So what do you anticipate will be kind of the next evolution of the online learning?
Justin: Online learning? In WordPress or just in general?
Cindy: Well, kind of, I would say in WordPress in terms of functionality, but also just in general.
Justin: I think I’ll speak to WordPress, but it’s not necessarily like just online learning. I think it’s kind of what we’re seeing in WordPress. And that’s quicker path from A to B. So when somebody is creating an online course site using LearnDash, they have to think about, okay, I’m gonna Install LearnDash and I’m going to create my courses and all that. But I’m going to pick a theme and my theme in there, I’m gonna put Woocommerce commerce on there as well. And do things like that. You’re kind of cobbling together some things, which is great. That’s why we use WordPress. So we have that flexibility. However, that’s not to say there isn’t a method to help people connect those dots a little quicker. And I’ll give an example and it’s a little bit of a shameless blog. Just this week we teamed up with Astro theme and they created a one click import for an entire LearnDash site.
So if you have LearnDash installed and I think like our course grid add on, which is free. And use the free Astro theme and you go to their site importer. And you choose the learn dash template, you get a full site with prepopulated courses already there. So you can either just recycle out the content if you want. That’s an example of what I mean in the WordPress space and helping people get the – B. They can still toggle out and switch off settings and put in new plugins, but they’re not having to do it like one step at a time. We’re completing the first 10 steps for them. So that would be in the WordPress side. And I think that’s probably true for more than just the e learning plugins. But from what I’ve seen, LMS plugins are incredibly, they’re always using very complex situations.
Everybody defines a learning program differently. So they need different features. They want to have a different user experience. Some of them, it may seem counter intuitive, but that’s just the nature of the beast. In the eLearning space. I think we’re going to start seeing, and I hope that we’re helping we’re kind of in this vein. We’re going to start seeing SAS provider’s plugins or whatever, be bolder in what they feel like the best learning experience would be. Be less generic. That was what we’re trying to do with focus mode. We said, look, this is what we feel a learner should go through. If you look at like teachable, they have their own kind of course delivery and yeah, they’re kind of being bold saying this is what we feel. Of course a learner should experience. But they’re not the only ones with that, you know, Thinkific has one too, and there’s a spattering of others. And so now it’s about who has that methodology, who’s got that right methodology and the best presentation and most flexibility for the admin person setting up the course and then for the student. And so it’s more, it’s becoming more of a higher level conversation really. It’s not just, hey, I can create a course. It’s like, oh, I can create a course and actually this is the best way to deliver the course. That’s the way I see this industry going.
Cindy: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think that the eLearning industry is really in its infancy. How this type of medium should be delivering information or content like that. So it’ll be interesting to see where if different people are kind of taking different routes. Where they wine up?
Justin: It’s nice when people like kind of put a flag in the ground and say like, this is what we do. Yeah. I think it’d be interesting to see what comes of that.
Cindy: Yeah. I agree 100% Jonathan.
Jonathon: Yeah. I just wanted to see if you. I have got this feeling and I wanted to see if you think I might be on the right track here. Obviously marketing automation become a bit of a Buzzword. Given individual kind of marketing message to different groups. I see the possibility in the coming period of a customizable learning experience. Based on choices that people do inside the course. The actual experience is kind of semi customized for every individual student. Do you think you see that as a possibility? Would you agree that that might coming up?
Justin: I agree, I agree. I think that’s a very astute assessment of what’s going on in the space. We see a little bit and, like even today we can create some degree of a specialized learning path on LearnDash but not maybe to the level of the marketing. The way the marketers and the marketing industry has really kind of perfected that. Right now to do that, to get a very custom learning experience in WordPress and like with LearnDash. It’s some high level stuff that you might need to use like an infusion soft and then connect it. There’s so many plugins out there to connect these CRMs with LearnDash and WordPress. And you can trigger off different emails and learning paths and things like that based on behaviors within the courses. You’re absolutely right. I think that needs to be made easier. I think it will be made easier. And I don’t think it’s expected right now, but what we’re going to see is people starting to expect that ability creating a course to make it a little bit more custom, maybe less universal. I mean we see that just in education in general, so I could see the technology trying to follow onto that trend.
Jonathon: Oh, that’s great. We’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Hopefully Justin will stay on for another 10 minutes. And you’d be able to see the bonus content and the whole interview on our YouTube channel. That’s the quickest way to see the interview in general and all the great people we interview. And then you’d be able to listen to the podcast on iTunes. We’ll be back next week with another great quest like Justin. Cindy, would you like to tell people how I can find out more about you and what you are up to?
Cindy: Sure. So if you’re looking for a little extra help to get your online course created and out there, you can visit [email protected]
Jonathon: That’s great. And Justin has, do they find out more about you and your company?
Justin: Yeah, I’m going to encourage people to go to learndash.com/3. Just the number three. Learndash.com/the number three. You can read about and watch the video all about learning desk 3.0.
Jonathon: That’s great. And I know a friend of mine, Adam from WP Crafter has done some great educational videos on the update. And I suggest if you’re interested, go and have a look at those as well. And he does a great job. I think you did a great job on some of the key functions. We will be back next week with another great guest, folks see you soon. Bye.
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