I was recently tasked to look into an LMS system for a client that would allow students, parents, and teachers to connect in an online learning space. After a bit of tedious research, I figured I would share my findings, because I was a bit surprised at the results.
The WordPress Route
My client has their own WordPress website, and the goal was to provide a familiar interface for parents to access materials. Initially I looked into a WordPress plugin that would do this, and there are a few that seemed to fit the bill.
LearnPress seamed pretty powerful right out of the box. Boasting protected members-only classrooms, billing integration.
However, after initial configuration, it became evident that LearnPress was missing key features that separate this free plugin from paid LMS plugins.
- There’s no way to close the enrollment to on-going classes. Students could register any time they wish, even half-way through the class. This was a deal breaker for us, as the classes have a set enrollment period, and our teachers trickle content out over the course of the class.
- The teachers would have a very hard time navigating to where they could update their classes. Additionally, teachers would be shown all kinds of other website administration stuff that they shouldn’t have access to unless I combined some sort of advanced Membership Plugin like Paid Member Subscriptions.
- The whole user experience of the classroom portion was very lacking. It feels like it’s a half-baked solution just from using it. Not good.
- Limited customizations. If you wanted to style the plugin shortcodes, have fun. There’s no built-in way to customize the look.
- Visitors could see the course curriculum and lesson titles. The only workaround to this was to disable the tab buttons via CSS, not exactly an elegant solution.
LearnDash Learning Management System for WordPress
Price: starting at $159/year
After striking out with LearnPress, I looked at it’s paid competitor, LearnDash, billed as “The Most Trusted WordPress LMS.” This plugin definitely showed promise, but I must admit that I never pulled the trigger on even the trial, for one main reason:
If you have to pay for this feature at the end of the day, you might as well pay for a solution that is built from the ground-up to be an LMS system. NOT a blog that’s franken-patched to work as a messy LMS Blog.
Which leads me to my next avenue of thought…
The OpenSource Route
When I searched for an Open Source LMS system, there were a few that came up, both with free and paid licensing options.
Honestly, Moodle looks really cool. I am going to spend some time configuring this LMS on Amazon LightSail and will post a tutorial on that when I’m finished.
The whole premise is that Moodle is built from the ground up to be a powerful feature-packed modern LMS. It does require the latest and greatest MySQL settings though, so check the system requirements before diving in. I couldn’t spin up Moodle on my clients server due to some (GoDaddy) MySQL configuration limitations. However many other web hosts support this configuration.
Unfortunately, it seems like the majority of cloud-based LMS platforms are designed specifically for the corporate market, almost strictly for employee on-boarding. This really didn’t fit our model at all so I didn’t spend much time looking too deep, except for the obvious:
Google Classroom (free)
Ultimately, this is what we went with for our specific scenario. This option was flexible enough and easy enough to configure that I had three classrooms set up and ready to go in just a few minutes. I could invite teachers and students easily by email, and there is a really great training course offered by Google that contains how-to videos for both teachers and students, so everyone can get up-to-speed quickly without much hassle.
Since registration and billing for the upcoming semester had already been handled the old way, we just needed a place for people to connect and access classroom materials in a structured way. This was simple with Google Classrooms.
In the future we would like to provide an automated registration and billing process to enroll students. I will be testing out Moodle and report back my findings!
I hope you found this post useful in your quest for the perfect LMS system.