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.
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.