Online learning has been growing in popularity for the last few decades, and learning management systems have become critical – especially in the past year as the coronavirus pandemic dramatically impacted lives around the world.
Everyone from public schools to private universities to employers have started using online platforms to manage education. And at the heart of all these programs are learning management systems.
A learning management system can be a great way for you to train employees, teach students, and share your expertise online.
Read on to learn more about these systems and why you should use Sensei on WordPress to build your own learning management system – complete with courses, modules, and quizzes – all without knowing how to write a single line of code.
What Is a Learning Management System?
Before we dive into how to use WordPress and Sensei, let’s talk some about learning management systems. In simplest terms, a learning management system (LMS) is a tool that allows educators to deliver lessons and administer courses online. This can be part of an online schooling program or for professional training.
Although LMS have been around for years, we’ve really seen them take off in the last year. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many learning systems have moved to a safer online footing.
An LMS gives instructors the setup they need to post lessons, administer quizzes and tests, and post grades all from a virtual footing.
How They Work
There are several steps that go into creating an LMS, beginning with creating the course you’ll be teaching. Some people may choose to write their course content inside the LMS itself, while others may upload their content from existing material. You can also include sources from online material, such as essays, videos, news articles, and more.
Depending on your needs, you may choose to offer more than one course through your LMS. These can be organized into departments, modules, or even sequential classes.
You can organize them in any way that works for you and deliver your courses either to a restricted audience or to the internet at large.
Benefits of Using an LMS
There are a number of benefits of using an LMS, some of which we’ve learned in the last year.
One of the timeliest advantages is that it allows students and teachers to continue learning programs from the safety of their homes. As we’ve had to go into quarantine and practice social distancing, LMS have allowed us to continue with school, professional training, and other online learning systems.
Using an LMS can also help schools and employers to cut down on their training costs since they don’t have the same overhead requirements as in-person learning does.
You can continue learning from anywhere, including when employees are traveling. These systems can also promote a culture of continuous learning, as well as making it easier for you to track their success.
Using WordPress as an LMS
If you’re familiar with WordPress, you might be surprised to learn you can use it to create a learning management system. WordPress is an incredibly versatile site-building tool that makes it easy for anyone from beginners to web coding experts to create their own website.
It has dozens of themes, and every area of any site is completely customizable, down to changing the base code of the site.
There are a few different ways to use WordPress to create an LMS, but the easiest is to use a plugin. The WordPress library has thousands of plugins that you can add to your site to customize its capabilities and functionality.
There are several LMS plugins that you can use to convert your WordPress site into a learning platform.
What Is Sensei?
Sensei is a free WordPress LMS plugin that can help you easily create the learning system you need. It integrates seamlessly with your site and makes it easy to set up your courses.
You can even earn passive income with a WooCommerce plugin extension that allows you to sell your courses through your website.
Sensei was built by Automattic, the company that built WooCommerce, Jetpack, and even WordPress itself. When you use this plugin, you’ll get more than just a strong LMS option for your site. You’ll have the power of all the Automattic programs at your back to make your site better and more successful.
Benefits of Using Sensei
One of the best things about using Sensei to build your LMS is that you don’t have to have any coding experience whatsoever. Writing a traditional LMS means hiring a developer with experience creating these systems. But with Sensei, you just install the plugin with your favorite theme, and you’re off to the races!
One of the most important ways to assess whether your students are grasping the information you’re teaching is to give them quizzes.
With Sensei, setting up quizzes is as simple as adding in any other course content. You can evaluate student progress and post results so students can see how they’re doing with their learning concepts.
How to Install Sensei
When you set up your LMS, your first step is going to be installing Sensei on your WordPress platform. Make sure you have your WordPress website set up, including selecting a compatible theme (more on that later).
Login to your WordPress admin panel and navigate to the “Plugins” menu option.
Click “Add New” under the Plugins menu, and search “Sensei LMS” in the plugin store that pops up. When you’ve found it, click the “Install Now” button and then hit “Activate” once it’s installed. This will prompt Sensei to start running on your site and will give you the chance to build out your custom LMS.
Sensei Customization Options
After you activate the Sensei plugin, you’ll see a setup wizard pop up that will take you through several customization options. You can also change settings or add snippets of pre-written code later to make your LMS function the way you need it to. Sensei has a number of these pre-written snippets available on their website for you to use as needed.
You can change the automatic setting that takes students to a lesson quiz after they reach the end of the lesson. You can change what non-admin users can access and change what information is in a quiz box.
You can even allow your teachers to grade all quizzes, though you may need a WordPress expert to help you put this change in place.
WordPress has dozens of themes that users can choose from, and Sensei can work on almost any of them. However, there are a few popular themes that are slightly more compatible with the Sensei LMS plugin.
One of them is actually an Automattic theme: Storefront, a sleek, modern theme that works well with WooCommerce.
Sensei also works especially well with Divi by Elegant Themes and Astra by Brainstorm Force. Twenty Twenty is a WordPress theme that does well with the plugin, especially given that it comes from the same developers.
Aardvark by GhostPool and GeneratePress by Tom Usborne are two more popular Sensei-friendly themes.
Creating a Course
Once you get your theme picked out, your site set up, and your plugin activated, you’ll be ready to create your first course in Sensei. In the Sensei menu, you should see an item titled “Courses.” When you click on that, you’ll see an option for “Add New” that will take you to the course creation page.
You’ll see that some blocks will have already been added to your new course, including “Course Name,” “Take Course,” “Course Outline,” and “Contact Teacher.”
You can fill in each of these sections with your information, add new custom sections, or remove unneeded sections. You can also customize the style, colors, and borders used in these different blocks.
With the basics out of the way, you’ll next be able to start adding and editing your course details. If you like, you can put a short description of your course in the “Excerpt” field. You can also assign a teacher to the course and set a category that the new course will fall into.
If there are any prerequisites for the course you’re setting up, you can arrange the course settings so a user can’t begin that course until they complete the prereq.
You can also set a class as a featured course, which will cause it to be displayed under your featured courses section on your archive page. You can even add a featured image to a course and control what notifications you get about course activity.
Once you have your new courses set up, you may need to edit or rearrange them. Under the “Order Courses” page, you can arrange the order in which your courses appear on your website page. You can also duplicate a course if it’s a lesson you plan to offer more than once or which you have multiple sections of.
If possible, it’s a good idea to get any of your major course changes done before you launch the class. Once people are in the middle of taking it, these changes will impact the completion status of your students.
If you need to make major changes, consider waiting until your current course completes and then creating an updated version.
Within the courses you create, you may want to add modules or sections within the course hierarchy. You can include as many modules in a course as needed, even making each lesson its own module if you prefer.
Begin by navigating to the “Courses” menu in Sensei and then selecting “Modules.”
You’ll need to give each module a name, and you may want to add a brief description of the module contents. Once you’ve created the module, you can select which course it will be under, choosing multiple courses if needed. You can also create your modules first and then add them when you create each course if you prefer.
After you’ve got your courses and/or modules set up, you’ll be ready to start creating lessons. Lessons will have their own menu separate from courses, and you’ll want to navigate to “Add New” under this menu.
As with your courses, you’ll find that certain lesson details have already been added, although you can edit these as needed.
You’ll be able to pick from a variety of lesson actions students can take, including viewing course content, taking a quiz, marking a lesson as complete, and more.
You can add tags to your lessons to make it easier for students to search for them on your site. You can also take many of the actions with lessons that you can with courses, including adding prerequisites, changing their order, putting in excerpts, and more.
Setting up Quizzes
One of the last steps in creating a course will be setting up your quizzes for each lesson. You’ll need to make sure you have your lessons created first so you can associate each quiz with the lesson it goes with as you create them. In fact, when you create a lesson, you’ll see the “Quiz” box at the bottom of the lesson page.
For your first quiz, you’ll need to add each new question to the quiz bank. However, once you add a question to the bank, you can reuse it in future quizzes for easier quiz creation.
If you don’t want to have a quiz at the end of a lesson, you can remove it using the “More Options” icon in the quiz block.
Choose a Host for Your WordPress + Sensei Site
All of this information is important to keep in mind while building an LMS using WordPress and Sensei. When you’re ready to launch your site, be sure to choose a hosting provider that has plans specially designed to deliver the performance, reliability, security, and support that an online learning platform website absolutely needs to be successful.
Created by the same minds behind WordPress.com and WooCommerce, Pressable offers 100% uptime, lightning-fast lead times, and pro-active security designed to ensure your WordPress site runs its absolute best. Plus, our sales team can work with you to build a custom plan with the features and specs you need to make your vision a reality.
Jessica serves as the Director of Operations for Pressable and spends her days focused on creating the best managed WordPress hosting experience possible. She's been using WordPress since 2008 and has been serving in WordPress-focused roles since 2010. When she's not working, you can find her spending time with her family, serving in her community, watching hilarious dog videos online, or brewing a pitcher of iced tea.