How to Create and Sell Online Courses with WordPress

How to Create and Sell Online Courses with WordPress

Learn to create online courses in WordPress quickly and easily with the help of some fantastic LMS (Learning Management Systems) plugins, as well as how to sell your courses, course examples, and more.

Now is a good time if you’ve ever considered launching an online course. E-Learning is going from strength to strength (A billion dollar industry according to analysts), and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon – especially with many people wanting online/remote education since the pandemic. Distance learning is the ‘new normal’ for many.

Of course (no pun intended), this isn’t just about basic K-12 education. Having your niche course about something you’re knowledgeable about is key.

For example, a lesson about building amazing WordPress plugins, or learning to jump rope like a pro – maybe a complete system to win a marathon.

Chances are you know something about something and can teach it to others. And WordPress is an excellent platform on which to create an online course.

We’ll be going through step-by-step how you start an online course on WordPress, from conception to implementation and sales.

This article takes a look at: (Skip ahead at your preference)

Class is now in session! We’ll start with…

Why Launch an Online Course on WordPress?

image of finger about to hit launch button.
Get ready for launch!

There are many reasons why launching a course is beneficial. For example, they:

  • Are a minimal investment to get started
  • Do not require much technical knowledge
  • Give you access to students worldwide
  • Provide supplemental income
  • Build a community
  • Are growing

Plus, virtual learning is becoming more the norm in this day and age. It’s not uncommon like it used to be.

That being said, why WordPress?

There are several reasons why WordPress offers a great solution to hosting your online courses compared to other options. Some of these are touched on in the list above; however, here’s a breakdown of some specific reasons why WordPress is the best.

You Have Control: Launching a course on your own dedicated WordPress website lets you choose the pricing plans and membership levels and run your own business, unlike using a 3rd party online course creator (e.g. Udemy).

Plugins and Themes: As we’ll be going over later in this article, there are plugins and themes to make the process of setting up your online courses simple and easy. Thanks to plugins and themes, it won’t require coding or a lot of technical knowledge to be up and running in no time.

Support: You’ll find that you’ll get support anytime you need it with premium course plugins. Plus, there is support from WordPress management services, such as WPMU DEV, with 24/7 support on any issues that you may run across when creating and running your online course.

Cost-Effective: It doesn’t take that much money to start a WordPress website and to use plugins and/or a theme to run your courses on. You can begin online courses with very little expense, and the costs stay very moderate throughout the duration of time that you keep your classes live.

Security: With security plugins like Defender and a CDN, such as Cloudflare, you’ll be able to beef up your website’s security. Plus, WordPress is constantly updated, and it’s easy to stay in control of ensuring your website is up-to-date and secure.

Simplicity: Assuming you’re familiar with WordPress, setting up a course with it will be simple, and going about it will be familiar to you. Even if you’re new to WordPress, WordPress makes it extremely easy to set up a website – whether it’s a course site or something else.

Design: Your design and courses are determined by you. There are many variations, course options, membership gateways, and more that you can customize to suit your design needs.

As you can see, there are some pretty good advantages of using WordPress for your online courses. Considering WordPress is growing and constantly improving, you’ll be in good hands with using WordPress as your platform.

On another note – what about those 3rd party sites that enable you to create courses?

Pros and Cons of 3rd Party LMS Sites Compared to WordPress

3rd party sites, such as Udemy, Skillshare, and LinkedIn Learning, make it easy and tempting to go with them instead of WordPress.

This article isn’t here to convince you to go with WordPress. You might prefer a 3rd party site to set up your course on. They make it extremely easy. Plus, there are other pros such as:

  • Effortless tracking
  • Software is all setup
  • No hosting worries
  • Payments and refunds are handled for you
  • Traffic is already there (e.g. over 50 million students on Udemy)
  • Can be free to use

And, of course, there are some cons. For example:

  • Pricing can be extremely minimal
  • Limited stylistic control
  • You’re huddled in with your competition
  • If they decide to delete your course, they can
  • Minimal control of just about everything
  • Percentage of sales is taken

In a nutshell, having an online course on a 3rd party site is a money-saving option to get started. Just be ready to give up control over price, design, and vital information (e.g. email addresses).

The biggest negative is that you won’t have too much ownership as a course creator.

If you feel like WordPress is the way to go, let’s check out the…

Essentials to Set Up an Online Course

Image of various equipment for online courses.
Like most things, there are some essentials you’ll need.

There are some essentials needed to set up and operate an online course.

The main essentials are:

  1. Picking a Course Idea (that sells)
  2. Having a Domain Name
  3. Setting Up a WordPress Hosting Account
  4. Including an eLearning Add-On
  5. Getting Good Equipment
  6. Marketing Your Course

We’ll go through them and point out why you need to have this sorted out before you start.

1. Picking a Course Idea (that sells)

This can vary, depending on whether you WANT your course to sell. There might be a situation where you have a specific course that you need to implement for your employees or a small group of people, and you plan on offering it for free. Or, maybe it’s included in your membership (e.g., integrated video tutorials on WordPress).

But, let’s go with the notion that you want to sell your courses online.

The most common reason small businesses (like an online course) fail is that there’s no market for their product or service. There is no amount of marketing or even technology that can solve that issue.

That means there’s going to be a fine line between what you’re knowledgeable about and what there’s a market for.

The good news is that there are several ways to pick a good course idea.

First of all, a few of the top reasons people want a course is:

  • To gain knowledge
  • They want to boost career opportunities
  • To learn a new skill
  • As academic prep
  • To earn income

Some of the highest-selling courses are often about taking something to the next level. That’s why some popular courses are:

  • Tech and computer-related
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Arts
  • Health and fitness
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Education

Realize that these are vast topics. It’s essential to find your niche and narrow down a specific course for a category.

A good example would be this: Let’s take Health and Fitness. You have a way of toning your abs in 4 weeks. So, you create a course titled “The Four Week Ab Toning Method.”

What if you’re not sure that your course is something of value and has a market?

A good indicator is to ask. There are websites, such as Survey Monkey, where you can ask questions like, “How interested are you in a course on…?” and get answers.

Also, if you have an audience built-up already by social media, email, or possibly even a newsletter, ask if this would be something they’d be interested in. If it seems like something your audience would want, it’s a good way to start promoting your course – even before it’s put together.

Plus, if there are no other courses for you to teach, that might indicate there’s no market for it. The more courses that are out there about a subject means the more people that are interested.

2. Having a Domain Name

This one seems obvious, but yes, it’s part of the essentials to launching a course.

Choose a good domain name that’s relevant to what you’re teaching and one you’re not going to regret 6 months down the track. Short and to the point is usually your best bet.

You’ll soon be able to purchase domains from within WPMU DEV as part of an automated hosting setup. Keep an eye on our product roadmap for updates on this.

For now, you have the standard options like GoDaddy, Namecheap, and other localized registrars.

After a domain name is figured out, you’ll need to…

3. Set Up a WordPress Hosting Account

Considering this will be an online course, you’ll want managed WordPress hosting that’s reliable, safe, and can handle an ample amount of visitors. It’s not recommended to use shared hosting or anything that might affect your security or speed.

4. Including an eLearning Add On

We’ll be going over this more with detailed information on themes and plugins you can use for your courses. There are many good options when it comes to how your courses look visually, how your courses function, and much more.

Including the essential add ons will bring your course to life and create a good experience for your students.

5. Get Good Equipment

You’ll need a good computer to set up a course for WordPress. That’s a given. However, when creating the courses themselves, bring the quality of your classes up a few notches with some good equipment.

Good production quality will make you look professional. You need to look the part. This is assuming you’ll be teaching on-screen with videos.

A few things to consider include:

Lighting: Think of your own professional studio setup with quality lighting. A studio doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Relatively cheap studio lighting kits can be as cheap as $100 on marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.

Editing Software: Here again, this doesn’t have to cost much (in fact, you may already have access to editing software, like Apple iMovie or Premiere Pro). A decent video editor is worth having so you can trim, add images/sounds, titles, and more.

HD Camera: Today’s phone cameras can capture video in HD. Or, if you want to upgrade, you can opt for a professional HD camera. Even the video recorders on most computers record in HD. Just ensure that whatever you’re recording with, it’s in HD for the best quality production.

Script: It’s a good idea to map out your course videos with a script. It will help you stay organized and sound professional. There are some excellent teleprompter apps available for iPad that can help.

Good equipment can be a small investment but provide terrific value.

6. Marketing Your Course

Marketing is the final ingredient to ensuring your course success. We’ll get into this a lot more later in this article. Marketing is essential to getting your course out to the right audience.

However, keep in mind that you can start marketing your course before it’s completed! Get the word out, test your audience, build an email list, start generating a buzz, etc. Be proactive in gearing up for your launch.

Again, we’ll get more into this later on.

LMS Themes and Plugins

Image of a WordPress logo with a plug.
There are some great LMS plugins and themes out there.

Now that you have the foundation for your course figured out, you need to start considering the best theme and plugins to use to begin building it.

There are tons to choose from.

Here are a few choices to consider. They all have a solid rating, good reputation, and other websites recommend them. None of these are affiliated with us (we don’t do affiliate links – ever!). We consider these potential options.

Divi

Divi logo
Divi is very well known and can help you create an awesome online course.

Divi is the most popular WordPress theme builder, and you can create an awesome LMS using their Learning Management Layout Pack.

You’ll simply build your course from a pre-made layout. The layout includes links to specific course pages that you go in and edit to make them pertain to whatever you’re teaching. There are various subscription options, payment gateways, email marketing integrations, and more.

A great thing about Divi is its lifetime membership, so you won’t have to worry about annual/or monthly costs. Plus, you know you’re in good hands. Divi has a solid reputation, 24-7 support, and is always up-to-date to ensure that your courses get an A+.

Skillate

Skillate can help get your courses up to par and launched.

Skillate is a great modern LMS that focuses heavily on mobile devices, which gives it more of an app look and feel. It features a multi-instructor portal, teacher profiles, course reviews & ratings, plus more.

Additionally, it has some unique features, such as a deals countdown so that potential students can take advantage of discounts and special offers. You can also keep tabs on your LMS business with stats & reports.

The prices range, and currently, there is no offer for a lifetime membership. That being said, there is a free version – however, it may be a bit limited to what you’ll need. But even the free version comes with support, ensuring you can get set up and run your course in no time.

eLumine

eLumine logo.
eLumine is a theme worth checking out for your LMS.

With the help of eLumine, you can create your courses off of premade LMS layouts and have them ready for students quickly and easily. The layouts are compatible with WooCommerce, bbPress, LearnDash, Elementor, and other popular WordPress platforms.

Their layouts have designs catered to specific educational courses (e.g. music, culinary, etc.). You can also add multiple instructors, have a student-instructor messaging system, and quizzes.

eLumine also offers a lifetime purchase option, along with a subscription. They all provide various levels of customization.

Eduma logo.
Check out all of the positive reviews of this LMS theme.

Eduma is an LMS WordPress theme with a solid 5-star review and is highly ranked. It’s compatible with Elementor, WPBakery, Zoom Meeting, and more. Plus, it features over 20 demos for numerous course options.

This theme works well with LearnPress, a popular LMS plugin for WordPress (which we’ll be covering later in this article). It makes it easy to update, create, and sell courses.

The theme is highly customizable. It’s a premium theme, so it does come at a cost. However, for the creation of an amazing LMS, it is worth it.

Course Maker Pro

CourseMaker Pro logo.
Coursemaker Pro is professional for a reason.

As the name states, Course Maker Pro can help you create professional online courses. This theme is highly customizable and includes a one-click theme setup, eCommerce, and more.

It works in conjunction with LifterLMS (another plugin we’ll get into soon). This theme’s benefits are a one-click setup for plugins (e.g. Social Proof Slider, WP Video LIghtbox, etc.), a featured article slider, and separate navigation menus for logged-in users compared to logged-out.

It’s a relatively cheap theme that offers a significant visual aspect to any online course that you have to offer.

MemberPress

MemberPress logo.
MemberPress is a solid solution for your membership levels.

MemberPress is no stranger to WordPress – especially when it comes to membership plugins. It’s an extremely popular all-in-one membership plugin that allows you to accept payments, sell courses, and monitor who sees your content. Plus, the ease of use doesn’t hurt either.

It also integrates with MailChimp, Stripe, PayPal, and more. This helps tremendously when building an email list, communicating with students, and taking payments.

Numerous WordPress companies highly recommend MemberPress as a solid, reputable, and terrific membership option. It’s affordable, comes with support, and can keep control of who sees and doesn’t see your online course content.

LearnDash

LearnDash logo.
LearnDash has a ton of resources to ensure the success of your online course.

LearnDash is another extremely popular LMS plugin. It has a drip-feed content feature that automatically delivers content by way of a schedule when students should receive it.

On top of that, it’s easy to connect numerous popular 3rd party applications, such as MailChimp, WooCommerce, Slack, and more. It’s effortless to integrate necessary features.

There is no lack of documentation and support for getting your courses set up with LearnDash. They offer video tutorials, live webinars, guides, and more. That being said, it’s simple to implement their features – even without all of the available help.

For a regularly updated, fair-priced LMS plugin, you can’t go wrong with LearnDash. They’re constantly innovating and ensuring the latest and greatest is available for online courses.

LifterLMS

LifterLMS logo.
LifterLMS will help your online courses takeoff.

LifterLMS is a highly customizable and affordable WordPress LMS that is also very popular. With their drag and drop course builder, you can create beautiful online courses, quizzes, and more.

You’re able to create membership sites and limit what students see. What’s nice about LifterLMS is how organized it is. You’ll stay on top of everything with its streamlined lesson plans, content integration (with numerous 3rd party applications), and course creation.

Plus, there is helpful support and plenty of tutorials if you get into a rough spot where you need some help.

LifterLMS is billed annually (no option for a lifetime membership), but it’s worth looking into, as it’s a solid course creator.

LearnPress

LearnPress logo.
LearnPress is available directly from wordpress.org.

With over 100K active installations and a 4.5-star review, LearnPress was created to quickly and easily set up courses on WordPress. You’re able to develop a course curriculum – for free.

The fact that it’s free and offers such value is a big highlight. It works well with a premium theme (like Eduma – which we covered earlier), so keep that in mind. The plugin is free, but a premium theme might be helpful.

With LearnPress, you can manage your courses, sell courses, and work with BuddyPress to easily communicate with your students.

It’s constantly updated and comes with many add-ons – if needed.

Sensei

Sensei logo.
Sensei is from the makers of WordPress.com.

Sensei was created by the same folks who made WooCommerce and Jetpack – and WordPress.com. They offer a sleek and straightforward course management solution that is definitely designed for WordPress.

Like some of our previous plugins, Sensei offers a drip schedule for students, certificates, and the ability to include media (and attachments). You can offer free or paid courses and monitor each student’s progress (e.g., the progression bar).

They have a very simple and clean interface. There are plenty of options for free and paid extensions to work with Sensei, so you may have to juggle a few various 3rd party inclusions (e.g. WooCommerce), but at the end of the day, it may be worth it.

Course Catalog

Course Catalog image.
The Course Catalog plugin might be all you need to create awesome courses.

Course Catalog is a premium LMS plugin that offers various features, such as several templates to choose from, detailed course descriptions, and multiple catalogs.

You can easily add courses, sort by categories & tags, and control access. It has a clean interface and is highly configurable and customizable.

The cost is a one-time charge that comes with 365 days of support and updates. This makes it an attractive solution for any budget-conscious person wanting to launch a course.

There’s More, of Course…

What is mentioned in this article in terms of themes and plugins are merely suggestions to look into. There are many other quality LMS systems available, and more appear regularly.

The important thing is you find the best solution for what you’re offering. And once you have that figured out, you can launch your course and learn…

How to Promote Your Online Course

Image depicting promoting your courses.
As you’ll see, there are a lot of ways to promote your online course.

Promoting a course sounds like a daunting task to many. After all, you’re an educator, not a marketer, right? It’s not as complex and tedious as you might think. By simply implementing a few key things, you can be off promoting your course in no time.

And the good news? Most promotions you can do for free or at a very minimal expense compared to purchasing ads.

Here are some critical steps you can take to promote your course successfully.

1. Create a Landing Page: Creating a landing page is a way to turn visitors into students. Plus, it’s your chance to promote your course with a quick glimpse of what it has to offer.

Some of the course themes that I’ll be covering have a landing page option, which can be set up quickly.

Provide the URL to the landing page everywhere imaginable – social media, LinkedIn, websites, etc. This is the gateway to getting students and explaining what you have to offer. Your landing page can even offer a free mini-course, which we’re discussing next.

2. Build an Email List by Offering Free Mini-Course: Giving away a free course gives users a chance to further their education with a paid course. Plus, you can collect their email, so you can continue marketing out to that person.

Use a good lead-generating plugin like Hustle with an email service like MailChimp. Add an opt-in spot on your course website and landing page.

The free course doesn’t need to be elaborate. Just something simple. Or, you can also give away a free PDF, weekly email newsletter, or something else of value.

Just keep in mind that putting a face with a name is never a bad thing. If you can be on video and potential students get a chance to see you virtually, it can help attract them to your courses.

3. Setup Social Accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Set them up and post regularly. Don’t go overboard with promoting your course, but relevant content. Adding an Instagram story a day with a useful tip is an example of being proactive on social media.

Social media is your opportunity to connect with students, share success stories, and engage.

4. Launch Email Campaign: Once you have roughly 1000 emails, that’s a good time to start an email campaign about your course. It’s a solid number of emails, and it’s a way of letting interested parties know that you are about to launch a course – or you have one already.

A good way of creating an effective email campaign is to offer a discount that will end at some point so that subscribers act on it.

5. Interview Experts: Want a good way to draw students into your course? Interview an expert in the niche you’re teaching. Not only will you provide awesome content, but there’s also a good chance that experts will link to your course as well.

6. Regularly Engage with Students and Potential Students: It’s incredible how far a personal interaction can go. It means you’re a REAL person – not just a bot trying to get students. Engage with your students and potential students regularly. By doing so, even if they don’t personally sign up, they’ll appreciate your course and recommend them to others. Personal engagement goes a long way.

7. Collect Testimonials: The best ad you can have for your course is testimonials. They show that real people took your class, liked it, and it has value. Collect testimonials and display them prominently on landing pages and your website.

Taking these vital steps will be an excellent way to get your course out to the world. It takes commitment and dedication, but the payoff and fulfillment from teaching can pay off.

Course Examples

Course examples image.
Here are three good examples.

To give you an idea of what completed LMS courses look like for WordPress, we’ve pulled a few examples from the list we just went over. Each one has a link that will take you to the live demo, so you can play around and explore for yourself.

Hopefully, you’ll get some good ideas for your course by seeing these in action.

First up, we have a very cool demo site from Skillate.

Skillate examples.
There are lots of categories to choose from.

A real nice thing about this demo is they include a TON of what you can do. It’s great to have all the options for various courses, where you can see how they’re priced, what they look like, ratings, and much more.

You can check out this demo here.

LearnPress is another company with some great demos.

LearnPress demo.
LearnPress has a great demo to give a trial run with.

They have several topics to choose from. Each demonstration gives you an inside look at what your site can look like using the LearnPress plugin. You can also see what the checkout and registration process looks like.

View their demos here.

Finally, Course Maker Pro also has a sample course to give a test run.

There aren’t many different variations in this demo, but it will provide you with a nice idea of what their LMS is like.

CourseMaker examples.
Their demo is simple – yet will give you a nice glimpse of what they offer.

Go to the sample course here.

There are plenty more sample courses out there. You can even google a specific subject that you might be considering creating a course for, and chances are there’s one out there.

It’s worth seeing what others are doing so that when you are building your course, you can gather some ideas of what to include.

Class Dismissed

Creating an online course with WordPress is easier than ever with all the tools at your disposal. It just takes dedication, a niche, implementation of an LMS theme or plugin, and some good marketing. WordPress creates a solid foundation for any course creator.

Considering the growing popularity of remote learning, online courses are becoming an even bigger market. New updates and innovations are created regularly to help online educators make the best experience possible for their students.

Hopefully, this article helps in providing you with the tools, insights, and knowledge to launch your course with WordPress and make it a success.

And with that, class dismissed!

Have you created an online course on WordPress? Let us know in the comments!
N. Fakes
N. Fakes Nate is an L.A.-based writer. When he's not pounding keys on his MacBook, you might find him scribbling inappropriate things as a syndicated cartoonist. He's fond of family time, hanging out at Venice Beach, and pizza coupons.