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What Plugins Do I Recommend for a Simple Online Course Site

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In this session I talk about the difference between a courseware website and a membership website and the courseware plugins I have used and recommend for an online course site. These plugins work well with the Thesis theme and Agility Skin.

I also talk in depth about hosting videos and how videos can be served on the website.

Video Transcript

BYOB Member: I am working on building an online course and I wonder which plugin you recommend based on using Thesis Theme and Agility Nude Skin. You have an online course and it works great. What are you using to do that?

Membership Plugins

Rick: Well, it kind of depends on what kind of course you want to teach. Generally,  think that  the simplest way to do it is just use a membership plugin.

BYOB Member: Yeah

Rick: And then organize your courses similar to what we have here on BYOB website. And so my tutorial on how to build a membership site kind of falls into that category, where there’s no grading or quizzes. It’s just the structure of how you layout a course and then a lesson and then modules within a lesson.

At its simplest just a regular membership site will do that just fine. Now and this works pretty well if you’ve got lots and lots of courses.

BYOB Member: Yeah.

Rick: And if you don’t want it to grade and if you don’t want to give quizzes and that sort of thing.

BYOB Member: I guess my question is, I have a membership plugin. I actually have 2, ah… jeez, completely lost my mind I can’t remember what it’s called now… Wishlist…

Rick: Yeah?

BYOB Member: I have two for WordPress. I’ve used Wishlist quite a bit I guess my biggest thing is the actual embedding of the video because if it will be videos. So the actual embeding of it and the service of it. I saw that some of the courses I take are using something called Zippy Courses? And I didn’t know whether I had to go that direction because of that membership site…

Rick: Yeah, that is its own membership…

BYOB Member: What do I want to do with those videos, how are you hosting the videos?

Hosting Videos

Rick: So for hosting the video on a completely public site like this, I show different videos depending upon how somebody is logged in. So just for example this video right here, if you’re logged in and you’re on a desktop computer then I host the video in high-definition on Amazon S3

BYOB Member: Okay

Rick: And if you are if you’re not logged in then I host it using…oh my gosh, I can’t remember the name right now. It’ll come to me when I’m not thinking about it. Anyway, if you’re logged in or if you’re on a mobile device period, you see a Vimeo version of the of video instead of Amazon.

Now the reason I switch videos of depending upon what kind of person is watching is that the standard un-optimized HD video is large and takes up a lot more data than a Vimeo video does. Vimeo will serve a slower video or a smaller video file if somebody has a crappy connection.

So that’s what happens when my site is public like this, where you can come along even if you’re not logged in you can see a video there and you can see everything.

Now on a private system where you can’t see anything, you can’t get to a video and there’s no marketing part of it at all, it’s just one of my courses, then I just use Vimeo for hosting the video. I do that because Vimeo does produce a fairly high quality HD video and it’s automatically responsive and all that sort of thing.

BYOB Member: Okay.

Rick: But none of that has anything to do with the membership plugin or the or a Courseware plug-in…

BYOB Member: Right

Plugins for Private Courseware Sites

Rick: Right, that’s all just how I deliver video and it works with Wishlist member because I originally built this system using Wishlist so it works fine with Wishlist member.

BYOB Member: Do you use a different membership plugin now?

Rick: I don’t use a membership plugin any longer on my site. Instead what I use is custom programming and my link to Infusion soft because I was tired of maintaining multiple databases. I wanted all of my membership information in a single database.

But for my private ones I have used I personally won’t use Wishlist member anymore because it’s too big and cumbersome plugin. It wants to be able to do so many things that it makes the site kind of slow. So if I’m creating a private membership site, I often use the free members plugin on or I use WP e-member.

BYOB Member: Ah, that’s the other one I was thinking of, I actually have that one. So you would use that instead of Wishlist member which does seem so bulky…

Difference Between a Course Website and Membership Website

Rick: Yeah, Wishlist member is very bulky. It can do just tons and tons of things right, so if one of those oddball things is something you want to do then great. However, if you’re looking simply for a course website or a what we used to think of as a traditional membership website then I wouldn’t use Wishlist.

The difference in my mind between the course website and membership website is the course website keeps track of what the students do. You can have quizzes and test. You don’t have to have quizzes but it keeps track of the parts of the course the student has completed and what parts the student has not completed. That’s what I think of as the primary difference between a typical membership site and a Courseware kind of site.

BYOB Member: Okay, I’m actually creating on this particular website, a course website.

Two Courseware Plugins I Recommend (and work well with Thesis)

Rick: So then in my mind you have two choices of systems. You have WP courseware which is I guess my favorite at the moment. WP courseware is from And then you also have…the name escapes me. Let’s see if I can find it in my email. I hate not being able to remember everything but unfortunately can’t remember everything (chuckles)

BYOB Member: (chuckles) I can relate to that!

Rick: WP courseware is my favorite but there is another one, Learn Dash.

BYOB Member: Hmmm, okay.

Rick: These are the two that I am happy with, that I’ve used. I have also used WooCommerce as courseware and have used the WPMU dev courseware and neither of them worked as well as they should. Neither of them ultimately met my needs, whereas both Learn Dash and WP courseware work fine in Thesis.

They work really well and I think the main difference between Learn Dash and WP courseware is that it’s a little easier to manage a number of courses with WP courseware.

BYOB Member: Okay.

Rick: In my estimation there is not yet a perfect public courseware system that allows URLs to be rational and SEO friendly. In this case you want course modules to at least be viewable in the public but neither of these create good structured URLs. But I guess I lean in the direction WP courseware.

Now WP courseware also has a S3 media maestro which really I’ve never thought worked that well, but but I do own it. It does allow you to securely serve your videos on Amazon s3 so they’re the full blast HD video, rather than having different videos for different kinds of devices. But I think there’s a benefit if somebody is looking at your videos on their phone in just sending them a smaller-sized video vs somebody looking at it on their desktop.

BYOB Member: I can see that and it seems like that must be complicated to figure out what… so you have to give them two or three different versions and how does that work?

Rick: Well that’s the nice thing about using Vimeo, because Vimeo creates those versions and serves the appropriate version based on the device and the bandwidth.

BYOB Member: Okay

Rick: Now it’s not as sophisticated as some platforms are. Some platforms ask you to upload five different versions of your video and then it will figure out which version to send off.

BYOB Member: Okay

Rick: That is probably the most sophisticated way to handle video across devices, but I think Vimeo does a really good job of doing it and makes it not quite as complex. It makes it really easy for you to just upload the video once and it does the rest. And I think that the Vimeo videos are great on the phone and look great on the desktop. The only thing about a Vimeo video is that you need a Pro account if you want to secure it.

BYOB Member: Okay

Rick: And if you want to make the video private. Pro accounts are not particularly expensive but that’s what you need in order to use them just to host your video.

BYOB Member: Perfect. That answers my question perfectly. Thank you.

Rick: You’re welcome.

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