Zero motivation? What’s that? When did I think that I had a motivation problem? It’s so last month.
I did start to overcommit, so I’ve toned down a little from my frantic whirlwind tour of study, doing things to the house (eternally – OK, so I can’t stop that), heavy duty gardening, and most recently, testing eLearning plugins for WordPress. It all took off again because I needed to complete my tax return and am a master procrastinator when it comes to engaging in horror. But – yippee! – I completed the tax return back in May and continued on this motivational plane to better things.
Experimenting with eLearning plugins on WordPress
Elearning has interested me since it took off in a big way over a decade ago. I learned French and German (ultimately getting another degree) through distance learning on the Moodle platform, and I taught undergraduate and master’s students the same way. For quite some time now, I’ve been interested in creating my own eLearning environment in order for me and possibly a few colleagues to deliver small scale courses combined with live AV tutorials – a blended learning experience with or without face-to-face sessions to enhance them. The benefit of working purely online is clear; your students can study from anywhere, and only live online tutorial times could be awkward. Adding face-to-face rules out participation by many students, although it’s still the choice of many students (and teachers), because body language is an important part of communication – and crowd management is easier.
However, the number of books available to teach you how to use Moodle suggested to me that it may be quite complex to set up a full distance learning experience on the very small scale which I require. What’s more, fans of WordPress course creation plugins specifically refer to the small amount of storage required by comparable WordPress sites and their increased loading speed. This sounds like a better option for me.
A friend kindly set up a little sandpit area for me on his server so that I could test a few tools. Up to this point, I had never tried out the downloadable WordPress software, instead using the wordpress.com platform hosted direct on the WordPress servers (like the completely free site you are on now, and also for the hobby art site which I share with my husband over at www.art4begonias.com). This doesn’t allow for the sorts of plugins available for wordpress.org.
TeachPress – good and basic
First of all, I tried out TeachPress, which is a good tool, even if it doesn’t have as much as I am likely to need. As someone not often known to “RTFM” (read the ahem manual) first, I found it easy to set up a mock course and add a test student. It was certainly a good way to dip into course creation tools, and would be up to the task for many course creators, particularly in a blended learning environment, for example, in support of a college class. TeachPress also allows you to manage publications, and has BibTex support for referencing, which makes it ideal for that class support option.
CoursePress – powerful and easy to learn
I then moved on to CoursePress, which provides many more features, yet seems easier to set up than TeachPress – perhaps because I’d already gone through the process with the other plugin. The enrolment process to add new students went a little more easily with TeachPress, but as I didn’t read any instructions for CoursePress either, I can hardly criticise that it took me a while to working it out. Learning by doing is definitely my thing! I love the easy integration of different types of media (consider linking externally to video if you don’t have a lot of storage space in your hosting package), text blocks, documents and so on. CoursePress even comes with an attractive customisable theme which allows you to add your company/school logo to the page.
There are two versions of CoursePress – free (allowing the creation of two courses), and Course Press Pro (scroll down the link page for details), which is a subscription based model. To be honest, if you could muster a dozen students using one or two different courses, you could probably afford to move to the subscription model. It would be a business expense, in any case. Nevertheless, the free version is a powerful plugin and would keep individual course creators going for a while without the need to upgrade.
The total time I spent messing around with both course plugins was roughly three hours without ever trying any of this stuff before. During that time, I was able to enrol my test students on both platforms, set up a few test modules, upload documents and link to external video sources – all without reading any instructions, so just think how much quicker it might have been if I had read the info! In essence, this is easy peasy stuff even if you have no clue about running fancy things on WordPress. Clearly, I need a lot more time to find to delve into the nitty gritty of these platforms, but given how much you can do for free, I’m impressed.
Next stop, Simple:Press and marketing plugins
I’d like to check out other course creation plugins, but purely out of curiosity, as I think that I’ve already found what I’m looking for in CoursePress, and you can spend forever testing without ever accomplishing anything. You never know whether a better – and still free – plugin might be around the corner, though, so feel free to suggest alternatives in the comments section.
My next stop will be to investigate forum plugins. A course which I’m studying at the moment (spot the lifelong learner) uses the Simple:Press plugin. If you’re familiar with the Moodle platform and how its forums work, you will already be familiar with the functions of a Simple:Press forum, which looks much the same. It allows you to do similar things in terms of quoting, adding topics, formatting text and so on. It’s free to download and use, but there are additional features which you could unlock through subscription if you need them. The link I’ve given here takes you straight to the features page, but scrolling down will show the additional plugins available through subscription.
I have given absolutely no thought to marketing courses yet, but there is clearly no point in trying to set anything up without first thinking of that. Another thing on the agenda.
If you have tried WordPress plugins to create courses and have found a blend which works for you, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences.