WordPress is a fine platform for building websites for schools. And, you have lots of options. This can be a website that works like a brochure that gives information about the school, a website where students can see their student information, or a full online school where students can log in and take classes through the website. It doesn’t even have to be a full school. It can be anything from a site where you provide a few classes or it can be a full-blown college. Whether you’re creating a school for a single teacher or a staff of college instructors, WordPress has everything you need.
What a School Website Needs
Take a look at what most of the school sites have in common (Google a few and you’ll notice that most have similar pages and layouts):
- About page – information about the school (location, accreditation, etc.)
- Courses – both summaries and detailed information about every course
- Classes – information about every individual class
- Tuition – costs and how to pay
- Forms for signing up for classes
- Faculty bios and information
- Academic banner image
There are two primary types of websites for schools:
- Information only – this is a brochure that tells about the school and the courses and classes. It’s the same as a printed catalog.
- Membership site – this is a site where students and faculty can log in and see their grade information, submit homework, instructors can manage courses that take place both online and offline, and where students can take the class online.
Regardless of whether or not the school site will be a membership site, the information portion is the same on all types of school websites. To build a school website, this is the best place to start. Online courses will be added to this. The brochure-style site is just a simple matter of setting up the pages listed above and choosing one to be the home page. You will then build your navigation structure and upload all of the necessary documents.
The school brochure will be the backbone that you build from. Taking that into the realm of online course management and online courses, you will need plugins that will help you create and manage the courses, allow students to enroll and provide the means for instructors to evaluate student’s work, receive payments for the classes, and provide a delivery system for the classes. By far the best way to do this is with a plugin.
Plugins for schools have various functions. Some focus on student management, others focus on course management, and still others focus on providing a platform for the online class. Some only provide a way to add classes to your site without creating a full school. What you need, of course, depends on the kind of school website you want to make.
If your school will never provide classes online, then you won’t need to bother with a plugin that offers that feature (unless you just like the management features better). However, if it’s possible that you will one day offer online classes, then I recommend starting with a plugin that does provide this functionality and just not use that feature until you need it. This way you will be able to use the same plugin for course management as you do for the class delivery platform.
You could use a conglomerate of plugins/platforms together to build your school. For example, you can combine the selling functionality of WooCommerce with the classroom functionality of Moodle with the CMS functionality of WordPress. This conglomeration might be your best choice if you already use WooCommerce and Moodle, but a simpler choice would be to use a plugin that handles everything in a single package. This is known as an LMS (learning management system). Here are a few plugins that can provide just the basics or an all-in-one platform.
This free plugin is a course management system. It adds two tabs to your dashboard: course and publications.
From the course tab you can create courses and student accounts.
You create a new course by filling in all of the general information including course name, description, dates, room, instructor, and an image. You will also create student accounts from this tab in the same way. Once you’ve created the course you can select it and add documents, enrollments (see who is enrolled and add students to the course, send email, and export the list), perform assessments for each student, and user capabilities.
This is where you describe the publications that will be used for the course. It can be a book, booklet, article, chapter, presentation, online, etc. You fill in all the information and provide links if available. You can import and export documents and you can add them to your list of publications.
Creating a Page
You create the page for the class using a shortcode. A button is added to the visual editor. When selected, it will open a drop-down menu where you can choose which shortcode to place on the page. You can add a shortcode for courses and publications. For courses it will give you a list, documents, information, and an enrollment system. For publications you get a list, tag cloud, and a search.
Selecting one will give you a pop-up where you can choose the details you want.
I like the look and feel of this plugin. It does a great job of providing info for the class and allowing student to enroll. The focus of this plugin is course management. It’s very easy to use.
This one lets you set up online courses with learning units that you can sell. You can utilize quizzes, video, audio, assess student’s work, and more. Everything you need is here to provide free and paid courses. It gives you lots of control and functionality including adding and managing courses, categories, instructors, students, assessments, reports, notifications, discussions, and more. To sell courses you will need a plugin called MarketPress.
It comes with example courses already created. You can delete them or edit them to make your own. To create a course you fill in all the information for the course overview, description, instructor, dates, classes, discussions, workbooks, enrollment, and cost. You can have live chats, a complete discussion board, audio, video, and course previews.
You publish the course on a page or post using shortcodes. You can set attributes within the shortcodes or just leave them at default. There are shortcodes for:
- Instructor list
- Instructor avatar
- Instructor profile URL
- Course details
- Start and end dates
- Enrollment start and end dates
- Enrollment type
- Class size
- List image
- Featured video
- Join button
- Action links
- Course list
- Featured course
- Signup / login page
- Student dashboard template
- Student settings template
You have to set up the structure of the pages yourself using the shortcodes. You can set attributes for each of these items. With this level of complexity you can create advanced course platforms. This also makes the system more difficult to learn and setup. It also includes widgets for the course calendar, categories, and course structure. It works and looks great, but it is a lot of work.
The free edition limits you to two courses. There is also a pro edition that costs $19 per month and includes unlimited courses, unlimited downloads, unlimited sites, and support.
This one lets you create video-based courses that you provide to your students- providing both course management as well as course delivery. Billing, hosting, and security are provided by LFE and integrated into your WordPress site. You can provide classes on your site or turn your site into a complete school. It can be integrated with Facebook, MailChimp, and with your own store. You have full reports and stats. LFE gets 15% and you get 85% of the sale.
The dashboard is intuitive to use. From here you can create courses, quizzes, coupons, upload videos, create a store, and view reports.
You create the course from the WordPress dashboard. You add all of the descriptions, content (video), pricings, quizzes, certificates, coupons, etc., and then you are ready to publish. Although the course is hosted be LFE, it is integrated into your WordPress site so your visitors never leave your site. You can even import your courses from Udemy if you want.
I like the way this platform works. You create the course but you don’t have to worry about hosting the course, handling payments, or your visitors leaving your site. There is a lot involved in creating a course, but it is intuitive, so there’s no learning curve to slow you down.
This one is a complete course management and delivery system. It has a nice system for creating courses and it looks great. The courses have a ratings system so students can rate their experience.
The courses show a progress bar so students will know their current position within the course. The course itself can be a mix of text and video. As they go through the pages, the progress will change to follow them.
At the end of the course they can take a timed quiz, which can be a combination of multiple choice and written. There is a certificate and badge system so you can choose the type of award students receive upon completion of the course. You can see this in the demo.
There are several different payment methods including PayPal, Stripe, Paymill, Authorized.net, bank transfer, etc. You can even have onsite courses and just use the system as a means of payment and course tracking. It even has commission rates for instructors.
The plugin costs $30 for use on a single site.
This plugin has tons of features including the ability to easily create courses, modules, and units. There are lots of features for quizzes such as time limits and various question types. It has unlimited modules, courses, and units. It includes all of the student management features you need such as enrollment, grade tracking, course tracking, notifications, etc. There’s even a survey tool so you can get feedback on your courses. It integrates with other e-commerce and membership plugins to handle payments.
It has a demo where you can see how it all works. With this one you can create courses, modules, and classes. You can add text or video for the class itself and you can publish a course just like you do a post or page. You can drag and drop units into modules to create courses. You can place modules into pages and posts by using shortcodes, or you can use the widget to place them in your sidebar. It works great on mobile devices. It’s simple to use, but having to integrate an e-commerce solution for payments will take an extra step after the install.
This one is a premium plugin that costs $99 for 2 licenses, $125 for 10, and $175 for 25.
Sensei from WooThemes integrates perfectly into WooCommerce to create a nice online course platform. It uses a custom post type called Lessons. You can create courses, lessons, and quizzes, and you can set prerequisites for courses and lessons. It uses WooCommerce (surprise!) as its payment platform, which treats a course as a product. Since it uses WooCommerce, you have full access to all of the e-commerce features that WooCommerce offers, so you can have coupons, special sales, etc.
It includes virtually unlimited quiz types, easy quiz grading, and a question bank. Course analytics provides an overview of content, quizzes, and registered students. It provides course progress, certificates, badges, and students can share their grades on social networks. Courses can be onsite, or online with video, audio, images, and text. You can provide materials through media attachments. The course can be reviewed by students.
There is a demo site where you can see the structure and look of the courses. The demo uses a combination of text and video that looks sharp and the navigation structure is easy to follow.
It works with any theme and costs $129 for a single site license, $179 for 5 sites, and $279 for 25 sites.
This one allows you to use any kind of media to create and deliver your courses. The sales platform is built in. It includes forums that can be private or public, and course specific. You can set prerequisites and have multitiered courses. It has lesson timers, advanced quizzing, group management, multisite, and tons more. It is responsive and works with any theme.
There is a demo site where you can see what lessons might look like. The lesson structure looks smooth and easy to navigate. It has a nice course navigation feature and a progress bar. You can see the course content, take the quiz, and see your achievements. You can set a simple or complex hierarchical structure for the courses, and it will label them as complete before allowing students to continue through the course.
This is a premium plugin. The Basic package is $99 and includes an unlimited license with 1 year of support. The Full package is $129 and adds the pro panel.
Whichever type of school website you choose to build, whether it’s information or a complete online school, WordPress has the tools you need to make it work and look great. You can add courses to your site, create a complete school navigation structure, or create a site with information about the school.
Your turn! Have you created a school website with WordPress? Did you use one of the plugins I discussed here? Did I leave out your favorite? I’d like to hear about it in the comments below!