Finding the Best WordPress Membership Plugin

by | eCourse Growth Strategies

As we start our 5 part series on exploring the 5 year growth of an eCourse company, we’ll start at the logical place; the platform. It should be mentioned now that our members’ sites use the WordPress platform to facilitate teaching and learning. So for much of this first part, we’ll discuss various WordPress membership plugins that allow you to restrict access to your eCourse content.

To make the educational system work within the WordPress framework you need to adapt the basic WordPress platform to work like a Learning Management System. Most of our members run private online courses that are accessible on a “pay per use” basis. Therefore, it’s important that our members setup a platform that allows them to restrict access to certain parts of their site so only paying students can access those premium pages. So how do you do this?

Well … let’s start with the foundation. If you’re selling courses online you’ll have two parts to your site. You have the course selling front-end where students can pay for access to the course, and then you’ll have the course back-end where students can access your restricted educational content.

USING A WORDPRESS MEMBERSHIP PLUGIN TO RESTRICT ACCESS TO COURSE CONTENT

Once you have your course ready for delivery, you’ll need to find a way to restrict access to only paying students (or clients, members or employees. Essentially, whoever you need to train).  There are many ways to achieve this depending on which WordPress membership plugin you decide to use. The registration process can be almost 100% automated or you can make it a manual process setting each student up, one by one, along the way.

No matter which option you choose you need to find a way to make the two sides (front-end and back-end) “talk” to each other. Once a student signs up on your front-end they need to be registered in your back-end. Not only that, but their restriction levels need to be set depending on which of your courses they signed up for.

For example, if you’re selling two courses online but a student registered for only one course, then not only do they need to have a new account created for them, but they also need to be restricted access to only the course they’ve paid for.

As you can see, WordPress membership plugins are not only used to block a section of your site. These plugins are required to do many complex tasks.

AUTOMATED REGISTRATION VS. MANUAL REGISTRATION

Automating the registration process obviously can save you a lot of time, but depending on your eCourse company it might not be your best option. You might instead want to use tools like Role Scoper or Press Permit. These WordPress plugins can seem quite complex on the surface, but they are also very powerful and give you a full range of control over who can access your content. These can be great plugins for eCourse sellers who have complex tiered pricing or tiered access levels.

However, if you’re interested in automating the process you’re going to need to find a way to make your two systems (i.e. your course selling front-end and your student back-end) “talk” to each other. Essentially, you’ll need your system to work like this: When a student signs up for one of your courses from your front-end, your back-end will need to be relayed their signup information so it can set “conditions” based on the course they paid for.

For example, if a course seller was offering two courses for sale on their educational website, they would need their system to be able to communicate restriction levels based off of a new student’s registration details.

Let’s say, for example, that a student registered for just one of their two courses, the system would need to be able to understand which course they registered for, grant them access to that course and restrict access to the other course.

There are various plugins that can do this from WooThemes Sensei. If you go this route, you’ll also need to download various extensions to make this work including: WooCommerce, Groups and Groups for WooCommerce. By using those extensions together you can setup an automated tiered membership site.

Or, if you’re using WP Courseware you can use the magic members plugin to help you automatically enroll new members into your course based on a new users membership level.

Lastly, if you’re using WPLMS their system is already integrated with course restriction levels allowing you to restrict access to each course based off the student’s registration records.

THE DECISION TO GO WITH MANUAL REGISTRATION

In the case study we’re looking at in this 5 part series, our member decided to go with a manual registration process. They wanted to go this route for various reasons. First, their course was being offered at $200 which meant that they didn’t expect to deal in great volume. They were hoping to achieve 10 enrollment sales / week ($2000 / week) and they thought that setting up each student manually wouldn’t take that much time. Which it doesn’t.

Secondly, it gave them an extra layer of security as they needed to manually add each user to their back-end meaning absolutely nobody could take their online course unless they themselves, as the site administrator, setup a new student in their back-end.

Lastly and most importantly, they setup their system manually because they had a fairly complex system of “tiers” and levels of access.

At a basic level they had 2 different courses and various restrictions within each course. Basic “course”, “group” or “user” restriction levels were just not going to work in this case. Their more complex system allowed users to scale their course to their needs. Students could pick and choose which parts of their course they wanted to pay for and therefore get access to. This route is a little more time consuming, but it allowed this particular eCourse seller to meet the “architectural” needs of their online course.

MY FIRST 5 YEARS SELLING COURSES ONLINE

Year 1: Finding the Right WordPress Membership Plugin
Year 2: Developing the eLearning Platform
Year 3: Thinking About eLearning Software & Tools
Year 4: Course Management System – Focus on Student Goals
Year 5: “Being There” – The Inclusion of a WordPress Chat Plugin

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