Beginners Guide To WordPress Websites For Online Courses [2022]

Updated on February 21, 2022

Whether you love to cook, enjoy woodworking, speak another language, or are passionate about bookkeeping, online courses are an opportunity to share your knowledge with people who are interested in learning. And, if you want, you can even turn your courses into a little extra money or a full-time income! 

The best part is that you can get your courses online without any development experience and very little upfront cost. How? By harnessing the power of WordPress and Sensei LMS.

Why WordPress is the best choice for online courses

WordPress is the leading website building tool, powering 43% of the web. And it’s no wonder — it offers endless flexibility for everyone from the earliest beginner to the most experienced developer. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits:

1. You own and have full control over your content.

WordPress is completely open source, which means that the code can be studied, modified, and shared by anyone at no cost. People all over the world are constantly working to make it the best software that it can be. But it also means that WordPress doesn’t own or take control over any of your website content — you do.

You see, proprietary platforms like Wix, Shopify, Squarespace, and Teachable can take down your website and courses for any reason they see fit, sometimes without notice. They also typically make it very difficult to back up and move your site in its entirety, if needed.

That’s not the case with WordPress. Since WordPress is software rather than a proprietary platform,you can do whatever you’d like with your courses and your website, even if that means moving it somewhere else. 

2. You can easily create beautiful pages.

You don’t have to be a developer or tech wizard to design and build a beautiful website. WordPress includes a simple builder that allows you to drag and drop elements called “blocks” into a page — everything from text and images to videos, forms, social media feeds, and more. Then you can customize the look and feel of each block to fit your brand.

You can also choose from hundreds of free and premium themes, many of which come with ready-made templates that let you simply replace existing content with your own. We’ll talk about this a bit more later.

3. It’s endlessly flexible.

With WordPress, you can create absolutely anything that you’d like. Not only does WordPress core provide everything you need to build a unique website, you can also add additional tools called plugins.

Plugins are designed to add specific functionality to WordPress, and there are hundreds available focused on eCommerce, security, design, marketing, and more. If you have a need, there’s almost certainly a plugin to meet it. 

4. The community and support is unrivaled.

There’s nothing quite like the WordPress community. The commitment to open-source software means that there’s a passionate group of users and developers that work towards making WordPress the best it can be. 

Not only is there excellent support available via forums and support tickets (for premium plugins), there are also meetups around the world, Facebook groups, and other online communities where you can ask questions and learn.

5. It’s completely free.

While there are paid extensions available, WordPress itself — along with a huge library of plugins — is completely free. That makes it the most affordable way to get started online.

How Sensei LMS can help you create online courses

Sensei LMS is a WordPress plugin designed specifically for online courses. It’s free to use — though there are some paid features — and allows you to:

  • Create online courses that you can customize to your brand
  • Include videos, slideshows, images, and other rich media in your courses
  • Break your courses up into modules and lessons
  • Create quizzes to assess your students’ knowledge and understanding
  • Manage students, grade their work, track their progress, and provide personal feedback

You can manage all of this directly within WordPress, rather than having to log in and out of multiple platforms. And there’s no need for tech or coding experience — it’s all beginner friendly! If you do run into any trouble, there’s extensive documentation that will walk you through everything, along with a community that’s ready to help.

How to build an online course website

Now that you understand why WordPress and Sensei LMS are the best combination for online courses, you can get started building your website! 

1. Pick a domain name, choose a host, and install WordPress

Start by choosing a domain name, the URL people type in when navigating to your website. You want it to be memorable and true to your brand or industry — a .com ending is preferable, but not required.

Then, choose a host, which stores your website files and database, and makes your site viewable to people around the world. It’s the foundation of your site’s performance and security, so it’s important that you choose a good one. You’ll want to look for:

  • A commitment to security and uptime. Look for features like regular backups, malware scanning, and a server firewall. Uptime (the percentage of time your server is available to display your site) should be as close to 100% as possible.
  • Good reviews. These are often the best way to judge a host’s quality and can provide warning signs.
  • A focus on WordPress. While your hosting provider doesn’t necessarily need to exclusively host WordPress sites, it should have lots of experience doing so. 
  • Quality support and maintenance. Is their support team available 24/7 via live chat and phone? You want to be able to get in touch quickly any time of day if necessary. Also ensure that your provider updates its software — like PHP and MYSQL — regularly.
  • Scalability. Choose a host that lets you upgrade plans and resources easily so that, as you grow, your server can grow with you.

Not sure where to start? Check out WordPress recommended hosts.

Finally, install WordPress on your new hosting plan. Most providers offer automatic WordPress installation to make things super simple, but if you have questions, read the installation documentation.

2. Pick a WordPress theme

Your theme impacts the design, layout, and even functionality of your website. There are lots of both free and premium ones available. Some are essentially “plug and play” options — just replace demo content with your own and you’re good to go. Others require and allow for more customization. 

Take the time to explore theme demos to find the right fit for your brand and design style. Read the reviews and glance at the documentation to understand how easy it is to work with. And always choose a reputable source, like the repository or the WooCommerce theme marketplace.

Screenshot of the BakingNicole website.
One of the Astra theme’s demos

Here are just a few themes we recommend:

  • Storefront: a clean and simple design perfect for selling your courses
  • Aardvark: built specifically for online learning, with lots of ready-to-use demos that provide a great design foundation
  • Astra: a lightweight, super customizable theme

3. Publish your pages

Now it’s time to create some content on your website. You can create absolutely any pages that you’d like, but probably want to consider:

  • A Homepage: Highlight your courses and feature other important content and testimonials
  • An About page: Share information about your courses, your business, and why you’re passionate about your chosen topic
  • A Contact page: Make it easy for people to get in touch via email, phone, or contact form.
  • An FAQ page: Answer common questions about your courses, business, and industry.
About page

To build those pages, you’ll use the WordPress block editor. You can easily drag a wide variety of elements — like images, buttons, videos, paragraphs, and headers — to create any layer you’d like. Organize them into columns and edit them to fit your brand. 

4. Plan out your courses

It’s time to plan the courses you want to offer and create the content for each one. The most important place to start is with your audience. Who are you creating courses for? What are their needs? What questions do they have? The best way to create successful courses is by keeping the needs of your audience in mind every step of the way.

Then, get organized. Sensei LMS allows you to create a content hierarchy within your course:

  • Modules: Essentially a category, used to group related lessons
    • Lessons: A specific topic you’re teaching
      • Quizzes: Tests created to judge your students’ knowledge
        • Questions: Individual queries that make up a quiz
Chart showing that lessons make up modules which make up a course.

Let’s say that you want to offer online classes about food and decide to start with one called Exploring Italy. You create modules based on region, so your initial outline looks something like this:

  • Module: Tuscany
    • Lesson: Food history
    • Lesson: Common spices and ingredients
      • Quiz: Identifying flavors of Tuscany
    • Lesson: Most popular dishes
    • Lesson: Favorite recipes
  • Module: Sicily
    • Lesson: Food history
    • Lesson: Common spices and ingredients
      • Quiz: Identifying flavors of Sicily 
    • Lesson: Most popular dishes
    • Lesson: Favorite recipes

Then, flesh out each of these modules, lessons, and quizzes. You might want to include historical images, videos of you making the most popular dishes, and recipe PDFs that your students can download. Think about what your specific audience will find most helpful — that may mean meeting a variety of learning styles!

5. Publish your courses

Now you can add your courses to your new website. Start by logging into your WordPress dashboard and going to Plugins → Add New. Search for Sensei LMS and click Install Now → Activate. This will open an easy-to-use setup wizard that will walk you through some initial settings and options.

To add your first course, go to Courses → Add New. Add your title in the Course Name box. You’ll notice that a few blocks have automatically been added — a “Take Course” button, “Contact Teacher” button, course progress bar, and course outline — but you can rearrange these if you’d like.

Next, you’ll add your course content to the outline:

  1. Click the Create a module button in the Course Outline section.
  2. Add a module title and description.
  3. Add your lesson titles. You’ll see that a new lesson will appear below each one you create.
  4. Then, repeat with any additional modules and lessons.
Exploring Italy course outline.

To add content to a lesson, start by clicking Save Draft at the top right of the page. Then, click on the lesson you want to edit and click Edit lesson. This will open a new window.

Once there, you can edit the title, length, and difficulty. Then, click on the Write lesson content section to fill in all your material. You can use blocks to do this just as you did with your other site pages — add paragraphs, images, videos, whatever you’d like!

Then, you’ll see a Lesson Quiz section where you can build out questions and answers. Select which answers are right and which are wrong. 

Multiple choice sample questions.

Finally, publish your lesson by clicking the blue Publish button at the top right of the page. Your finished lesson may look something like this:

An example course about Spices with a video.

Your final step is to add your course pages to the main menu of your site. You can do this by going to Appearance → Menus. There, you’ll see default course pages under the Sensei LMS section in the left panel, including Courses, My Lessons, Profile, and Login/Logout. Check the pages you want to add and click Add to Menu. Then, you can drag and drop them wherever you’d like and click Save Menu to publish.

And that’s all there is to it! Of course, there are additional settings, pages, and content types you can create. If you want to dive even deeper, read the Sensei LMS documentation.

6. Decide whether you want to sell your courses

There are a variety of reasons you might want to create courses:

  1. As part of a membership program
  2. To educate employees or team members
  3. To provide specific certifications
  4. To share your passion for free
  5. To make extra money or generate full-time revenue

If you want to sell your courses, you’ll need to use WooCommerce and the WooCommerce Paid Courses extension. This will provide all the tools you need to list your courses on your site, collect payments, and deliver them exclusively to paying customers.

Share your knowledge with like-minded people

No matter what you’re passionate about, WordPress and Sensei LMS provide everything you need to make an online course website. A user-friendly system, ultimate flexibility, helpful selling tools, and outstanding customer support will get you off on the right foot and help you find success for years to come.

Ready to go? Get started with WordPress and Sensei LMS.

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