Education

eLearning on WordPress: An Emerging Technology

WordPress, An Alternate Learning Platform

Technology has come a long way, bringing massive societal changes. However, before COVID-19, face-to-face learning environments were one of the preferred instructional choices. Instructional technology has evolved from the times of instructional radio, television, personal computers, computer-based instruction, the internet, web 2.0, eLearning, and mLearning, to the latest technological innovation of our times in AR/VR/Artificial Intelligence and the metaverse. However, the impact of the instructional tools and technologies before COVID-19 has been somewhat disappointing [1]. The only silver lining during COVID-19 was the importance of digital instructional technology, paving the way for more emerging technologies to transform education, learning, and teaching.

When I entered the field of instructional technology, I wanted to create a site or a blog to document my learnings and reflections. I had heard about WordPress for a long time; however, it seemed the initial learning curve was complex. So, last summer in 2021, I took on the challenge of learning WordPress and creating a site to publish my writings, my creative portfolio, and eLearning content. The more I dove into learning WordPress, the more fascinated I became by the diverse ways audience/learners can be engaged on this platform, especially for educational purposes.

Since the early 2000s, WordPress has been around as an open-source content management system. In October 2021, it was used by 42.8% of the top 10 million websites [2]. The spectacular numbers are attributed to the WordPress community and upgraded features, with multiple valuable plug-ins atop the already accomplished WordPress core.

Why WordPress Is An Emerging Technology

Although WordPress has been around since the 2000s, we have known WordPress as a blogging platform. Many of my colleagues and educators had seldom heard of its potential to be used as a learning platform to create eLearning courses at a much more economical price point than other available Learning Management Systems (LMSs). WordPress offers diverse flexibility, upgraded plug-ins to design and develop courses, and multiple ways to add media interactions to make learning engaging compared to a traditional LMS. The emerging and upgraded features of WordPress have inspired several instructors, training organizations, educational institutions, and universities to deliver robust online learning programs [3].

Education is a use case where WordPress can shine. The upgraded version of WordPress is dynamic, flexible, scalable, and doesn’t have a steep learning curve. Apart from its wide range of utilizations, WordPress can prove to be a beneficial platform for freelance Instructional Designers, trainers, and instructors, especially to monetize and reach out to a broader audience using the unique capabilities of WordPress.

Basic Information About WordPress

WordPress can be used as a blog, website, or website with a blog. It provides the flexibility to configure the site in any of these forms. WordPress is currently available in two paths, WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com hosts free blogging sites or websites, or both. It offers a cost-effective and inexpensive upgrade with plug-in features. WordPress.org, on the other hand, provides a package for downloading. Designers and developers then create and host their WordPress-powered websites. This path offers far more options, including hundreds of plug-ins, more design themes, and access to the code behind the site, thus creating a WordPress.org site using third-party hosting [4].

In this article, my focus will be on WordPress.com. The basic version of WordPress.com is free; however, for additional features like plug-ins, storage, and advertisement-free content, there are supplemental pricing plans. WordPress is available as a mobile app on iPhone as well as on Android. There are multiple ways content can be presented to the intended audience or learners. Here are some examples:

  • Embedded videos including YouTube, Vimeo, Animoto, TikTok, TEDx
  • Images including custom gallery
  • Embedded audios including Soundcloud, Spotify
  • Podcasts
  • Slideshow/SlideShare/PPT
  • Texts in different styles like paragraphs, quotes, accordion
  • Maps
  • GIFs
  • Social media posts
  • eLearning courses from external sources like Articulate Storyline
  • Embedded links, including Tableau
  • HTML codes
  • Embedded Google docs/Google Slides

Security, Privacy, And Ethical Concerns

Although WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems, WordPress sites are vulnerable to cyberattacks due to unauthorized logins and core software issues. In 2020, WordPress reported more than 2800 attacks per second targeting WordPress sites [5]. There is also an age restriction for creating WordPress accounts if anyone is under the age of 13 or 16 in Europe. The company encourages using two-factor authentication to minimize unauthorized logins and update the system at regular intervals. However, WordPress doesn’t take any responsibility for using third-party plug-ins, hence there is not enough clarity to know how third-party plug-ins use user information.

Setting Up A WordPress Account

WordPress can be installed in a local server environment using WordPress.org. However, this article will explore how to build a website for education and learning purposes using WordPress.com without the need for installation and ongoing maintenance.

  • Step 1
    Go to http://wordpress.com/, and click “Get Started.” Once you have clicked, you will be redirected to a signup page.
  • Step 2
    Once signed up, you will be asked to create a domain name and activate the site.
  • Step 3
    Once the account is activated, WordPress will ask you to choose a design for the homepage layout. The layout can be custom-made or selected from the built-in options.
  • Step 4
    This step is an additional option to customize the site’s look, theme, and overall information architecture. The site can be customized to change the color scheme, typography, site icon, menu navigation, layout for different devices, etc.
  • Step 5
    Finish the process by clicking finish, and the site is ready.

Creating Posts And Pages On WordPress

Posts are the number one content material on a typical WordPress blog site. They are individual chunks of content and tend to be read in reverse chronological order or by subscribers in feed readers. Pages make up the individual web pages of a site. Pages can be accessed through a menu list. For example, an educational WordPress site can have a page with the course syllabus, whereas posts can be tagged and organized to be sorted or searched by subject matter or keywords. Students or learners can also use an RSS reader (RSS is simply an aggregator that aggregates syndicated web content such as online news, blogs, podcasts, and video blogs in one location for easy viewing) to subscribe whenever a new post is published.

Demonstration Of A Course Design

As explained earlier, WordPress has upgraded its features with upgraded plug-ins. Courses can be developed using patterns, themes, texts, media, widgets, polls, even in the free version. Furthermore, the paid version offers more opportunities to create engaging and visually appealing course designs for better learning experiences. The upgraded plug-in features provide options to add a membership management function to register learners for courses and charge for access. Additionally, the plug-ins can be used to create social media spaces and event calendars.

There are multiple ways content can be presented to the audience/learners in WordPress. Here is an example of a course designed on WordPress using the accordion feature. In the following example, a course is chunked into chapters, and multiple media types like video/audio/image/text are added. Furthermore, plug-ins are used to create quizzes/assignments. Here is an example of a course design using WordPress’s features.

Figure 1: Sample course design using accordion and multiple media types (own design)

Using WordPress Plug-ins

WordPress offers numerous third-party plug-ins to enhance the audience/learner engagement and experience. Some of the plug-ins that I found helpful for educational purposes are:

  • Elearningfreak
    This plug-in supports content from Articulate Storyline, Captivate, Lectora, Camtasia, iSpring, and other tools.
  • ScholarPress
    This plug-in allows you to create a course schedule, post course assignments easily, and develop a course bibliography.
  • WP Survey and Quiz Tool
    This plug-in enables the creation of quizzes, surveys, and polls with unlimited questions. Quiz questions can take on multiple formats, including multiple choice, single answer, and free text.
  • IntenseDebate
    This comments plug-in aims to increase discussion within the WordPress comment section. It works by allowing users to quickly reply to comments, like or dislike other comments, and subscribe to a comment thread through email or popular RSS readers [6].
  • BuddyPress
    This is a plug-in that allows us to turn our course site into a fully-functioning social network.
  • GrassBlade xAPI
    This lets you upload and host xAPI, SCORM, HTML5 content on a WordPress website in multiple ways. The best part is that you can check reports, like student engagement, or student performance, and create custom-made metrics for learning analytics reports.
  • IBM Watson Assistant
    This is a plug-in that helps create chatbots through the IBM Watson platform, by training Watson to answer frequently asked questions, provide helpful information, and help the audience/learners navigate the site.

Figure 2: IBM Watson assistant chatbot to answer frequently asked questions on WordPress (own design).

WordPress Vs. Other LMS Platforms

There are multiple Learning Management Systems available in the market today like Canvas, Moodle, Workday, SAP Litmos, and Cornerstone, with varying features, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. WordPress provides an opportunity to use the site for educational/learning purposes using multiple themes and plug-ins. It provides seamless integration between a course and website and blog, or both. While there is a substantial learning curve for designing, creating, and managing courses in an LMS platform, WordPress offers unlimited flexibility in designing and managing the website. Furthermore, an LMS comes at a hefty price point compared to WordPress, which could be a unique selling point, especially for non-profits, smaller educational institutions and companies, and freelance instructors.

WordPress is one of the best content management systems with a smooth learning curve and can be used with minimal training [7]. It also offers an easy User Interface, with easy navigation and an opportunity to interact and engage with learners compared to other popular LMSs. At the same time, dedicated LMSs provide much better in-built native features like course creation, quiz, assignment, gamification, progress trackers, and student analytics options, whereas WordPress has limited options for student analytics, progress trackers, and security issues with plug-ins.

WordPress For Learning Case Study

While looking for WordPress sites that have been used optimally, I found the following two that can be taken as a case study to develop WordPress sites for educational purposes.

1. Canada Learning Code

The Canada Learning Code WordPress site has used a pleasing color scheme, using WordPress’s design theme. The site has divided the courses into chunks using the plug-ins and pattern feature. The site is a benchmark to view how WordPress can be used as a website and a blog for designing and creating eLearning courses. Furthermore, the pages are uniquely organized as learning experiences and lesson plans, where learners can view courses in multiple modules, including experiences like assessments, quizzes, etc.

2. Ladybird Education

The Ladybird Education WordPress site is designed to cater to a younger audience, hence the color scheme is bright with typography chosen carefully for the intended learners. The site has used WordPress plug-in features to their optimum by adding multiple media like images, videos, and other interactivities to engage learners. This site impressed me because they have given importance to accessibility features by adding transcripts, alternate texts, closed captions, etc. The site menu is carefully organized as lessons and assessments, making the navigation more user-friendly.

Conclusion

To conclude, WordPress has tremendous possibilities to be used as a learning platform instead of just a blogging site. The upgraded features and plug-ins for developing eLearning courses at a much more economical price point is its USP (unique selling point) as compared to other Learning Management Systems (LMS). This flexibility and diversity make it reach a wider audience and makes it most suitable for freelancers, educators, instructors, organizations, and educational institutions.

References:

[1] Cuban, L. 2001. Oversold and Underused: Reforming Schools through Technology 1980–2000. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[2] Usage statistics of content management systems

[3] WordPress Makes an Impact in ELearning

[4] Seven Reasons to Use a WordPress eLearning Platform

[5] 13 WordPress Security Issues & Vulnerabilities You Should Know About

[6] Scott, Adam D. 2012. WordPress for Education: Create interactive and engaging e-learning websites with WordPress (1st edition). Packt Pub. Ltd.

[7] The Pros And Cons Of Using A WordPress Learning Management System

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