Easily Create An Online Course Using WordPress [Ultimate Guide]

By: | October 6, 2019 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Create Online Course WordPress

Peter Nyiri

Want to build an online course on your WordPress blog without having to pay monthly fees for a platform like Teachable? I am going to show you how you can do this.

Podia costs $39/month. If you want the Pro version with an affiliate program feature, you would pay $79/month.

Teachable costs $39/month, plus 5% in transaction fees, with monthly payouts. Their Pro version costs $99/month, no transaction fees and instant payouts.

Thinkific costs $49/month. It also has a free version that doesn’t have an affiliate program.

But the biggest problem with these platforms is that they store the email addresses of your students and they send marketing emails to them. And if you know anything about online marketing, then you know that your most valuable asset is your mailing list.

I am going to show you how to create online courses that look like this, including email marketing integration and your own affiliate program – without the high cost.

(This post contains affiliate links. See Disclaimer for details.)

Online Video/Text Course WordPress Themes

You don’t need to change your blog theme just because you want to host online courses on it.

The layout of my courses, which you see below, come from the Thrive Apprentice plugin, not the theme.

The WordPress Plugins Needed for Your Courses

Thrive Apprentice

This is an online course plugin where you can set up a regular or a video course as well. You can select if you want to host your videos on YouTube, Vistia or Vimeo.

Thrive Apprentice is a ready-to-go platform where you don’t need to bother with building pages from scratch. All you need to do is add your photos, text, and videos.

The plugin gives you an entire online course template. There is already a nice lesson structure arranged that is comparable with Teachable or any other premium platform, without the monthly fees and cost. (It costs $67 for 1 website, $97 for 5 websites.)

The latest version of Thrive Apprentice has built-in integration with SendOwl, which means for roughly $10 per month, ($15 if you want an affiliate program) you can sell your course and you don’t need a third-party plugin. SendOwl has built-in EU VAT compliance.

Thrive Architect

You will need Thrive Architect to edit the lessons of your course and to set up your opt-in and sales pages. Just select your template, add your photos, text, and videos. At the same time, you have the freedom to add all kinds of components to the pre-made templates.

(Thrive Architect costs $67 for 1 website, $97 for 5 websites. However for $219 you can get ALL of the Thrive Themes plugins, including Thrive Leads, Apprentice and also all of their premium themes.)

Membership plugin (free) or WooCommerce (free)

Thrive Apprentice doesn’t include selling and collecting payments for your course.

To do that, you can choose from the following membership plugins, however, these don’t include EU VAT feature:

  • Paid Membership Pro
  • S2Member
  • Simple Membership (free)

Alternatively, you can use WooCommerce for collecting payments.

The advantage of Woo is that

  • it has a variety of payment gateway integrations
  • because of this, it is easy to implement it in a foreign language
  • its free WooCommerce Services plugin has built-in VAT support

The disadvantage is that you will need an additional plugin like YITH Automatic Role Changer for WooCommerce Premium to assign a given membership role to the buyer – this is how they can be granted access to that specific course.

I personally tested both versions and I prefer the WooCommerce version because you don’t have a limit on the number of courses you can sell and you are not stuck with a PayPal payment button that would make your sales page cheesy.

How To Create An Online Course With WordPress

Now I am going to show you how easy it is to build a course with the Thrive Apprentice WordPress course plugin.

First create a new page where all your courses will be listed, like “Online Courses”.

Now you just need to go to the Thrive Dashboard, then click on Thrive Dashboard > Thrive Apprentice.

open apprentice dashboard

You will see the following:

Welcome to Thrive Apprentice 2.0!

In order to create your online teaching platform, we need to set up two-three things really quickly.

Step 1: Choose a page where all your courses will reside.

welcome to Thrive apprentice: create-online-course-wordpress

You can search through existing pages and select the one you just created or you can create a new one.

The next screen:

Template Setup

Step 2: You can choose to personalize the template for your courses or go directly to creating courses by loading the default template.

You can always edit the course template by going to Settings > Template Options.

Click on Load Default Template.

You will be taken to your Thrive Apprentice Dashboard.

add new course

Go to Settings>General Settings

Set your course registration page and you can enable comments if you want to.

Go to Settings>Template Settings

Here you can change the course’s name, description, font sizes, all the placeholders and button texts.

template settings create online course WordPress

With this, you can even set your course up to display in a certain language. Just change all text to that language.

Click on Course Topics. It will say “General”.

course topic create online course WordPress

In this case, I am adding “Introductory” for my free stuff and “Premium” for my other courses.

You can assign a photo and pick a color to color code the different types of courses.

Like green for free and dark blue for premium.

Under Filter by Topics, you are now able to see the categories you just created.

Now click Add Course.

add new course

You can add your course name, URL, write a short introduction.

course introduction: create online course WordPress

Then upload an image, approximate size 1170 x 382.

If you press the switch on the left bottom, you can add a video also.

If you click on Advanced Settings, you can set some details like instructor name, if comments are allowed and category.

But more importantly, this is where you can set whether the course is available for logged-in users only and for which user roles. (The plugin uses the built-in WordPress user role system.)

course access settings

This is the point where the membership or shopping cart plugin connects to the course.

Therefore you will

  • need to have a plugin that enables you to add new user roles to WordPress
  • upon payment. the membership/shopping cart needs to assign the user role to the customer

Some membership plugins like S2 Member have such features.

course access

You also have a chance to exclude some lessons from the protection rules and use them as teasers.

When you are done, click Save to save your course.

You will see that the plugin pulled your profile photo as Instructor. (You can change the instructor to be any registered WordPress user.)

Now we will add modules.

add module

Now you can add lessons.

First, you add the intro to the lesson.

add lesson

When you click “Save”, a draft is created:

lesson draft

To add the actual lesson content, click Add Content. (Later this tab changes to Edit with Architect.) This will open Thrive Architect for adding/editing your lesson content.

Edit lesson: Online Course WordPress

From the right sidebar menu, you drag and drop either the Paragraph element, in which case you type your text in, but you can also do it with the WordPress Content element, in which case you can use the full WordPress editor to add whatever you wish, even affiliate links.

After you added your first lesson, you can publish it.

After you have done that, you can also publish your course.

If you only have one course, your student will be taken straight to the first lesson. If you have more, you will be taken to an index page like this:

online course page

Adding Membership & Sales Features To Your Online Course

We have used Thrive Apprentice to set the course up. However, this plugin doesn’t itself have a feature to sell your course and doesn’t include the membership registration, etc. functions of your site. To do that, you will need a membership plugin.

Important note: If you sell digital products but aren’t EU VAT compliant, your business is in a vulnerable position and could be fined.

Selling Your Online Course With SendOwl

You can easily create a purchasing process for your courses if you create a link between Thrive Apprentice and SendOwl and this is their officially recommended solution.

Naturally, besides having Thrive Apprentice, you will need to have a SendOwl account as well, in order to do this. Once you have both of these, you can start by establishing an API connection between them.

Adding the connection is really easy:

  • In the Thrive Dashboard, scroll down a bit to see the “API Connections” card and click on the “Manage Connections” button from it.
  • You will see a list with the active connections that you have already set up. Look for the “Add New Connection” section and click on it.
  • Select SendOwl.
add API sendowl

You can read the Knowledge Base for a more detailed tutorial.

Inside SendOwl, you can create products — a series of actions that take place upon purchase — as well as customize your cart and checkout experience for customers. You can set your checkout to appear when visitors click ‘buy now’ buttons on your sales page — a super easy step to set up when using the Thrive Architect landing page and content builder.

You can insert the purchase links of your products on sales pages by linking them either to call-to-action texts, buttons, images or to other elements of your choice, using Thrive Architect.

Setting up a Checkout and a Thank you page is the final part of the “SendOwl Settings” process.

Go to your Thrive Apprentice dashboard and click on the “Settings” section from the upper right corner of the page:

sendowl settings

This is where you can configure all these settings. You can read the Knowledge Base for more details.

If your customer is from the EU, VAT will automatically be calculated, collected and reported for you by SendOwl— no expensive tax software add-ons needed. It also has a built-in affiliate program where you can reward other bloggers for selling your courses.

SendOwl does not replace your Email Service Provider, but does integrate directly with:

  • ActiveCampaign
  • AWeber
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Constant Contact
  • ConvertKit
  • Drip (Mailing List)
  • GetResponse
  • InfusionSoft
  • Mad Mimi
  • MailChimp
  • MailerLite
  • Sendy

Selling Your Online Course & Membership Using WooCommerce

The above is really neat, however, I was looking for a solution that doesn’t require a monthly fee.

After I tested several different plugins, for me, WooCommerce proved to be the best solution. This opinion is not shared by Thrive Themes staff, they call this the “Frankenstein monster” because they deem the setup of WooCommerce a complicated process.

Well, if you want to avoid paying monthly fees, this added complication is the price you have to pay. I have set up several stores this way and I love it. It’s your choice.

If you want to use unusual payment gateways, e. g. for a foreign country, many times WooCommerce is the only solution to implement this if you don’t want to pay for a developer. WooCommerce has a natural interface with PayPal and Stripe.

You can also add an infinite number of products, even your own consulting services:

add new product
add new product pricing

WooCommerce is widespread, lots of plugins got created for it and you can take advantage of this fact. You will have a store like this:

online store WooCommerce

WooCommerce Services

The main reason the WooCommerce Services plugin is needed is automated tax calculation and collection at checkout.

Kadence WooCommerce Email Designer

This WooCommerce email designer plugin lets you easily customize the default transactional WooCommerce email templates. Edit the design using the native WordPress customizer for instant visual edits. Customize the text (including body text) or each email template in WooCommerce without editing code.

Members & YITH Automatic Role Changer for WooCommerce

I used the free Members plugin to create a WordPress role that is equivalent to each paid course. E. g. for the “Blogging Like A Pro” course I added the role “Blog Like Pro” and I added the role “Google First Page” for the “Blogging On The First Page Of Google” course.

YITH add new role to WordPess

The Automatic Role Changer plugin allows you to automatically assign roles to your customers following a specific purchase or amount spent in your WooCommerce store.

I set up a rule as shown below to gain the specific role after “User purchases a specific product”.

add new role to WordPess

If you have several courses, you will have several WP roles:

WordPress roles

I even have a rule for “All Access”, which means people can buy a course bundle and get access to everything.

Once this is done, I went to the Advanced Settings of the Thrive Apprentice plugin to set the permission (see the checkbox in the middle):

Setting access

WP Affiliates Manager (Free)

The WP Affiliates Manager plugin has built-in integration with WooCommerce. Simply activate these two plugins on your WordPress site and do the basic setup configuration. After that, you will be ready to start accepting affiliate registration on your site.

Your affiliates will be able to send traffic to your WooCommerce store and get rewarded for it when a customer (referred by the affiliate) purchase a product.

Various WooCommerce Payment Gateway Plugins (optional)

Because the two systems are connected, you can accept payment with any system that has a WooCommerce integration plugin.

YITH PayPal Express Checkout Gateway (Free)

If you want to receive payments through PayPal or accept credit card payments through PayPal, this plugin is your best choice.

PayPal Express Checkout settings

The plugin also makes it possible to set up branding, e.g. adding a logo:

PayPal Express Checkout branding

You will have a Cart page like this:

woocomerce cart page: online course WordPress

Conclusion: Online Course WordPress

If you want to see how an actual WordPress online course looks like, you can check out the demo course I built with the Thrive Apprentice plugin. (I will be releasing my actual course soon.)

Readers, please share so people who want to make money read this A to Z guide and learn how to easily create an online course using WordPress.

  1. Rahul | at 12:17 am

    This is nice. The biggest road blockers of going with the WordPress related products are the following

    1. Managing Multiple plugins. In your blog itself, I can see at least a good 6 plugins (critical) ones being used. If there is a mandatory upgrade in any one plugin, it might have a ripple effect on the course
    2. Flexibility is low. You need to be a good developer with a working PHP knowledge to do the customizations.
    3. Backup. You need to again have a plugin for backup of your course and content
    4. Price: Yes the initial price is low but if you look at the Total Cost of Ownership, I am sure it is much higher.

    It is a good article to read

  2. Peter Nyiri | at 12:50 am

    Hi Rahul,

    I have been experimenting with this for a while. Some people will prefer an outside platform. Others don’t.

    It also depends on the quality of your hosting. With hosts like SiteGround you have more power than some low-quality shared hosting. I just moved my own blog to a VPS for better performance.

    I am not developer, I only know very basic HTML/CSS. I may one day invest into something more serious. But before reaching profitability it’s not a bad choice.

    Yes, you always need backup – Janice uses Jetpack, for $34 a year she gets an automatic backup of her entire site.

  3. Joseph | at 5:13 am

    I’m glad I found this detailed article. will be making my course blog about amz soon.

    Thank you for gathering all the info in one place and the best part is the images to get insight view of how it will look

  4. Julia Lois | at 8:06 am

    Appreciate it very much intended for publishing this kind of fascinating article on this matter. It has definitely created me personally believe as well as I’m hoping to learn to read much more.

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