“What tool will I use to create, distribute and sell my training online? »Whether you are a independent trainer wishing to switch to e-learning, or whether you are an entrepreneur or a blogger wishing to develop an expertise by selling training, you necessarily ask yourself this essential question …
However, a number of entrepreneurs starting out in distance learning choose to offer their training on a WordPress member area, mainly for budgetary reasons. This option, while tempting at first glance, is actually much more expensive than it seems. It costs in terms of working time and energy, educational performance, quality of the trainer-learner relationship, branding, IT security, etc.
This article proposes to ask this question flat, and to take stock of the differences between a members area and a real e-learning software also called Learning Management System (LMS). Discover the 8 reasons that make LMS a more suitable and sustainable solution to develop your training business. A choice of both reason and ambition!
Here is first a table which summarizes the missing or insufficient elements in a member area, and which are provided by good quality LMS (albeit unevenly depending on the solutions). The rest of the article develops all these points in detail.
|Speed and technicality of use||Accumulation of plugins and interconnection management
Use of external tools and configuration management
|Cybercrime and data security||Weak data protection
Need for an external provider
|Educational scripting of training||No sequential sequence
So no controlled growth in content
|Monitoring and evaluation of learners||No integrated quiz
No integrated open questions
No individual results
No visibility on the learner’s progress
|Interactions with learners||Simple comment pages
No contextualized forum
No segmented internal messaging
No personal notifications
|Online sales management||Manual and complex creation of capture pages and sales pages
Configuration of the external payment solution
|Access methods for learners||No sessions (start and end dates)
So no fundable training, and no MOOC
|Access methods for trainers||No differentiated roles and permissions
No assignment of trainers to training
1. Speed and technicality of use
An e-learning solution is software in its own right. Using a WordPress member area distorts the original use of the tool to adapt the site for educational use. The “distortion” is materialized by the obligation for the trainer to accumulate plugins and external tools to operate his platform.
The trainer should use:
- A sales tunnel creation plugin like Optimizepress;
- A plugin for protecting pages and managing member access like Wishlistmember;
- A payment processor plugin like Thrivecart;
- One or more online payment solutions like Stripe, PayPal, etc. to configure;
- An auto-responder to manage all emails.
At each stage, the installation of plugins and external tools requires technical skills, certainly affordable by working very seriously, but which still consume precious time. Interconnection must be made, and mistakes can quickly be made.
In a good quality LMS, everything is done to simplify the tasks of the trainer as much as possible and provide comfort in use. Ergonomics is worked, the use of external tools limited, the technique reduced to its bare minimum.
The trainer quickly deploys his training, and focuses on his pedagogy and on his business development.
2. Cybercrime and data security
Cybercrime has now become a very real risk, not to be underestimated. It exposes the site and its data, therefore the trainer and his clients. However, a WordPress member space, developed in open source, is vulnerable to hackers’ attacks.
In this case, the host detects the virus, and immediately blocks all access to the site to protect themselves. The trainer’s member area becomes unusable, for himself and for his clients, as long as safety is not guaranteed again.
During this time, the trainer loses the confidence of his clients. The hacker can destroy or hack the database, and endanger all customer data, paving the way for complaints from injured learners.
The trainer (informed and informed) manages the security of his member area by calling on an external service provider to:
- WordPress updates;
- And regular database backups.
Thus, he wastes time and energy in finding the right trusted provider, he has to pay at least between 200 and 400 euros per year.
And despite these efforts, it is necessary to call a provider again in the event of hacking:
- On the one hand, the trainer is not guaranteed to have a quick and efficient solution, because the provider can focus on large customers);
- On the other hand, it must pay unexpected costs of the order of a few hundred euros minimum.
Conversely, investing in an LMS is investing in security. The vast majority of professional LMSs perform security audits and perform the necessary developments to block hackers’ entry points. When the LMS is marketed in SaaS mode: the company generally offers 24/7 access all year round, since the data is permanently saved in several data centers.
The cost of IT security is therefore included in the subscription and there is no longer any risk of unexpected expenses. The company publishing the software is responsible
3. Educational scripting of training
The minimum foundation of an educational script consists in proposing a training course, composed of modules, themselves composed of a sequence of activities (courses, quizzes, etc.) in a structured order.
To achieve high value-added offers, the trainer’s approach is to design a specific progression and punctuated by validation steps.
A member area does not allow you to use the standards of screenplay that prevail in the professional world. In particular, it is not possible to offer sequential modules or sequential activities:
- In sequential mode, a learner can only go to activity 2 if he has previously validated activity 1;
- Furthermore, a learner can only pass to module 2 if he has previously validated all of the activities in module 1.
At each level, the degree of control is an educational choice of the trainer.
The validation steps, if implemented, ensure the consistency of the course, and demonstrate to the learner that the progression proposed by the trainer is both thoughtful and in his interest. It is part of the trainer’s expertise.
We are therefore moving away from information, which is intended to be pecked, to go towards training, which is intended to be structured (and therefore better valued on the market!).
Obviously, offering non-sequential training, in which the learner can navigate freely, may well have relevance, particularly in the context of self-training or calling services.
That said, not having the opportunity to supervise progression is a major obstacle to building professional training.
In an LMS on the contrary, the structuring of the course in modules and activities is at the heart of the software. The trainer can easily build the elements of his training, change their order, and define more or less restrictive training rules. In short, an educational choice!
4. Monitoring and evaluation of learners
The ability to follow the learner’s progress and assess the assimilation of knowledge or skills is a key element of the trainer’s posture. This is, in large part, what differentiates a trainer from a person who only sells raw content.
Moreover, when a trainer offers services falling within the regulatory field of continuing vocational training (CPD), monitoring and evaluation are even an obligation, the modalities of which must be presented in the training program. It is an absolute prerequisite for funding training by an OPCA, Pôle Emploi, etc.
Even for training outside CVT (on very personal topics for example), and which cannot be funded, the assessment remains a marker of professionalism and quality.
However, monitoring and evaluation are absent in a member area:
- The tool does not include an editor to create quizzes or open questions;
- If the trainer wants to offer assessments, he has no choice but to send (at best) a link to an external quiz tool, which forces the learner to leave the private learning universe .
All LMSs offer practical functionalities for creating assessments and including them in training courses. Two main types of assessments emerge.
On the one hand, the trainer can generally create quizzes or multiple choice questions: with a limited time, in a single test or in several tests, with a minimum validation rate, etc. Validation and generation of results are automatic;
- On the other hand, the trainer can (in some platforms) propose open questions: a question that calls for personal development of the learner, and possibly a report of work with an attached file, an external link … Validation is manual by the trainer who corrects the learner’s response.
The open question turns out to be necessary:
- When you talk about personal development topics that require free expression,
- When you want to support your client’s project and see their progress to advise them,
- Or when you need to check the concrete application of skills in the workplace.
In addition, in addition to the assessment, the trainer needs to know where each learner is located in their training course. Without such follow-up, the trainer is blind: he accompanies learners without even knowing their level of advancement.
This is what happens when you use a member area! The tool is not designed to track users and provide this information.
In an efficient LMS, the trainer obtains visibility on the progress of his learners, in particular module by module.
The ideal is to be able to specifically contact the learners who follow this or that module, in order to personalize:
- Educational messages (reminder of dates, feedback, advice, motivation);
- Or commercial messages (coaching proposal, sale of an additional tool, etc.).
In short, the monitoring of the learner becomes a springboard for a better quality of the service, but also to sell and retain.
5. Social interactions with learners
The possibility for the trainer to interact with his learners individually and collectively is essential. It strongly determines the added value that will be perceived by the learner, and which weighs heavily in customer satisfaction.
In order not to be criticized for offering only content, the trainer must be able to use interactive features that allow him to communicate in a simple, fast and targeted manner.
The member areas make certain interactions possible, but they remain limited to a rudimentary level.
From the point of view of collective animation, the forums of a member space are in fact simple pages of comments, not very structured and not very dynamic:
- Indeed, the topics of discussion follow one another without being able to be filtered according to the modules or the courses offered, which ends up giving a feeling of disorder;
- When a response is posted to a comment, the discussion is not automatically brought back to the top of the page, which does not encourage learners to react.
From the point of view of individual animation, the member areas do not offer any integrated functionality:
- The trainer cannot contact a learner according to his progress in the training course;
- He cannot provide personalized feedback following an assessment, to bounce back on unassimilated points;
- If he wants to be able to contact a learner according to the training followed, the trainer has no choice but to use a compatible external e-mailing service (Mailchimp, SG Autorépondeur, Aweber) and to configure it himself.
In an LMS, the so-called social or interactive functionalities are more frequently integrated and more numerous. The performance of LMS in the market is very uneven, and it is often this aspect that is most overlooked in software.
That said, it is possible to find an LMS with interesting features that save time and communicate intelligently with customers. This is in any case a point of differentiation to look at closely and which can (must) be at the heart of the trainer’s choice.
Finally, let’s not forget the importance of notifications! A member area does not manage to send notifications to the learner’s personal mailbox, for example to warn him of a new discussion on the forums, of a response to a comment, of a result of ‘an evaluation … Some LMS manage it, and it’s also a strong point to check.
6. Online sales management
E-commerce type online sales are developing at a high speed on the training market. The interest is obvious for the trainer: to automate his sales and gain in commercial efficiency.
Although it is today strongly hampered by the regulations of continuing vocational training, many offers can be usefully sold by secure online payment.
A member area is not, in itself, a sales tool. It can become so after a complex process.
- On the one hand, the trainer must install a payment processor (Thrivecart), then choose a secure online payment solution (PayPal, Stripe, etc.), configure it and make it compatible with his site;
- On the other hand, the trainer must develop his own sales pages and optimize them, which implies a minimum of IT and marketing skills.
Even with good notions of tools, all these tasks take time and divert the trainer from the heart of his activity: the creation, improvement, and daily management of his training.
Again, the LMS on the market are very different from each other in terms of sales functionality. Some have none, others integrate them. When the LMS offers to carry out an e-commerce catalog, sales pages, and secure online payment, it in any case saves time and saves a lot of energy.
The sales process is certainly more standardized, but it was designed to be professional and converting. This choice is therefore also a way to avoid marketing errors for trainers. In particular, the frequent tendency to produce sales pages that appeal to them visually, but which do not take sufficient account of the key elements of optimizing the user experience.
7. Access methods for learners
The terms of access to training are important for the trainer since they must agree with the type of offers he offers and the type of customers he targets.
Problem: a member area does not allow the planning of event training, that is to say marketed in the form of sessions (with a start date and an end date, set in advance).
This absence of sessions can go unnoticed for entrepreneurs offering content with “free” access, unlimited duration or by subscription. But it is actually very problematic when the trainer wishes to professionalize his practices and diversify his offers.
Indeed, marketing by sessions is compulsory for all training falling within the regulatory field of continuing vocational training (CPD). French regulations in this area are strict.
This is in particular a means for funders (OPCA, Pôle Emploi, regions, etc.) to control the reality of the service over a specific period.
- The trainer deprives himself of the possibility of offering potentially financable training.
As a result, trainers who wish to target corporate clients and train employees are penalized by the inability to create sessions. Companies are used to working in this form, and are reluctant to enroll their employees in unlimited training or by subscription.
- The trainer indirectly deprives himself of corporate clients, and can only focus on individual clients.
In addition, the use of sessions is one of the criteria for creating a MOOC (massive open online course) as it is defined today. Obviously, the trainer can offer free training in free access – which is always very useful for getting known. But the MOOC assumes a limited duration and specific dates, to condense in a short time the exchanges on the forums and the collective emulation. MOOCs are often the subject of teasing campaigns before the opening of the session, in order to create a waiting effect.
- The trainer deprives himself of the possibility of carrying out a MOOC.
Obviously, the LMS are calibrated on the practices of training organizations. So when they manage the publication of the training on a sales catalog, the trainer has the possibility of scheduling training sessions in which the learners can register.
8. Access methods for trainers
When you start as a freelance trainer, you rarely wonder what will happen if you want to grow your business and work as a team. However, it is necessary to think about the future, because surviving alone is difficult.
It is common to see two or three trainers come together to have more impact on the market. The advantage is to be able to offer a range of complementary offers, and retain customers.
Thus, the online training tool must integrate the possibility of managing the access of a team of trainers, even if it is not your immediate project. And if you’re already on a team, you have no choice.
However, a member area cannot be used by several trainers, unlike an LMS:
- A members area does not allow to give different roles and permissions to team members: for example an administrator role which can deeply modify the whole private platform, or a trainer role which cannot modify that its formations;
- The members area also does not allow assigning trainers to training, and therefore all training is accessible and modifiable by the entire team.
LMS targets in particular training organizations with structured teams. They are designed to offer different roles and access to employees. Teamwork can be done without disorder or conflict. You know your tool can help you grow your team.
Ultimately, these 8 reasons show that, in the vast majority of cases, an LMS will be more suitable and useful for developing an online training business, whatever the form.
Choosing a member area may suffice in a configuration combining all of the following conditions:
- If you plan to never target corporate customers;
- If you plan to never offer fundable training;
- If you plan to work alone and not be part of a team;
- If you don’t plan for learner assessments;
- If you do not plan individual follow-up and support;
- If you anticipate limited or no collective interactions;
- If you plan to invest in a provider to maintain security;
- If you plan to spend a lot of time calibrating your sales tunnel;
- If you plan to spend a lot of time working on the technique.
A member area only makes possible a single marketing positioning: the sale of educational content with relatively low added value (because it is poorly scripted, without support and without evaluation). This positioning pushes the trainer or the entrepreneur to narrow down their range of offers and bring their prices into line by pulling them down.
In addition to the question of the tool, it seems necessary to wonder about the sustainability of this strategy, which brings little room for maneuver to diversify and which closes a lot of doors. Once on this path, the only way out is to change your e-learning solution!
The best solution seems to be to invest quickly in a professional LMS capable of following the evolution of your activity.
However, you must be vigilant! In recent years, improved member space solutions have emerged, creating confusion by claiming that a member space and an LMS mean the same thing.
So be careful when choosing your LMS to a number of things, including:
- The possibility of creating quizzes and open questions whose results and answers are visible and usable by the trainer;
- The possibility of interacting personally and in a targeted manner with the learners, in particular according to their progress in the training;
- The possibility of offering training by sessions with a start date and an end date;
- The ability to manage a team of trainers, and to give different roles and permissions to members.
Checking these elements will guide you to a solution that meets the requirements of e-learning software, and capable of solidifying your business strategy.
Presentation of the author
Yooteach is a SaaS e-learning software dedicated to freelance trainer-coaches and small training organizations. The platform makes it easy to create, distribute, facilitate, pilot and sell online training.
In technological development for 2 years, and after a fundraising with BPI England, our software announces its launch for April 2018! Our blog also offers concrete advice to support freelance trainers-coaches in their digital transformation.