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Should I Go With a Hosted Learning Managed System or a WordPress/LearnDash Based Solution?

It's the start of the New Year and it's a time when lot of course builders are looking to find an learning management system (LMS) for their online course. These business owners are planning to launch an online course and need to decide on the platform they should use to support them. There are a lot of options to choose from. There are hosted LMS solutions like Teachable, Kajabi, Udemy, or Thinkific. Then you have an open source solution. These are typically ones that are built using Wordpress with the addition of an LMS plugin. We build a lot of online course for customers using Wordpress/LearnDash, so I'm going to refer to this, but the article applies whether that's your specific Wordpress LMS or not.

It's clear why a hosted LMS is attractive. They cater to the needs of new online course builders. They provide a lot of handholding and easy to use tools for building your online course. These hosted solutions offer low cost startup pricing. There are many advantages.

But I want to review the benefits of going with a non-hosted LMS solutions like Wordpress/LearnDash to help make as informed a decision as possible. This is really important especially if you are wanting a flexible platform that supports you as you first launch your online course and later it grows to support your business.

NOTE: I got a lot this information from LearnDash's Six Advantages of Using an Open Source LMS so I wanted to make sure and give them credit.

Here are the benefits of going with the Wordpress/LearnDash approach versus a hosted LMS.


Benefit Number 1 - You control your content.

When you first start out with a solution like Teachable or Kajabi, you build your course using the features offered by their platform. What can happen, as this does happen, is the tool provider discontinues a feature. That's OK except when the feature they cancel is NOT one you are using, but what happens when, SURPRISE, a feature you use is gone.

Going with a hosted LMS puts you at the mercy of your provider. There's no way around that.

Please keep this in mind when selecting a platform.


Benefit Number 2 - You retain your customer data and your community.

When you’re on a hosted LMS, your learners really aren’t yours. If you decide to leave the platform, you may not be able move your customer and their data to another platform. You could be limited or just plain not allowed to that information.

With the Wordpress/LearnDash approach, you not only have control over what data you can collect from your learners. You can be sure that data is handled responsibly and securely.

In the age of compliance across the globe, that may be more important now than ever.


Benefit Number 3 - You have full development capabilities.

I learned this lesson, and so did my then client, the hard way. Early on when I started building online courses we had a customer that was set on using a hosted platform. The specific platform will remain nameless. The customer was getting advice from another source and they ignored our advice. We wanted to see them use a Wordpress based solution. This predated LearnDash. We agreed to use their hosted LMS to build their course.

We launched the first version of their course with no problem. It worked like a champ. Shortly thereafter, the customer requested an enhancement. It wasn't something the platform supported. They asked us to make another enhancement. Again, we had to tell them it wasn't possible using their platform. This happened over and over again.

I avoided telling them, "I told you so," but it's exactly what I expected. In their case, they were hiring us to build the online course for them so they were already spending the money. They could have used us to build the site on our recommended Wordpress platform. It would have worked nicely and they would have had the flexibility to add as many enhancements as possible. You are only limited by what Wordpress can do and that means "a lot."


Benefit Number 4 - You can prioritize updates.

Speaking of development, your hosted LMS will release new features from time to time. However, they will do so on their own schedule, and with priorities that do NOT always respond quickly to customer demand. Enough users have to request a feature for it to be added to the production list. Even then, it must be developed, tested, and released. This means that new updates will inevitably lag.

When you use a Wordpress or  open-source LMS, the production schedule follows your priorities. Sure, you have to either develop those updates yourself,  find a plugin that has done it for you, or work with a developer to get it done. The point is that timeline is under your control. You won’t ever find yourself in the position of wanting a new feature that never gets released.


Benefit Number 5 - You own your business.

Finally, while you may use the hosted LMS to earn an income, the business you’re building isn’t entirely yours: some portion of your hard work goes toward building the business and brand of your LMS host. You may gain a reputation and do quite well for yourself, but after all that hard work, you’re still tied to your hosted platform.

On the other hand, with an open-source LMS, your business is all your own. Your brand comes first, your community is your own, and the experience you provide is fully adaptable to what you want to build, and to what your learners need.

I have given this advice to a lot of business owners. Some have taken this advice. Some have not. Consider all your options and consider what a fully owned open source based solution can mean.