How to Add Social Learning to Your Online Course or Membership Website

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This episode of LMScast is a special one, because today we talk about how to add social learning to your online course or membership website with Chris Badgett and Ali Mathis of LifterLMS. Social learning in LifterLMS is built on a foundation of mirroring how the best learning experiences happen in the real world, and then using the internet to bring that to anyone in the world. Chris and Ali touch on what is next for LifterLMS, and where we are going in the future for online learning software as well.

LifterLMS released the Social Learning on October 10, 2017. Humans are social creatures, so we often learn best when we are learning with other people. This allows us to run ideas by peers, solve more advanced problems, and use other people’s perspectives to gain more insight into certain situations. The Social Learning add-on is designed to allow you to integrate this style of leaning into your course or membership site more easily than having to do it all manually.

Having a product or service mimic human interaction and extend it to an online format is how companies like Facebook work. With Facebook, the goal was to take the traditional college experience and put it online. It later shifted to be for anyone who wanted to stay in touch and share their lives with their friends online.

Coaching is often how learning happens in the real world, so running your course with a factory model is not going to enable your students to learn optimally. Peer coaching and having community accountability will help to increase the completion rate of your online products.

Social learning can be formatted to suit almost all types of courses and membership sites. The only place where you would not want to use social learning would be if your course is very personal, and you absolutely need to maintain 100% privacy. Courses with subject matters pertaining to language learning or any type of learning that involves heavy repetition can benefit greatly from social learning.

The Social Learning add-on is comparable to Facebook groups, except you can work the social learning aspect more tightly into your course by providing the features directly in your product. You can involve any amount of people you want in a conversation, ranging from two or three to twenty or fifty people.

Adding more complicated features to your site and more users can slow down your site and affect hosting abilities. Chris and Ali talk about ways you can solve that problem and find a scalable hosting plan that works with your site, especially if you integrate the social learning feature.

To learn more about LifterLMS and the Social Learning add-on, head over to And if you have any questions about if Social Learning is right for you or any questions about the product itself, feel free to shoot us an email and join our Facebook group LifterLMS VIPs.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Episode Transcript

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined today with a special guest, Ali Mathis. We’re from LifterLMS, and this is a special episode where we talk about something important in the learning community called social learning. Over at LifterLMS, we just released a product called Social Learning. We’ve been wanting to kind of get the conversation going around these topics having to deal with that. So, Ali, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
Ali Mathis: Yeah, I’m excited. I’ve got lots of questions for you. I hope you’re ready.
Chris Badgett: I’m always ready. I think you’re the most repeat guest we’ve had so far.
Ali Mathis: Wow. Do I get a special badge or something?
Chris Badgett: You get a certificate.
Ali Mathis: Okay.
Chris Badgett: But yeah, social learning just rolled out and for some people that may be like, “What is that?” How do we kind of explore that for the uninitiated?
Ali Mathis: Okay. Well, actually my first question for you is kind of more about where this idea for social learning came from. I’ve heard it floated around a little bit in the community. What made you guys put this next on the road map for Lifter?
Chris Badgett: For us, our approach to software development when we’re really trying to figure out what do we do next or how do we do online education, we like to look at the real world and see how learning happens without computers and the internet. And then mirror how that works in reality, but adding in the online format. So, when we looked at things like how the people actual learn, in most cases or in a lot of cases, they’re not completely isolated from other people. When I look back on my own life and look at some of the best learning experiences of my life, it was very much a social thing. It was often with other people. Not necessarily in traditional classrooms, but sometimes in a regular classroom setting. Some of the best learning experiences, there was a social piece. It wasn’t just about the content. So, that’s why we came to social learning and saw it as a critical missing piece in the online education space.
Ali Mathis: Okay. So, tell me a little bit more about what you mean by social learning, ’cause it sounds like a really big concept.
Chris Badgett: I think it’s a mistake when we talk about things like membership sites, we see learning management systems, especially Lifter, as an evolution beyond just premium content that’s locked down. It’s an online course tool, so curriculum and content is organized into a path or a learning journey of sorts. But, there’s more to learning than just content and organization of content. And, tracking of interaction with the content like with reporting in a learning management system. So, that’s what we’re talking about here. We wanted to bring in more human interaction like we’ve done with the private areas add on, where it’s kind of private between the teacher and the student, where they can have a conversation. It’s not just about the content or the reporting about how Johnny did on the quiz. There can actually be coaching, which is kind of how learning happens in the real world. Things get a little bit personalized and unique and tailored to Johnny. If you care about maximum results. If you’re running a factory model, you may not be into things like private coaching or community, ’cause these things take more active involvement.
But, I think, especially in the online space, there’s been a little bit of a … In some ways, over-glorification of passive income. Make money while you sleep, put your marketing, and your product on autopilot and automate everything while you sit back on a beach drinking martinis while people take your course. But, that’s not how … It’s more than just content and people running through a system to reach a learning objective. So, the social learning piece just brings in that place where students can interact with each other and not feel like they’re in a ghost town of a website just all alone, even though they’re not.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, when I hear the word “Social”, I think of social media, which I think probably a lot of people think of. How do you see this social learning plugin in relationship to social media and how much was it influenced by social media, the decision to develop this?
Chris Badgett: It is influenced in some ways by social media, if you look at something like Facebook. The way it works … The reason Facebook works and does what it does and became so popular is because from a grassroots level, it’s designed to mimic how human relationships happen in real life. For example, you know who your friends’ friends are. So, then maybe they might be your friends. Or, you could send your friend a private message. You could call them on the phone. You could talk to them in the street. You could share. Like, when you go out to dinner with friends in real life, the conversation around the dinner table is kind of like what happens on a Facebook post. People are sharing and comments ensue. Good, bad, ugly. The thing is with the internet, once you get that baseline …
Your baseline memetic or sort of mirroring of what’s happening in real life in the online format, you also get a little bit of a bionic superpower, because the internet can do things that in real life we can’t, which isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s worse. For example, like in Facebook, I believe it’s Dunbar’s number that we can really only keep up with 150 relationships in the real world. Otherwise, we just can’t keep track of that many people. I’ve got 2,000 friends on Facebook and …
Ali Mathis: That’s all?
Chris Badgett: I don’t know. I actually probably have a lot less than that.
Ali Mathis: I think the maximum is 5,000 but, go ahead.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, and then your turn into a celebrity or a page.
Ali Mathis: Right.
Chris Badgett: But, then there’s Facebook Groups, which is kind of more in line with social learning, ’cause it’s around the specific topic. In LifterLMS land, it’s around a course or a membership. Just like with Facebook, you could have a conversation with five, two, or one friend at a dinner table. Or, 20 people, 50 people at a party. But, on Facebook the whole world can come to that party, if it’s a hot topic. Which is good and bad. People sometimes lose their filter online, but that’s a whole nother topic. So, social learning in LifterLMS is built on a foundation of mirroring how the best learning experiences happen in the real world, but then once that’s established we’re going for even bigger goals around how do we take this amazing tool that is the internet and connectivity to anybody in the world and leverage that in a learning context?
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, private areas and social learning are both sort of two puzzle pieces of the infinity bundle. How do you see those two things working together in an ideal situation?
Chris Badgett: I think if you’re a coach or a leader or a teacher, instructor, whatever you go by … A lot of times people build different kinds of learning platforms, but theoretically, you can have your cake and eat it, too. What I mean by that is, you could have a passive income online course that sells for say $100 for a course around a certain topic and it’s completely automated and people get a lot of great content out of it. And, you’re using the tools in LifterLMS to create a really engaging experience that people actually complete the course and have doing it. But, with private areas for example, you could offer the course plus coaching. Let’s say that includes weekly training calls, and then conversation around some custom exercises or whatever that comes out of that. Let’s say that’s a thousand dollar program. And, by the way, in that premium offer, there’s also access to a good community.
Or, even in the passive version. Let’s say you can add the community there, too. In that case, you could probably raise the price. It’s a popular quote in the membership site community. When people are talking about successful membership sites, they hear from their students over and over again that people came for the content, but they stay for the community.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: Like in a Facebook group, a good one, it takes on a whole life of its own. Conversations around the clock, 24/7. It becomes a strong community. More than just the person who owned it or started it. Some people might not even know who started or who the admins are on certain Facebook groups. They just kind of took on a life of their own. But, social learning is more like that but focused around a course or a membership. From my own life, if I look at things like some of the outdoor leadership and wilderness survival type stuff. Or, exploring some of the far corners of the globe. When I was doing that with other people, what my conversations with those other people while we were in the learning process was a part of the learning process. And, that’s the entire point of social learning.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). With private areas, we use the example when it launched a lot, we talked a lot about how … For example, it was a great fit for everybody really, but for health and wellness based people. Is there a certain niche that you see social learning being most applicable to and can you give us all some examples of some ways some instructors might be able to … Like, if I have a course now, how would I want to start integrating this to make my course even better?
Chris Badgett: I think it’s really applicable to just about every niche. The only place it doesn’t fit is where privacy just trumps everything. So, if people who are in the course don’t want other people … They don’t want to talk to anybody. They want to get the material, they want to get the content, but they want it to be totally anonymous, social learning is not for that. But, even in some places where you think that might not be the case, there is an opportunity there as long as trust is built. I’ll give some examples. So, the three main niches that I like to talk about are health, wealth, and relationships.
If we look at health, I was just listening to a podcast the other day. If I remember which one it was is the name of it, I will mention it as I’m talking here. But, there was a guy … It was on a James Shramko podcast which is called Superfast Business and he was interviewing one of his members about … This particular member had started a membership site focused around a particular … I believe it was an autoimmune disorder. So, basically a health issue. And, he had found some ways to work with that issue that allowed people to get off medication and get some forward progress. Not heal entirely, but have a much higher quality of life.
Ali Mathis: Gotcha.
Chris Badgett: And, he kind of created a course around that. And then, he had a coaching element involved in that. And then, just when he was about to kill the entire project, because just the coaching was totally out of hand. He had a forum group where people could interact with each other, but they weren’t really using it. And, just as he was about to kill it, because it was totally unsustainable, all the sudden the community, people started talking to each other and using the forum. Then, it took on a whole life of its own. Now there’s leaders in the community who help people and point people back to conversations that had already happened about certain things. That’s an example in the health space.
I think a classic example in the wealth space would be the entrepreneur, especially the newer entrepreneur or startup where if I have a course about how to start freelancing as a WordPress agency, I can create a course like that. And, I can provide coaching about that. And, also it’s possible to have … I know when I was starting with my own agency, I would have loved to have a community of three, five, 10, 1,000, 10,000 other people doing the same thing. And, if we look at some of the private communities around that like Troy Dean’s WP Elevation comes to mind. That’s a huge community. He has courses, membership. I don’t know if he does coaching, but it’s a thriving community of people running WordPress agencies. He calls them the WordPress consultants.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: So, that’s an example. In the relationships space, if we go to something like the parenting niche inside of relationships. You know, first time parents. Lots of questions. You can have a course. One of the most popular books in the bookstore is What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Almost everybody gets that book at some point, if you’re going to become a parent. I don’t know if those guys have a course or not, but they could. And then, a community of people could form around parenting topics and I think that’s an important one too to note. Just like … A lot like the health example I described. But, especially with this parenting example. Communities can be just temporary. So, you’re only a new parent for a little bit.
Ali Mathis: Right. Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Some people have lots of kids and they keep going through it, but they may not need the community that they needed before they had their first one. It might not be as important.
Ali Mathis: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Badgett: I think the concept of a temporary community is also really cool, which ties into something that I believe in with courses and memberships. I’m not actually a fan of lifetime access.
Ali Mathis: Why not?
Chris Badgett: I think it’s cool, but if a course does its job or a community does its job, in most cases it’s not for forever. I mean, like family and stuff like that is forever. But, you’re only an emerging startup for a certain amount of time. Or, you’re only a first time parent for a little bit.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: And, there are cases for lifetime, but I think when we think about things like coaching, private coaching, and private communities, it takes a lot of the stress off of the site owner or the course creator to not necessarily feel like you have to commit for a lifetime.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: Because, if your stuff is good, you’re going to help people get the result they came for and they don’t necessarily need to hang around forever.
Ali Mathis: Right. So, I want to go back to something you said a few minutes ago about having thousands or tens of thousands of people interacting on your site. And, this is a question we hear a lot. So, I wanted to touch on it. What about hosting and system requirements? If you’re going to add something like social learning to your Lifter site, do you need to worry about different system requirements? Do you have a hosting recommendation? Is it going to crash my site if I add it? Those sorts of questions. Can you touch on those?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’s important just at the high level when you look at your website, is it a brochure? Like a marketing site that has like five, 10, 20 pages and a blog on it that helps promote your offline business or whatever? Or, is the website the business? ‘Cause, if the website is the business, it needs the respect that it deserves, which means it needs a good home. It’s more than just a brochure in a rack that you walk by in a way into a restaurant. It is the restaurant. Often times when the website is the business, by the very nature of it, it’s more than just information. It’s more complicated. It’s more of what we would consider a web application.
That being said, that’s why I’m a huge fan of managed WordPress hosting that has a staging environment, backups in place, quality technical support that you can contact when you do have problems. One of the reasons that we built social learning from the ground up … We’ve always integrated with a tool called BuddyPress, which is a free WordPress plugin that kind of creates like a Facebook in a box. We wanted to create social learning from the ground up for many reasons. Mostly to focus it like a laser around the needs of learning and a community for courses and memberships. And, have no extra bloat, if you will.
But, the other reason is when we do that, the plugin can remain as light as it can be. Or, the code. Which means you can … It’s not as hard on the server as something that does more than you need. That being said, if you’re going to have … What makes a website heavy or more complicated, more features. Lots of users. And, lots of user interactions. So, the community is definitely going to create more interactions, so I would simply recommend a scalable hosting solution like WPEngine or your platform that can scale up with you.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: Usually a 10,000 person community doesn’t happen overnight. Usually, it’s your and your mom and your friends. And then, as it goes you’ll notice if your site slows down or the hosting company contacts you and lets you know that you’re getting … You’re starting to use up too many resources and you can grow with you.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: A good managed WordPress host is affordable to get in with and then can grow with you. Then it’s up to you as the entrepreneur to design an offer so that you can cover your expenses as you grow.
Ali Mathis: Okay. So, speaking of BuddyPress, there are a lot of Lifter users out there that are currently integrating with BuddyPress. What happens to them when social learning comes along? Do they have to pick one or the other?
Chris Badgett: That’s a great question. And, there’s also BBPress, which is a forum software.
Ali Mathis: Right.
Chris Badgett: So, I think it’s about thinking about where do you want your community. Do you want it on BuddyPress, which is kind of like Facebook in a box with friends and all these other things? Do you want to just use forums for your community? A lot of people … Not a lot of people talk about this, but I see a lot of dead forums. And, the reason for that is forums are really hard to get going. And, some people, especially non-technical people aren’t really comfortable or familiar with how forums work. Do you want your community not even on your website? You can totally have a course on your site and then have a private Facebook group and then you’re good to go.
Ali Mathis: Sure.
Chris Badgett: Or, you could have something like social learning on your site. If you’re already using BuddyPress or bbPress, you just have to decide. I would say try it out, see what you think. I could definitely see a case for keeping forums, but using Lifter for the social part, ’cause forums are more organized and structured. Whereas … Think about Facebook, it’s just a feed and it just kind of goes and goes and goes. Where a forum can be more structured and organized around topics and that sort of thing.
Ali Mathis: Right.
Chris Badgett: But, BuddyPress is great. It’s not going away as an integration. And, it can work for people who are happy with it. They don’t need to worry about that.
Ali Mathis: Right. Okay. Great. This is the last question. Where do you see the infinity bundle going after now that we’ve launched private areas and social learning, what are the next sort of steps?
Chris Badgett: The next steps are … First of all, we’re always improving on what comes before. So, you’ve likely seen the first version of social learning and new updates roll out. Like, in LifterLMS, I don’t know how many hundreds of versions of software has rolled out. So, things will continue to evolve with those. But, in terms of what comes into the focus after social learning is another key piece about how we learn in the real world, which is through feedback, assessments, and quizzes. So, we’re going to be working on our … Evolving the quiz system to have more question types, both automated and ones requiring manual grading, which then again comes back to how does learning happen in the real world? Well, a lot of times, you can’t automate the student evaluation. There’s an actual instructor, coach, or leader there who is going to qualitatively evaluate whatever the test was on.
Ali Mathis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Badgett: So, we’re going to be unpacking that whole animal next.
Ali Mathis: Cool. That’s exciting. That’s one I see in the community a lot. That request, so. That will be a fun one to unpack.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely.
Ali Mathis: Well, thanks for answering my questions. I give you an A.
Chris Badgett: Thanks. Well, that was a lot of fun. I appreciate that. Those are some good questions. And, if anybody out there listening to this has any questions about social learning, trying to figure out if it’s right for you, just head on over to Scroll down to the bottom of the website. You can see where you can contact us and just shoot us whatever questions you have. In the spirit of social learning, come on over to Facebook and join the LifterLMS VIP Facebook Group, if you haven’t yet. That’s our social community on the web. There’s all kinds of action over there and good conversations to get involved with if you are passionate about online courses, membership sites, learning management systems, and creating engaging learning platforms. Ali, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Ali Mathis: Anytime.
Chris Badgett: We’ll have to do it again next time and you can keep your record.
Ali Mathis: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Chris Badgett: We’ll put it on a leaderboard.
Ali Mathis: You know I’m very competitive. Thanks, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Alright. Well, thanks for listening everyone. And, we’ll catch you in the next one.

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