A social network can be a real asset to online learning. In this LMScast Joshua Millage and Christopher Badgett talk about BuddyPress Courseware, its relation to learning management systems like LifterLMS, and how social networking can enhance your online courses.
Most of us are familiar with online social networks like Facebook, but have never really defined what they are. A social network can be part of a website, but it is not a website in itself. Its function is to allow groups of people to share information with each other through blogs, activity feeds, visual media, and private messaging.
BuddyPress Courseware is a social network development plugin for WordPress that lets you integrate a social network into your online learning environment. Combined with a learning management system like LifterLMS, students can create profiles, participate in course discussions, and stay in touch with their instructors. You can have closed forums for specific courses, or an open social network for everyone in your system. You can also have free access and paid membership areas.
The BuddyPress platform was developed by John James Jacoby, an original creator of WordPress and its original bbPress forum software. BuddyPress is designed specifically for learning management systems, and is a built-in option in LifterLMS. You can use it to create a variety of groups, subgroups, and forums.
Having a social network is an exciting option, but there are a couple of things you should consider. First, managing one is a lot of work. You have to always monitor activity and keep users engaged, which leads to the second point: Will a social network add value to your courses? If the answer is Yes, then it will probably stay active and engaging on its own. But if you don’t actually need one, it will demand far more direct involvement from you than it is worth.
Your students will determine whether you need a social network for them. If they are passionate about the subjects they are learning, they will want to discuss them with other equally involved students. If you always have a flow of new students, a social network is a great place for them to get oriented and connect with other students right away. Support and mastermind groups also offer engagement and motivation.
One of the most beneficial functions of a learning environment-based social network is that it flattens the organization. Instructors become more accessible to students, and students can interact and collaborate together in-depth, even if their daily life schedules are different. It’s a real community-building tool that enhances learning in many ways traditional classrooms can’t.
You can get more information at the BuddyPress Courseware website, the LifterLMS website, and John James Jacoby’s various websites. If you are using LifterLMS, both BuddyPress and bbPress are integrated and available. And if you haven’t yet experienced LifterLMS you can try a demo here and see for yourself what it can do for you.
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Hello, Everyone. Welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m Joshua Millage, and I’m joined with Christopher Badgett. Today we’re talking about BuddyPress Courseware with LifterLMS. Chris, what is BuddyPress, to start out with, and why do we need to worry about BuddyPress with LifterLMS?
Christopher: Totally. That’s a great question and a great place to start. BuddyPress is essentially a social network plugin for WordPress. What I mean by that is we run a web agency called codeBOX. If somebody comes to us, and they’re like, “I want a social network.” Building something like Facebook can be challenging, but BuddyPress is … It’s a plugin. It builds essentially the same thing. I think we should unpack exactly what is a social network, because for some people a website versus a social network, it may not be totally clear.
Christopher: What a social network is, is you have profiles, you have an activity feed, so you can see what’s new. If you go to Facebook you can see, “So-and-so posted a picture.” “So-and-so completed this course.” “So-and-so just posted this status update.” That’s an activity feed, and you can do that with BuddyPress. It also has its own internal private messaging system.
It has more robust profiles, so if you look at Chris’s profile or Josh’s profile, you could have all kinds of information there to really bulk out your personal profile page. You can also create your own posts within there and have like your own mini blog.
That’s what … If Facebook is a social network, I would think about it mostly like a Facebook … Facebook in a box. Social network in a box. If you combine it with something like LifterLMS, or a learning management system, now attached to your profile is you have your courses and things, but let’s say you’re in a class or a course with a group of people, they could have their own forum.
You could have private messaging between the students, between the student and the teacher. It’s just kind of going deeper. Some people want a passive online course environment. Other people want it full on social. If you want it full on social, you might take a look at integrating with BuddyPress.
Joshua: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. It’s a really robust … It’s a way of being a forum, because I want to categorize it as forum, but you’re saying it’s way beyond that.
Christopher: Yeah. It’s interesting. I don’t know the exact story, but there’s the developer named John James Jacoby. He’s known as Triple J in the WordPress community. He was one of the original guys who created WordPress and bbPress. They’re actually related. BbPress is a free WordPress forum software, and BuddyPress is the social network.
BuddyPress actually has a capital B at the beginning, and bbPress has the lowercase B. They really fit nicely together, but a lot of people, like us for example, if you go to LifterLMS.com/forums, you can see we’re using bbPress to power our support forum, our feature request forum, and our general feedback forum. We’re just using the bbPress part and not creating the full blown social network.
They’re related. If you want your social network to then have groups, subgroups, that have they’re own forum and that kind of thing, you combine the two. They’re designed to just fit nicely together. The same way for LifterLMS, is the BuddyPress Courseware, where you can just snap in the courses to those groups or to that individual user’s profile.
Joshua: Walk me through that. When you say BuddyPress Courseware, what are you talking about there?
Christopher: A lot of people ask us, “Hey, how do I make this more social?” We’re all about engagement at LifterLMS, it’s important to us. To make it work, if you open our learning management system, LifterLMS, on the integrations tab, there’s a little checkbox for BuddyPress. You just click that. With one click, you’re ready to roll.
You’ve got BuddyPress installed, and it’s going to show up under … You log in and now you’ve got a social network under Chris’ profiles, there’s courses, and then I can go and I can jump in into whatever course I’m taking and have either signed up for … If it’s a free thing, or if it’s like a paid membership or if it’s a single online course, which you can do all those variations with LifterLMS, but that’s essentially what the BuddyPress Courseware for … is in the learning management system.
Joshua: If you could give someone kind of a real, live example of how they could implement this … Let’s just start with your gardening courses. How would you merge LifterLMS and what you do at Organic Life Guru? What would that intersection point look like? I have some courses I’m working on. I’m trying to think like … When would I want to do a full blown BuddyPress Courseware build and LifterLMS? When do I want to … When am I ready for that?
Christopher: I think it’s not for the faint of heart. Let me start off with some mistakes to avoid when you talk about building a social network online, whether it has online courses or not. The biggest mistake that people make is they just oversimplify how much work is involved in running and maintaining a social network. Their students really need to be engaged, otherwise you end up with like … You ever walked around a shopping center, and all the shops are kind of empty and there’s not a lot of activity and that kind of thing?
Christopher: You really want to avoid that. That might be closer than you think. You really want to get … make sure that your buy design and your particular target market is going to want to be really engaged and hungry for that social connection. You mentioned the gardening thing. That isn’t the best example, because I’ve got that set up where I’m doing the publisher model and my instructors are outside of what I do, but we just partner up to deliver these courses in a more passive model.
If I was going to run an online course like your … You talk about paleo muffins?
Joshua: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Christopher: If you’re going to do a cooking course about the paleo or just paleo lifestyle courses, I would say that those … That particular target market has a high level of passion. That is really important for having a strong social network, or if you’ve ever been in a very active Facebook group, you know when they’re kind of happening and when they’re dead.
Christopher: Paleo people are really passionate. As long as you have a lot of new people coming in too, typically like we talked about in the last episode about the amount of engagement at the beginning.
Christopher: If you’re doing a good job at selling and attracting new customers, and you have a continuous flow of new people, that’s also another thing that’s going to help a social network thrive. Then give them a reason to communicate, like create like little mastermind groups or support groups.
This is where this social network becomes really powerful. You kind of flatten the organization so that it’s not just like teacher talking to students. It’s like more about the tribe talking to each other.
Joshua: The community behind it. Yeah. I like that, Man. That’s really good. That’s really helpful. Wow. I think this is a pretty cool episode. It’s kind of diving into an area we haven’t talked about a lot. LifterLMS is BuddyPress compatible, and so you just really check a box, enter in some details, and you’re ready to go with BuddyPress, which is really, really cool.
Chris, if people want to learn more about BuddyPress, where should they go to?
Christopher: I would just go to the BuddyPress website itself and look at the forums. Also check out John James Jacoby online. You can find him, various YouTube videos. His own website and stuff. He’s really the face of BuddyPress. There’s also a lot of great articles on WPTavern that talk about BuddyPress.
I’ll just throw out one tip out there. If you haven’t … If you want to kind of ease into the social network thing, LifterLMS is also bbPress compatible, which is the forums, and if you’re using the … A lot of people, once they get into LifterLMS, they realize that the … our membership component is like some of the other ones out there like WishList Member, aMember and so on, we have all that functionality, plus LMS.
If you just want to bring a forum into a particular membership level, you can do that. It will be protected inside that membership level. That’s an example of pulling in, like type of content that may or may not be LMS related into a membership level. You can try with the forum. You can test the waters with the forums to see if you get enough engagement. It kind of takes on some momentum energy of its own. If that’s looking good, you can step it up into a full-blown social network. That would be my tip.
Joshua: Cool. Right on. You can find all of this and more on the website. LMScast.com. We’d love to have you engage with us over there and leave us a comment on this episode and let us know what you think about LifterLMS and BuddyPress. If you’re going to build anything, we’d love to hear about what you’re going to build. Without further ado, we will see you next week.