How To Build Online Communities Without A Membership Plugin

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Joshua Millage: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the next episode of LMScast.

My name is Joshua Millage. I’m joined today like I am every day with Christopher Badgett. Today we’re talking about membership and how that gets intertwined with the LMS things that we’ve been talking about over the past few episodes. Really the focus is how do you build an online community without membership plugins and is it even possible?

Chris, with that, why would anyone ever even need membership functionality in the first place?

Christopher Badgett: Let’s start at the beginning. If you think about traditional education, oftentimes you have to enroll in a class, you have to pay money, and then you’re allowed in the room. Essentially that’s what we’re doing in the online environment. In the WordPress world, a whole ecosystem of premium plugins have evolved to provide this kind of restricted access to content.

If you look at it just topically, in a learning management system, things like courses and modules and lessons, the downloads within those lessons, the videos, the audios within those lessons, whatever type of media format you like to teach with, on some level in a lot of use cases needs to be protected, whether you’re offering an educational thing or maybe it’s a private, internal corporate training thing or internal process for your small business, you may want to protect that. It may be proprietary.

The whole function of the membership element is to lock down content. Like we talked about in the previous episode, there’s a lot of times where you don’t want to lock down everything, and it’s really important for membership, for you to be able to have fine grain controls about what’s up and what’s closed, who gets access to what.

Joshua Millage: That’s right, that’s right. I think there’s a distinction that we need to make. What is the difference … Let’s even rewind back a little bit farther. What is the difference between these membership things that we see out in the world like iMember360, WishList Member, or Memberium, there’s tons of other ones, and then what we’re trying to do with our plugin and what others are trying to do with the Academy theme and WPLMS and that sort of thing.

What’s the big difference in your mind?

Christopher Badgett: Well, this is one of those areas where with our premium WordPress plugin, LifterLMS, where we’re transcending and including what has come before. Learning management system, just that piece alone without talking about restriction, is about courses and lessons and quizzes and things like that, but the membership part is …

There’s this whole other part of the online world, especially within the internet marketing community or certain niche communities that are pretty evolved with internet marketing like fitness and health. They created these things called membership sites, where people pay to get access and then they come inside the private member’s area once they have their username and password, and they pay their money or register, if it’s a free thing. Now you can get access to this content.

What we’re building, it’s called a learning management system or an eLearning platform. Another name for it would be Membership Site 3.0 or whatever. What has traditionally happened in membership sites, once users get into the membership area, is they can now access a bunch of pages and content, and there’s usually a good bit of organization to it, but it’s not really fleshed out with all the full featured power of what you can do in a true e-learning platform like we do with the LifterLMS plugin.

An example of that would be really awesome integration for teachers to have assignments, students to submit things. An automated deal where a student gets a certificate or other kinds of badge and gameification throughout it. We really focus in what I would call membership 3.0 of just leveling up what has come before in terms of what happens when people get through that membership wall.

Joshua Millage: Yeah. That’s awesome. I like that. What are some of the pieces of the membership functionality that we’re going to take care of?

Christopher Badgett: I think it’s helpful because this membership site word or membership is vague and abstract, so to get into the nitty gritty, you want teachers to be able to have access to certain things like data and reports on how the students are progressing. That’s a user role, what we say in the development world, this user can get to this parts of the site and see these types of things.

Another example of a user role would be, this student has only registered or this student has only registered and purchased these two courses, but not these three courses, so it ties into the e-commerce element as well, because if they haven’t bought it, they can’t see it. That kind of thing.

The other part of it, that’s really the main part is just syncing it up with payment and then also syncing it up with who gets to see what.

Joshua Millage: Right, yeah. That’s the thing. There’s adding in the assessments and the courses to, I think, really make it a different solution, because you have the aspect of … A lot of the membership sites, and I think we’re going to get into this in the next episode, they allow you to put content behind a pay wall, and then that’s it.

Christopher Badgett: Yeah.

Joshua Millage: That’s it. That’s all you get. I think what we’re trying to do is actually help people see yes, you can pay for it, yes you can put it behind a pay wall, but we also allow for a whole other set of functionality to really see whether or not someone’s learning. I don’t want to get into too much of that right now, but we will get into that into a new episode, because it ties right together.

I think one of the things that we’ve done with the LifterLMS plugin that people can learn about, all of that information you’ll hear us referencing a lot, but you can learn a lot about that at We’ve designed it to not need any third-party plugins.

Chris, can you talk a little bit about how that works too? I think a lot of people are like, “Oh, is this going to be like Academy theme and then I’m going to have to go grab WooCommerce to bring in eCommerce and this, that, and the other?” No, the answer’s no, but explain a little bit more about that.

Christopher Badgett: That’s a great example. It’s just like the eCommerce situation, where we’re building a shopping cart as part of the plugin, if you want to use it and charge for your courses. You don’t need a third-party plugin, and you don’t have to bring in a lot of extra code that you don’t need.

Traditional membership site software, or plugins for WordPress have a lot of functionality, but you don’t necessarily need all that stuff if its not related to courses and lessons, and really extra features that bloat the codes, slow the site down, may be hard to integrate with other parts of the site and that sort of thing.

We’re building in the membership functionality into the LMS plugin, so that you get all the pieces you need to integrate with eCommerce and protect your content, and nothing else. It’s really an exercise in minimalism when it comes to membership to just keep that code nice and clean, meet the needs, and then move on to focusing on the true power, which is that engaging content inside the LMS components.

Joshua Millage: Right, then the other part of too, because it’s a plugin, it allows you to brand it, though the flexibility in visual customization is huge because it’s not, we’re not forcing anyone to snap into our design, which I think lends to a much more unique experience for the course instructor as well as the student. There’s a lot of huge, huge benefits.

What else, Chris? What is it about membership? We’re talking about all this, but I think the other part of it is we are community based people. People have been that way, you know this, you spend a lot of time in nature, so you observe natural things all the time, how dogs pack up into communities. I don’t think we’re that far, we’re obviously different than dogs; I don’t think we’re that far different in terms of being tribal. How does that affect just that high level theory of being unified in a community? How does that play over into what we’re talking about today?

Christopher Badgett: If you want to read a great book on that, I would recommend to anybody listening, “Tribes” by Seth Goden. He taps into a lot of those kind of issues from a top level, but the power of the LifterLMS plugin is that how we started this episode talking about traditional education, you pay for a course, you get in the room with the teacher, you’re allowed access into that member’s area, the really fascinating this is what happens when you do that online in a sense that you can build these tribes of people all over the world with really niched-down interests. They become members of something. They may share similar demographics, or they may be very different but just have a passion or a more psychographic similarity to each other, but you can build really powerful tribes from people scattered all around the world in this online education.

I think it’s really important to mention here that we’re big believers in blended learning, and let me unpack that a little bit in the sense that we don’t think that online education should replace in-person stuff. It can in some cases, and in some cases it’s not realistic, like for the distributed tribe model that we were just talking about to have an in-person component, but if you’re a teacher or somebody in an organization who needs to create training, some of that may be in person, some of it may be in the online component. You can take that tribal experience and have it in person, but also have elements of it online.

To kind of flip that around, if you’re a little heavy on the online side of your learning, maybe you have events, like a live event once a year,  like Chris Guillebeau does with the World Domination Summit. That’s an option too.

Just to talk about that, just a little sneak peek into what’s going to be in the plugin as far as blended learning goes, we’re also working at integrating Google Hangout functionality into the plugin so that you can, even though you may not physically be in the same room, all the information doesn’t necessarily have to be passive content or pre-recorded videos and things like that. It can have a live component just like the Skype window between you and I now, but with people inside your members or LMS community.

Joshua Millage: That’s great, that’s great. Chris, I want to wrap it up by saying if anyone has questions about the differences between LMS and membership, they can reach out to us. They can reach you at [email protected], they can reach me at [email protected], and if they want to get to know this plugin a little bit more, read about some different things, they can always go to

Chris, anything else you want to add about the plugin or anything we talked about today?

Christopher Badgett: I just want to give a sneak peek into our next episode, and that’s just going to be … It’s going to be a little controversial. It’s going to be about the dirty little secret of membership sites, so if you enjoyed this one and you want to know what I’m talking about, check out the next episode, and you’re really going to like it, because we’re going to unpack one of the most unique parts of our plugin, which is the engagement piece.

Joshua Millage: Right on. All right, until next week. We’ll see you soon.

And if you’re an already successful expert, teacher or entrepreneur looking to grow, check out the LifterLMS team’s signature service called Boost. It’s a complete done for you set up service where your learning platform goes live in just 5 days.

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