Learn about how Ryan Moore from Uncanny Automator helps you integrate your WordPress LMS with the most important apps for your personalized learning paths and course designs in this episode of the LMScast podcast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS.
Ryan’s company Uncanny Owl is the creator of a tool called Uncanny Automator. As Ryan describes it in this episode of the LMScast, Automator is really about saving time and creating workflows that make the processes in your business easier. Uncanny Automator allows you to have plugins on your website talk to each other, and even to external websites. This allows you to create sequences of events that trigger based on conditions you set.
At AutomatorPlugin.com you can see a list of all the tools you can use the Uncanny Automator to connect. The reason Ryan and his team built Automator was to create a way to personalize learning and create learning paths that were more user focused so you can deliver a specific user experience based on the students performance and behavior.
Chris and Ryan discuss instructional design in this episode. As course creators, we tend to think of students as one body of users going through your course material, but individual students do interact with your content in different ways.
Ryan got started working with his partner around 18 years ago on course development for internal training purposes. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies delivering staff training around technical topics. Ryan and his partner started working with WordPress to develop their learning solutions. They developed tools for eLearning with WordPress and hired developers to work on projects integrating these tools to create learning solutions.
There are two main categories of courses characterized by the motivation of the students taking them. Intrinsic motivation will serve students interested in courses around topics they are interested in, such as self development, learning a skill, or breaking a habit. Extrinsic motivation for courses usually takes the form of internal training or mandatory training where the goal serves as a qualifier for a job or other external factor.
To learn more about Ryan Moore check out Uncanny Automator at AutomatorPlugin.com to see if Automator may be a good fit for your eLearning site. If you have any questions about Automator feel free to reach out to them through their site as well.
At LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re a course creator, looking to build more impact, income, and freedom. LMScast is the number one podcast for course creators just like you. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of the most powerful tool for building, selling, and protecting engaging online courses called LifterLMS. Enjoy the show.
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. Today we have a special guest, Ryan Moore. His company Uncanny Owl is the creator of Uncanny Automator. You can find that at automateplugin.com. Welcome to the show, Ryan.
Ryan Moore: Thanks, Chris it’s great to join you today.
Chris Badgett: What’s the elevator pitch for Uncanny Automator?
Ryan Moore: Automator is really about saving time and creating workflows that allow more engagement on eLearning sites, so really any kind of sites. It’s about connecting plugins together to create workflows that make things easier. Have plugins talk to each other or even external sites. You can pass data and just make one thing that happens trigger something else to happen.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome.We’re recording this in February of 2019. I’m looking at some of the things that you can connect together with the Automator plugin. There’s DV Press Buddy Press, Caldera forms, Contact Form 7, Easy Digital Downloads, Formidable, Gaming Press, Gravity Forms, H5P, LearnDash, LearnPress, LifterLMS, Member Press, Ninja Forms, Popup Maker, The Events Calendar, WP Fusion, WP Courseware, The WordPress Core, WooCommerce, WP LMS, WP Forms, and Zapier.
Chris Badgett: Pretty much from there, we can get anywhere. But before we go down a technology rabbit hole and accidentally build something that’s too complicated. For what we need, I want to go back to something you have a lot of experience in with the fundamentals of instructional design and course design. That’s really the bedrock of where we start if we’re going to build an online education training, right?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of why we built Automator was really a way to personalize learning and create learning paths that we’re a bit more user focused so that we can deliver the right experience based on somebody’s performance or behavior and a [inaudible 00:02:31] Really looking at how we can interact with that user, find out more and deliver a great experience for them.
Chris Badgett: What is instructional design? What is course design? It sounds like you’re saying not all people are the same. There’s this common thing where we have a customer, a student avatar and then we send them through something. But the reality is a lot of people interact with the same course very differently, right?
Ryan Moore: Absolutely. We’re trying to take a learner centered approach. Everyone is going to learn differently. The same approach is not going to work for everyone. Some people are going to be struggling with some content. Some people are going to be really advanced. It’s about delivering the right type of experience and the right type of interventions to make sure that someone can learn at their own pace and perform as well as they’re able to.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. I think the interesting thing, one of the things I look at in online education world when I’m talking to somebody is where they come from. For me, I came into this world of WordPress LMS, I came as like a WordPress person, a WordPress power user that was freelancing, and then doing agency work. Also as an online business person who had interest in a niche called permaculture, it’s an online gardening thing. That’s my first online course website was in that, and I was doing it to build a business, package training into courses. I worked with experts all over the world to put that together. But I was like a WordPress and then Ecommerce guy who was interested in this niche.
Chris Badgett: You have a background in instructional design and also E learning authoring tools. Is that right?
Ryan Moore: Yeah. Effectively, my partner nice. So it’s two of us that run Uncanny Owl. We started working together doing some course development about 18 years ago, and did that for a little while. Then I spent nine years at a bank doing a lot of course development. So, really around compliance training.
Chris Badgett: That’s internal training for employees.
Ryan Moore: Yeah, exactly.
Chris Badgett: It’s not making money on the internet with your online course, right?
Ryan Moore: No, no. My experience was all for Fortune 500 companies and just delivering internal training to staff on pretty technical topics. When we started Uncanny Owl about six years ago, what we originally planned to do was just to keep doing that, building E-learning courses for Fortune 500 companies using the experience we had, and just to see what we can do. But we started looking at how to showcase the E-learning we were building, and my partner did have some experience with WordPress.
Ryan Moore: At the time we started using WordPress as a way to showcase the E-learning that we were building and E-learning and WordPress was more in its infancy then. There weren’t too many plugins solutions for delivering learning solutions. We were there at the right time, and people were interested in how we were delivering the E-learning as opposed to what we were actually building the courses. They wanted to learn how we built these platforms and how they could do it themselves, what we could offer them.
Ryan Moore: We stumbled into WordPress and then filled in gaps we had around development and how to actually do things properly in WordPress just by hiring people. I still don’t develop with WordPress and my partner doesn’t really either. We have developers now that do build nice E-learning solutions while we focus more on the course experience and the projects themselves.
Chris Badgett: I love that. That is really cool. There’s also a term that pops up which you’re using, which is E-learning. Let me ask for your feedback on something.
Ryan Moore: Sure, yeah.
Chris Badgett: What are the limitations of WordPress in online education or E-learning scenario is what I call the content problem. Because WordPress starts with like a post and then you can stick a video in there, you can stick something where you can download a worksheet or something. You can put an audio player in there. You can embed other stuff or text on the screen, put images in there, maybe have like a quiz post popup or some kind of assignment.
Chris Badgett: But I call that the content problem. It seems like if you have an E-learning first approach, if you were using what’s called E-learning authoring tools like Storyline, Captivate, which I know nothing about. I know what they are, I haven’t used them myself. They start from a different area. Can you define how you’re helping build that bridge between E learning and WordPress?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, it’s interesting. With E-learning authoring tools, you’re generally building courses that are very portable, very interactive. You can do a lot with them that’s scenario based. You can deliver a very personalized learning experience, but it’s very contained. It’s a single unit that you interact with that traditionally goes into an LMS. As you’re doing it, that’s all you’re interacting with, is this single module that you see on your screen and everything is contained within that.
Ryan Moore: Whereas with WordPress, you’re connecting a lot of different things together, and you’re building a WordPress site around different types of media, different types of interaction tools. It tends to be a lot more complex. With WordPress, we see a lot more do it yourselfers, and a lot more maybe linear approaches to courseware where we see a lot more video and things that tend to be static. Maybe not quite as interactive.
Ryan Moore: We do see more use of things like H5P to build simple interactive tools inside WordPress, but we also do a lot with how people can bring in those modules that are more interactive inside WordPress. We do have a plugin that supports that. We don’t see it used as much still as other models especially video based training, and WordPress tends to be most popular that we see. But it is a way that you can take these portable modules and use them in the traditional LMS or in WordPress, whatever makes sense for your context or your audience in engaging with that course.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. Very cool. Let me ask you another question that’s kind of coming from two different worlds. If you’re doing compliance training in a bank or Fortune 500, and I could be wrong in this, but my assumption would be the motivation for the people to complete the content is extrinsic or outside of them. They don’t wake up in the morning necessarily wanting to make sure they’re following all the rules and scanning their badge correctly or making sure they take the HR training that they need to.
Chris Badgett: Whereas, somebody who’s creating an online course more for profit motivations is trying to tap into perhaps a customer who’s intrinsically motivated to learn how to play the piano or start some kind of project or anything like that. Could you speak to how you do course design differently for extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation? I know that’s kind of a crazy question, but do you have any thoughts on that?
Ryan Moore: Sure. I can talk to that a bit. Certainly, the audiences in the organizations we see use WordPress versus an in- house or commercial LMS are very different. When someone is doing compliance training or something they have to do, then they do want to get in and get out quickly and they’re just looking at the deadlines and making sure they have accomplished something.
Ryan Moore: We don’t see a lot of other engagement tools. Whereas with WordPress sites, the interest tends to be around making sure that the learner is interested in finding value in it and engaged in the program. Back to the traditional LMS and larger sites that are doing things internally, we see more measurement around knowledge transfer and measuring is the user accomplishing something? But not really caring about, do they feel that there’s value?
Chris Badgett: Like Gamified or whatever.
Ryan Moore: Yeah, it’s not really about measuring the user satisfaction or how much they appreciated the course or how they will apply it. Whereas on these sites in WordPress that we see where the value really is in how can you apply it to your own business or your own personal learning? That’s when we do see more engagement tools being used. So, reaching out to the learner and trying to get them involved in the process, and sending them emails, checking up on them.
Ryan Moore: There tends to be more facilitation. We do see too, even if it’s automated, with Automator it might be something that’s built into the workflow that looks or seems like an instructor’s reaching out. But we see more live facilitation too. Maybe not as much blended learning necessarily, but at least a focus on getting the user engaged and keeping them as part of it, keeping them in the course. If they’re not completing it, following up with them, finding out why. A lot of that motivation is to get them to buy the next product and to keep selling to them, doing coaching, things like that. But it’s still an emphasis on making sure the learner is finding value and getting something out of the program rather than just measuring their completion and maybe a quiz score or something like that.
Chris Badgett: That’s really interesting. The nuances and the difference. For the compliance, it’s like you got to take this course, I need to make sure that knowledge is transferred. If you don’t, you’re fired, would be motivating. But then on the other side, there’s more like, let’s make sure you’re having fun and enjoying it and staying with it, and happy at the end so you’ll buy my next thing or upsell or whatever, it’s different.
Ryan Moore: Yeah, for sure.
Chris Badgett: Another thing I’d love to get your thoughts on as somebody who’s been in this industry for a while, is the self hosted WordPress LMS website versus a hosted LMS. What types of customers are a better fit for one side versus the other, or even if it’s not type of customer, what variables in the project should people maybe consider one over the other?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, that’s interesting because we deal with that question a lot.
Chris Badgett: I do too. I’m looking for a better answer.
Ryan Moore: I turn a lot of people away for that reason. Generally, I would say it’s harder. It’s harder to build your own WordPress site and to manage it and maintain it and make sure it’s running smoothly and making sure that users don’t get stuck, and that everything’s intuitive because you’re doing a lot yourself. You’re making all these plugins and tools that aren’t necessarily meant to connect together work together cohesively to build a full user experience. That’s hard to do.
Ryan Moore: As benchmarks for when we’re recommending a platform we would look at do you have anybody in-house that can manage these things that understands the course development and that can handle this on a go forward basis? That’s one consideration. Another is number of users. if it’s a small audience, under 100 people, building your own WordPress site probably isn’t going to make a lot of sense. It’s not going to be cost effective on a per user basis compared to paying cloud or commercial LMS or a hosted on LMS.
Ryan Moore: Same thing at the high end of the scale, generally we wouldn’t see WordPress sites with more than 100,000 users that are doing E-learning. It gets really hard to manage.
Chris Badgett: What’s an example of a really big E-Learning site? How many users are we talking about? What kind of company … Maybe not a specific name unless you can, what’s a really big LMS? How many people or users are in there?
Ryan Moore: I had one this week. No, I had two this wee that were over 75,000, which for us is pushing the limit of what we like to see in WordPress. Just in terms of scalability. Because a lot of WordPress LMS plugins aren’t really focused on enterprise and performance and scalability. For us, that’s a top end. Generally, we see WordPress LMS sites with users in the 1000 to 5000 range, I would say. Lower than that it’s not really cost effective and higher than that you might be better off with a dedicated team to manage things for you. I would say really anything over 75,000 is the top end of what we see with WordPress.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. I want to dig in to Automator or a little bit. When I saw this thing come, I got really excited and I started contacting some of my customers. They’d be like you’ve been asking me forever if they happen to already be a MemberPress user to activate courses in Lifter. Lifter has its own access system and E-commerce and everything. So, you don’t really need MemberPress, but there are people who use MemberPress that want to stay with it and they just want to use Lifter for the LMS. I was like, here you go. I’ve been talking to Blair at MemberPress for a couple of years. We haven’t been able to make it work between our companies and our capacities for development. But Uncanny Automator just handled that. I think that’s amazing.
Chris Badgett: I was just really excited to see it. I want to maybe ask your opinion and your advice on how somebody might use some of these particular integrations to create those learning paths or a personalized education. For example, how would I use the events calendar in my LMS, what would I do with that?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, that’s actually one of the best ones. It’s interesting. I’ll step back first, because Uncanny Automator is a bit polarizing. I would say most of the people who are introduced to it, don’t understand the value. It takes a while to explain it. But then there’s people that are using it, it’s the other end of the spectrum where it’s like, I don’t know how I managed without it. It’s the best thing, I’ve got all these ideas for recipes now.
Ryan Moore: In terms of going back to the events calendar with that one, that’s one that is popular for us because the events calendar, for example, didn’t have an integration with Zapier. There were all these things that people wanted to do around events like say tagging our attendees In a CRM, or if you sign up for an event, then also give the person access to a course or something like that. So, just behaviors around it. It didn’t exist. For us, that’s been a big one. Just for the blended learning that we’re doing on a lot of E-learning sites, there tends to be a mix. When you sign up for an event, there’s pre-work you should do in an E learning course before you go to the live session. And then when you attended the session and you’re marked complete, then let’s send a feedback form or let’s enroll you in the post workshop course that’s an E learning program.
Ryan Moore: That one’s particularly powerful because events calendar didn’t really have a lot of integrations with it. So, there’s a gap there in connecting it with other workflows.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome and I also jumped for joy with that as well because Lifter LMS does not have a Zapier integration, but well, you it made happen, which is really cool. You mentioned in your last comment, the concept of blended learning. I hear so many different definitions of what that means. Can you tell me what you mean by that? What is blended learning?
Ryan Moore: Sure. For me, it effectively means that there are offerings both online that are self directed. So, users going through E course on their own, on their own computer and just completely doing everything independently, they’re going through the course by themselves, and then there’s also a live component. There’s a facilitator, whether it’s a webinar or in a classroom setting, it’s some kind of live event where an instructor is delivering content to you and you’re interacting with them during a session. So, the combination of the self directed E-learning with some kind of live event that’s happening.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. What are some other ways that people ask about that you recommend Automator for, what are some other … Besides events, what do you see people wanting to do with Automator?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, events was big for us, but probably not other people. But probably the most popular and powerful things that people are turning to it for are actually Zapier. Even if there is already a Zapier integration with particular plugins, it makes it possible to create combinations of workflows, or somebody buys something and completes a course, and submits a form, then trigger a Zapier web hook which you can’t do otherwise because any other Zapier plugin is just going to be for one specific WordPress plugin-
Chris Badgett: I’m sorry to cut you off but I just-
Ryan Moore: Yeah, it’s fine.
Chris Badgett: Real quick on Zapier’s website, Zapier connects to 1000 plus other apps. So, that’s a lot of options.
Ryan Moore: Yeah. Interesting, we had somebody using Lifter reach out last week. They explained how they were using it, which was interesting. For them, they use Automator as a reporting tool with the connection with Zapier. For them they didn’t care about course performance so much, of course completions, but what’s happening with lessons? What about the smaller bits? How do we get reporting for that? That’s how they were using Automator was creating all these recipes around any lesson that’s completed in Lifter, then let’s send completion data over to a special report.
Ryan Moore: Now, we have all these different reports that we don’t have to build on the WordPress site that show us all this completion data for all different types of users in different ways. That’s a popular one, Zapier one. Another really popular one is form triggers. Basically, we can create conditions and set up workflows based on what someone submits in a form. You choose this, you get added to these different courses and these things happen, or you choose something else and all these other things happen.
Ryan Moore: The form integration’s powerful. Pop ups are good too without resorting to some kind of gamification plugin, you can gamify everything. Anything that happens on the site, you can trigger a pop up-
Chris Badgett: That was called Popup Maker.
Ryan Moore: Yeah, we’re using that integration. Yeah, exactly.
Chris Badgett: That is really cool. For the uninitiated, can you explain the difference between you can integrate all these apps together, what’s the difference between a trigger and an action?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, sorry. Good point. Everything that we’re building in Automator is based around creating these workflows. Basically, a trigger is what starts it. Somebody completes a course, somebody submits a quiz or completes a quiz with a score of 80%. There are things that initiate basically the recipe. And then the actions are things that happen as results of those triggers being performed. Maybe a user completes a course and then we enroll them in the next course in the series. The trigger would be completing our first course and the action would be enrolling them in the next course.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. Very cool. Could you explain a little more what you meant by Zapier with multiple steps? You can do like chaining. What did you call it?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, we don’t see much of that. We don’t. But we do see some scenarios where running one recipe can potentially trigger the next one in the series. I know you can do more of that on Zapier’s site too. Workflows tend to be simpler though. We don’t see a lot of the chaining where one thing happening triggers another thing and another thing. It gets harder to manage too.
Ryan Moore: Usually, for those kinds of scenarios where it is complex, and there are a lot of steps, we’d see more CRM use or marketing automation tool use. Because then to, one missing thing from Automator right now is any kind of time to behavior.
Chris Badgett: Basically five minutes-
Ryan Moore: Yeah, wait a couple of days. One thing happens then wait, then do another thing. You can’t do that with Automator. That’s where CRM integration can be pretty powerful because then if you do have a multi step process, then you can build in those weights on that side of things.
Chris Badgett: If we go back to something we were talking about earlier, what I call the WordPress content problem of what I can put in a lesson or to make something interactive. You integrate with something called H5P, which has always fascinated me. I’m just on the H5P website right now. You can do presentations, interactive videos, games, charts, audio recorders, the list just goes on and on and on. How might somebody use H5P with their WordPress LMS and Automator to do something special? Give us an example to make our content more interactive.
Ryan Moore: H5P is tricky. I’ll add that disclaimer just because the different content types with H5P tend to be developed by different parties. Some of them have what’s called xAPI support and some don’t. Basically, xAPI is a way for us and site owners to track what people are doing inside the H5P modules.
Ryan Moore: Only some of those modules do support it. But as an example, then yeah, what we can do with H5P and xAPI is say someone does do a more interactive quiz that they’ve offered with H5P, and let’s say that we want something to happen if they score 80% or higher in that interactive quiz. We have somebody, a user, that we supported last week with Automator. They did have that behavior. In this case, somebody was completing an interactive video in H5P, and on completion, then what was happening was they would auto complete a course, they would remove the user from that course. They would unenroll them, they would then remove them from a group, add them to a group and enroll them in the next course, then finally redirect them and send them an email letting them know what happened, and that this has been completed now at this point.
Ryan Moore: You can chain all those steps together and build something so that those H5P interactions can make a lot of other things happen. Just to guide the learner in the right place and make the right things happen.
Chris Badgett: That is cool. You mentioned the Tin Can or the xAPI, can you explain that? I know some people in the WordPress LMS come across it and they’re wondering, do I need it? What does it do? I’m trying to wrap my head around it. Can you give us a quick lesson on it?
Ryan Moore: Yeah, absolutely. We don’t see a lot of use generally in WordPress, but it’s effectively a way of tracking what someone is doing inside of an interactive E-learning module. Whether it’s something created with an E-learning authoring tool, like a Storyline or Rise or Captivate or [inaudible 00:27:17] or something on your site with H5P. When you’re interacting with those things, then it generates statements. You can basically capture, okay, this user viewed this slide, they experienced it and we capture that information, or they answered this question, then it sends a statement to what’s called a learning record store.
Ryan Moore: You get all these collections of statements about what your learners are doing. Normally, with a WordPress LMS plugin, you’re just tracking things at a high level. You’re looking at did the user complete this lesson? It gets more granular. You can get more detail if you’re using these authoring tools to say this is what the user did, this is what they clicked, this is what they answered. In some cases, LMS plugins can track that, but still you can get a lot more data with xAPI. It’s stored in a consistent format, and it’s a way that if you’re using external tools like an external LRS, that you can, instead of just tracking what happens on your WordPress site you can track what’s happening with learning on your WordPress site, another learning site that you’ve got, maybe an app that you got that’s not WordPress related. It can collect all that information about learning activities in one place.
Ryan Moore: Most WordPress sites don’t need it or don’t use it. But when the metrics are important, and especially for instructional designers, they might need that information. So, it’s available and it’s really just a way of tracking and collecting data about learning activities.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, thanks for that. I want to encourage you watching or listening to go check out Uncanny Automator, that’s at automatorplugin.com. If you’re a Lifter LMS user, here’s some triggers. If you think about starting something when a user completes a course, enrolls in any course, completes a lesson, completes a section, attempts a quiz, passes or fails a quiz, you can do all kinds of stuff. You could even get into 1000 plus other apps through Zapier if that, which is just mind blowing when you think about it.
Chris Badgett: And then also another app, whether it’s that event registration with Events Calendar PRO or a form gets completed on your website or it goes on and on. For example, Lifter LMS does not have easy digital downloads, the ability to sell your courses, but now you can just connect that with Automator, but you can remove a user from a course, enroll in a course, mark sections, lessons or courses complete, remove user from memberships and Lifter, add them to memberships and even reset quiz attempts.
Chris Badgett: That’s just where we’re at as of this recording. But Ryan, I’m really grateful that you guys built this. Like I said, when I saw it, I got really excited and there was some particular users who have just been hitting us up for all these niche scenarios. I’m like, well, that’s possible now, thanks to this tool. So, thanks for doing that. We get a lot of feature requests. It’s just part of the LMS industry.
Chris Badgett: People, I say, we talk about this a lot on this podcast is these course creators or learning designers they have to wear five hats. They have to be an expert, a teacher, a community builder, a technologist, an entrepreneur. All those different hats require sometimes different tools and different things to be able to talk to each other. You’ve just made that a lot easier. So thanks. It’s good to be joining you on the journey. Thanks for coming on the show. Do you have any final words for the people?
Ryan Moore: I don’t. Check out Automator. If it’s a fit for your site, if you have any questions or learning in general, we do a lot around E-learning and WordPress, it’s all we’ve done for six years. So, there’s a lot on our site if that’s of interest to anyone out there, just in terms of how we approach things and what’s possible. But yeah, just reach out if you have any questions.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Ryan, we’ll have to do it again sometime.
Ryan Moore: Yeah, thanks Chris. That was great.
Chris Badgett: That’s a wrap for this episode of LMSCast. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by Lifter LMS. The number one tool for creating, selling and protecting, engaging online courses to help you get more revenue, freedom and impact in your life. Head on over to lifterlms.com and get the best gear for your course creator journey. Let’s build the most engaging results getting courses on the internet.