Episode 345

The WordPress Education Ecosystem Challenges and Opportunities with Courtney Robertson

Learn about the WordPress education ecosystem challenges and opportunities with Courtney Robertson in this episode of the LMScast podcast hosted by Chris Badgett from LifterLMS.

The WordPress education ecosystem challenges and opportunities with Courtney Robertson

A trend we see in online education is where the value is often not in information, but in the curation of information and the results people achieve. Courtney shares her experience with that in this LMScast where she breaks down how she and her team contribute to the WordPress core product and what evolutions she’s seen in the online space over time.

There are many different types of users in WordPress, including general site builders and users, those who build sites for others, users who work with code, and users who don’t. So the challenge of teaching all of them is what Courtney and her team are tasked with. And then added to that is different learning styles, languages, and various accessibility needs, too. It’s a whole lot of training content. Courtney has been teaching WordPress for a long time, and they often run through user experience and then move on into development.

WordPress is an open-source software itself, and Courtney would love to see the education training for it be just as available as reading a post or joining a Slack channel. Making sense out of all of the training, updates, and many learning styles is a challenge with such a diverse and ever-evolving ecosystem. With so many people in the community, there’s never really been a shortage of resources to learn about WordPress or anything online. But there is a need for how to sequence the learning, how to do it in an order that makes sense, and how to provide the resources for all stages of the learning journey from “I need to learn how to set WordPress up” or “Somebody built it for me, and I need to know how to make a post” all the way up through “I’m a full-stack senior dev training a team of people and need to continue my own learning journey.”

You can find out more about Courtney Robertson at CourtneyEngle.com. She also does a ton of great work over at Learn.WordPress.org. You can also find Courtney on Twitter at @CourtneyR_dev.

And at LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking to create, launch, and scale a high-value online training program. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of LifterLMS, the most powerful learning management system for WordPress. Stay to the end. I’ve got something special for you. Enjoy the show.

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett. I’m joined by a special guest, her name is Courtney Robertson. You can find her at courtneyengle.com. She also does a ton of great work over at learn.wordpress.org. Welcome to the show, Courtney.

Courtney Robert…: Hello. It’s great to be here

Chris Badgett: Long-time listener, now a guest on the show. And you kept popping up in social media around topics related to WordPress and learning and instructional design. I knew eventually our worlds were going to collide and we were going to have a conversation, which I’m really excited to do today. Let’s talk about WordPress and the challenges of learning it.

There’s advanced users, there’s beginning users, there’s beginner developers, there’s advanced developers, there’s the agencies and the freelancers that make money serving clients in this niche. And there’s product companies like mine that need to be able to operate in this ecosystem. How do you frame in the learning curve challenge of WordPress with all these different user types?

Courtney Robert…: Oh, man. And then add to that different learning styles, languages, human languages that is, and various accessibility needs too. There’s a lot going on with that. It’s a whole lot. I have been teaching WordPress for a long time and we often will run through user things and then move on into development. That was the case when I taught in high school and boot camp and a few other places.

To meet such a vast array of needs, we have to think that, just like WordPress, the software keeps evolving. We need to keep evolving the type of training that we have available. We need to keep that training very current and to make it as accessible as possible. I’m really passionate about making sure that people from all walks of life don’t have any barriers to entry in this process.

If we open-source the software itself, then the education and the training for that, I really would like to see just as available as it is reading a P2 post or joining a Slack channel. Making sense out of all of that. There’s never really been a shortage or at least not since the very early years has there been a shortage on resources to learn about things.

But there’s also been maybe a need to be filled about how to sequence that, how to do it in an order that makes sense and how to provide the resources for all stages of the learning journey from “I need to learn how to set WordPress up” or “Somebody built it for me and I need to know how to make a post” all the way up through “I’m a full-stack senior dev training a team of people and need to continue my own learning journey” and what does that look like?

Because the software keeps changing and the tools that we use keep changing with it. So being able to account for that process I feel is just as valid and important in getting the community’s feedback and the community’s input around what needs to be there in a way that lifts all ships, right? A rising tide can lift all ships. So making that more accessible to the public at large I think is really valuable.

Chris Badgett: So what’s the mission of learn.wordpress.org? Why was that created? What is its purpose?

Courtney Robert…: Right. Behind the scenes, I’m quickly referring to how we word this one the training team. The training team is one of the official make.wordpress.org teams. And we have been around since 2013. We do similar work to Docs, but we are a little bit different in some of our process.

The mission for the training team I think helps set the context for Learn. The mission on the training team is that the WordPress training team helps people learn to use, extend, and contribute to WordPress through synchronous and asynchronous learning as well as downloadable lesson plans for instructors to use in live environments via learn.wordpress.org.

So the Learn platform can help folks from direct learners to meetup organizers to people that facilitate training for others. It’s kind of vast, and that’s why it’s such a big, long-time-coming platform for the team.

So Learn launched, learn.wordpress.org launched in the end of 2020. And the training team had been responsible for a lot of the lesson plans. We saw during COVID the need for some other types of formats to come along since we weren’t having as many word camps and word camps were not in person.

So also on Learn, you will find video-based workshops, and those workshops have an extension of discussion groups. They often happen in Zoom, but sometimes they’re happening on Slack-based chat messages as well. And the content that we see that’s there is in the video workshops, the intended audience is the direct learner.

We see people watching at any hour of the day, participating in chats and the discussion groups at all types of hours available as well. But also, I believe that some of the meetup groups have shown the video as part of their meetup time when they perhaps want to cover a specific topic.

Lesson plan area, we have seen programs like Girl Develop It over the years. And I myself have used it in a high school and a boot camp setting for training students through that program. There are a lot of ways that those lesson plans can be used and they are just the same as the licensing around what we see on wordpress.tv, as far as anyone could come and use it and make use of it.

It would be falling within the… I don’t know the technical terms. I’m not sure if it’s under Creative Commons or GPL type of things, but that spirit of people are free to come and make use of this.

Chris Badgett: That is awesome. How does video fit into this? I just go into my story and I also see it a lot in people in the LMS community that I’m around and membership site-building and all this stuff. I learned WordPress first by going to YouTube and watching a tutorial. And I see there’s a lot of action on YouTube, but people are often left like it’s incomplete or they don’t have the right foundation or it’s a video for a developer but they’re a regular user.

How does video fit into… Or let me just broaden it out to different learning styles too. I love video. My business partner, Thomas Levy hates video. He wants to read because he’s a developer and video is too slow for him. How does multimedia and all these different options come together in a cohesive way?

Courtney Robert…: Yeah. Great question. So at this time, at the time of this recording, we’re actually going through a UX audit. That means usability user experience audit of the learn.wordpress.org platform. We have the lesson plans. We have these video workshops. We have a lot of types of users of the platform or potential types of users spanning many different career roles, many different learning journeys, all of that.

What we know for sure that we need is more of a choose-your-own-adventure approach to how people navigate through the site and access all of these materials. We know the opportunity for these materials is really, really big, but what we need to do is improve the journey of, I’m new here and what can I get into? What can I learn? Let me pick and choose where I need to start. Identifying what I already know and what I would like to learn.

When you don’t know what you don’t know and you face maybe things that aren’t in the best flow for you, it makes it not the best experience. So we’re working on that part of the process and we invite people to come and help shape that and form that. But to address different learning styles that are there, we know that some people learn best by literally going to the docs and reading the docs.

And so our team has been working more closely with the WordPress Docs team that is responsible for what we see at wordpress.org/support or developer.wordpress.org. They’re responsible for the content there. So we’re working more collaboratively with them.

We often refer to their material as source material for what we’re doing, thus putting a high priority on having their material up to making sure everything that has come out in a recent release has been tracked. Likewise, some people learn best through video, some people learn in short bursts, and some people learn with just “Let me kick back and absorb this for a long period of time.” Some learn through discussion groups and the ability to interact with others.

We’re working towards having more user learning styles addressed. As a public educator, I had college coursework that helped me learn about how to learn. And people learn in so many different ways. I think there’s between four to eight different types of learning styles. Some people are tactile, “Let me do the thing.” So there I think about some of the places where folks learn how to code and they make you do the code, go write the code and it will auto-check you in that process.

I don’t think we’re going to see that real soon with something like Learn, but some people learn by doing, some learn by hearing, some learn by seeing it, some learn by talking about it, by reading. There are many ways to go about this approach. So it’s definitely in the vision of having that learning style.

And all the LMS people will completely relate and understand this, especially if your content is about technical things, being able to easily swap out that as a release changes some feature, down to the nuances of… In WordPress, we see that the latest release changed the block toolbar. We have screenshots of that everywhere. Now we need to go and change that everywhere.

And so that’s easy in a picture, sort of. We need volunteers to do that kind of thing to help. But for videos, that means rerecording. And so chunking it down so you can drop and swap little pieces would be really important there.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. One of the benefits of running a podcast is I get to get free consulting. So I’m going to ask you a question. So LifterLMS is almost seven years old. And many of our users and customers, we’re their first introduction to WordPress. So not only do we have to help them learn our tool, we have to help them learn WordPress. And some are already familiar, but many are brand new. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve licensed the WordPress 101 course from Shawn Hesketh over at WP101.

Courtney Robert…: Love that. Used that with my students, in fact.

Chris Badgett: It’s great. It’s great. Shawn’s a great guy. And the content is basically like a tour of the dashboard, so this is what everything does. And it kind of lays a foundation. And then we have our own quick-start course where we teach the 5% of the tool that is the most important to get people moving.

But then the challenge comes up that because WordPress is so infinitely customizable and all these tools are interoperable with each other and you can make all kinds of different use cases, the learning, it becomes more challenging. What advice do you have for a company like ours where we’re trying to help people onboard and then just help them grow? But the path ahead, there’s infinite options of what they’re going to do with the tool.

Courtney Robert…: Yeah, that’s a good one. So one of the things that I love about WP101, and I’ve also used the WP101 plugin that adds some additional extra and allows me to embed those videos inside of a LearnDash or LifterLMS type of approach. I had used LearnDash previously. So that is amazing in that not only is it about WordPress itself and what comes core in WordPress, but it extends if you install Jetpack, if you install Beaver Builder, if you install this with that, you get specific customized coursework that is about that as well.

And I enjoyed being able to make use of that when I was teaching students up through using a page-builder approach. Here’s all the extras and the most popular and common things, here’s ninja forms and how to make use of that. Focusing in on a few that are the large players or that you see people commonly interfacing with I think is really valuable.

Also, continuing, I listened to the interview with Vito right before we went to record actually, wrote WP feedback. And so I was really struck by how he said chunking down again and swapping out his content. So he has training for that particular service available for the clients and making sure it gets in front of people’s faces that they have added new features and to their new features to learn about.

So synchronous with the release ships, now you need to update your docs and your video coursework and any other type of knowledge-based material altogether in cadence with that release.

And I think when the release has happened and products and services change what is possible when we add new features, in those release announcements, it’s a really key place to let the developers that are using your stuff know and let the end clients that are entering the data or whatever they’re doing with it also know, “Here’s where you could go find the training related to this new feature.”

Making sure that it’s continuing to remind them we’ve added or included, we’ve updated, we’ve whatever has happened. And so getting in front of their faces with a kind way of saying, “Continue. We’ve answered this request and here it is.”

Chris Badgett: Very cool. Very cool. Want to say something among the development community in WordPress is… Well, I’ll just use Thomas’s, my example of my partner. He’s very into React and JavaScript, and he just charges ahead into the future. Even when the WordPress docs are not totally there, he’s able to manage and just be on that cutting edge. And I love that about him.

I see a lot of other developers struggle with change. What can we do to… I guess I’m just trying to get a sense of the health of the development community in a fast-evolving product, whether it’s the block editor, whether it’s React or whatever the technology of the day is where we just… We’re in a complex, adaptive system. And how do we move WordPress forward without leaving people behind and solving this learning in a rate of change that’s accelerating? How do we do that?

Courtney Robert…: Yeah. So my high school teaching experience was great in that I got to work with youth who… They were in some ways a blank slate, right? So they didn’t know one way or another, and it was a clean slate to be able to help train them. I’ve also worked in corporate training and providing training to my clients, and they’re used to one way, think about classic editor versus block editor. “And I was used to doing it this way, and I don’t want to learn a new thing.” Right?

And the same happens even if you’re on the programming side of things, “I was used to doing it this way and now there’s this other way. And how do we deal with all of that?” In that process, I think having material that has the input of what’s happening in the ecosystem, not just the team has a good idea and so the team does a thing.

I come from a vo-tech as a high school teacher, so my job was to create what the curriculum should be. But I did that with advisors in the context of a career technical school or a vo-tech. And so we had employers in the industry that said, “Here’s what we’re hiring for and what we need. Can you help get us the people ready?” And they’re thinking a few years down the line, as far as the job pipeline goes and how they’re going to train people and work with them.

They had a very vested interest in what we were doing in our classroom. They had hiring needs for that. Likewise, the ongoing professional development is something I’m still kind of kicking around. I spent some years working for The Events Calendar when it was owned by Modern Tribe. Loved my journey through that process. It really helped me understand both the products side of the company at that point, which was The Events Calendar and its sub-products, right? Its sub-plugins and SaaS offerings.

But also, I got a little peek into the agency life too and what that development journey looks like. I didn’t necessarily work in that side, but I know that there was ongoing training, ongoing evolving ways of doing things. And so learning the languages is a great step in that direction, and we certainly can work on that.

And I think within the context of Learn and the training team and things, we have ideas around teaching the actual programming languages themselves and doing justice to the creators as well, right? They’re open-source projects themselves. And so positioning things in a way that, “Do you want to get more involved?” Here’s how those projects, whether it’s the language, the build tools, all of the code sniffers and all of the geeky stuff, right? How to benefit. A rising tide lifts all ships again there.

But I really would value the feedback of employers and also those that are doing ongoing training and within the company, getting a picture of how are you continuing your own development. As a teacher, I know that I had to go back for more college classes pretty much non-stop. It’s part of the education profession. I know that the medical world faces this. And in technology, we know that things are constantly evolving, we’re the reason that it is. But also, we need to help each other through that process and make sure that we’re continuing to learn and that we account for that journey.

A lot of folks will think that creating something, oh, it’s just easy. You just do this and this and this. And as an educator, I say, “Wait, time out. That’s not easy for some people.” I had a huge obstacle myself, even though I had… It was a lone, single, simple C college programming course. I had a hard time figuring out what I was doing in PHP and it wasn’t simple, and there wasn’t materials. And even with an abundance of materials available now, there’s no logical flow to find it, especially if you’re turning to sources like YouTube for your training.

If you respond to video, there’s a lot of good stuff on YouTube, but there’s also things that are very opinionated or not timely anymore, or could just overlook… Think about if you’ve been in… Well, even in high schools, but specifically, I think about in colleges. The professors I had that were not part of the education program and were never taught how to be good teachers, you could tell.

And so we make it look easy to the end-user, that’s our goal. The person that’s learning should feel like it’s easy to learn. There’s details involved in making it feel easy for that person to learn.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I want to dig in a little more on an area you were talking about, which is vocational training. So learning in order to get a job, ideally, a well-paying job that you love. If we look at the WordPress ecosystem, it’s extreme… In my experience and also one of the ways I learn is I do masterminds with other WordPress product owners and things like that, so we’d learned together, we discuss our challenges and whatnot.

But for myself and many others that hire WordPress developers, it is extremely challenging to find people with the adequate skillset for what we’re looking for. It’s extremely challenging. And we’re happy to pay for it. To me, there’s a disconnect. There’s this demand, but then there’s this wall of getting people to a certain level across multi areas of skillsets that they’re going to need. How do we solve this in WordPress? Is that on us as a company to create the training? Is it on the community? Is it on Lynda.com, Udemy? How do we solve this?

Courtney Robert…: All of those programs are really great. I’ve taken the LinkedIn Learning stuff. I’ve taken Udemy. I have gone through Treehouse. There’s a lot of really good resources, right? What we don’t have is we’ll never get to a point where everybody has a universal “Here’s what we want for a tier-2 tech support: somebody that knows a little code.” Or “Here’s what we want for our entry-level devs.”

But we can’t get to a generally accepted spot, I feel like, that would be reasonable. The methods of training people have right now, they could go the traditional route of I’m going into a college computer science program. And there, you will find a solid foundation and understanding of programming concepts, but perhaps a lack in open-source awareness or specific languages and frameworks within those.

So I don’t know of a lot of places that would be yet teaching React at a college placement. JavaScript, sure, it’s been around for 26 years, but they may also be getting a lot of other languages too. And so at a college point, I think a computer science degree can be super valuable at understanding how to think about programming and just how to be a good learner.

Also, if we’re looking at boot camps, which I have instructed, I was a faculty member for Code Differently Bootcamp for about a year and pioneered their WordPress Development boot camp program. I am hard to find any other boot camps offering WordPress that is developer-oriented.

I find a lot that are more towards content marketing and creating your own business out of that program. So I find a lot of how to use WordPress, the software, not planning for people to start dabbling with plugins, themes, etc., other than to pick one out and use it.

So if the goal is to hire for companies that are creating a plugin or a theme or a SaaS that interfaces with WordPress, the resources aren’t… There’s not really a great job pipeline for that at this time. Meaning there’s not a great span of an agreed-upon set of skills that we needed an entry person to get.

And also, a lack of PHP education, unless you’re specifically looking at Laravel. So Laravel is another PHP framework. There’s not a lot happening as it relates to PHP in boot camps. There is a mindset of “We’re going to train people with a generally front-end mindset.” The catch is that front-end devs in WordPress, entry front-end devs still need to understand nuances about things that would otherwise be thought as backend, just to put a theme together.

So for the WordPress people that understand this part, the template hierarchy would be almost bordering into what a boot camp would consider backend, even though the goal is to put the WordPress theme together for a very front-end experience. How that gets assembled, people that are not familiar with a content management system or WordPress, in general, have a disconnect happening mentally at that point.

And it’s an area that I would love to see the community rally behind and say on Learn, “Hey, here’s what we need.” It’s a spot that I think would help level the… Help people that aspire to get into this, have a clear roadmap of how to do that.

I know that recently, Matt Mullenweg also indicated that contributing to open-source is a great way through that process. I’ll tell you the way that I learned and joined the training team, foolish, silly me in 2014 was all about post formats. And we saw that post formats weren’t as big of a deal in WordPress as we eventually thought.

But that was actually how I learned PHP more proficiently was to figure out how to write a lesson plan for a user and how to write a lesson plan as a developer wanting to implement that. And so it helped me learn in that process too. It was pretty interesting.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Is there a certificate… You mentioned getting into some badging or certification. What do you see in WordPress in regards to those things? And like you said, there’s a lot of stuff around teach you how to become a freelancer or agency owner and stuff like that, but on the development side, what’s out there?

Courtney Robert…: Yeah. So WordPress already uses badges if you contribute to various Make teams, and it will also note if you have spoken at an event. So if you look at some profiles, someone has worked on a plugin, they might be the developer of a plugin. I think there’s one for if you’re a support staff for a company that owns plugins, there’s a way to file that.

The same thing is true with themes. If you contribute to the WordPress.tv team, there’s a badge for working on that team, as opposed to being a speaker at a WordCamp who has their video published on WordPress.tv. There are badges already in place. And during last year’s State of The Word, which is Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, his address to the WordPress community. And this is an annual address that would be considered really his most important or significant one addressing the WordPress community.

I asked him that very question like where are we going with this with Learn and what are his thoughts around that? We have had discussions over the years about WordPress certification and just having a flat-out certification process could be heated and have a lot of opinions because then employers need to enforce that.

If on the flip side, there are badges that coincide with completing a course; say that we, on Learn, have actual courses aside from lesson plans or video workshops, putting together an entire course program or perhaps even bigger than a course. So if you think about, again, I refer back to my school years myself, if I were a high school student in one particular grade, I had multiple courses that year. Right?

So if you have a whole series of something, by the end of that… I’m dodging naming anything because we’re still figuring out what that name of that should look like. But if you have multiple courses that roll up to something, then having a badge for that something might be really helpful on the employer side of things when they’re reviewing profiles for who they want to hire, checking to see if people have the skills that they have, giving people ways to continue their own personal learning journey through that process. All of that is wide open and we’re green-lighted to continue working on that.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. We have that feature in LifterLMS, by the way, we call them course tracks. And some people turn that into a degree program, some people call them learning paths, learning journeys. It goes by a lot of names. So I get the challenge there.

Courtney Robert…: Yeah. Naming things can be hard. I’ll tell you, even the word “chapters” could refer to a segment of a video or it could refer to the five minutes about that one little piece of that entire course. [crosstalk]

Chris Badgett: Something we’ve learned… Just a pro tip in development that we’ve learned in building a product is giving people the ability to rename something is powerful. Some people are like, “I don’t want to call it a course, I want to call it a class or I want to call it this other thing. It’s a module. It’s a section. It’s a chapter.”

I wanted to dig in on a concept that I’m super passionate about, and I’m sure you have some thoughts around it, which is social learning, both in this context with WordPress. And there’s a couple of different versions of that. There’s the in-person thing, which makes WordPress really special with meetups and WordCamps and these kinds of things, and other niche WordPress events that happen both for-profit or in a more nonprofit style.

And then there’s all the online stuff from forums to Facebook groups, to websites and all kinds of stuff where there’s content, but there’s also conversation. What are your thoughts around social learning? How does it work? And maybe what does WordPress do really well there? Because it’s the bizarre, not the cathedral or whatever. So there’s all these conversations happening all over the place, not just from the Pope.

Courtney Robert…: Right. Yes, exactly. So WordPress does this really well. People are all making their own training and I love it. And I’m not in any way saying we should ever detract from that. I think there’s a lot of value in that. I also think about all the ways that I learn.

As I was going through the boot camp, I was also reading Brad Williams’ book about WordPress Plugin Development. So there were books studies that I did. There were video courses that I took myself through that process to evaluate what my students could use and need in their journey. I looked at docs articles, I looked at this, I looked at that. The more formats that I could refer to, the more ways that I could reinforce my learning journey.

So sometimes a little bit of repetition but in different formats can be really valuable. When you hear somebody teach the same thing, but in several different ways or different people teaching roughly the same concept, you start to gain an appreciation or a deeper level where eventually, you hit the point where you know it and you don’t have to think as hard to get to the answers.

I think that a lot of that is really valuable, I think also having the social side of it. WordPress is great at gathering people in person. When we can get through the coronavirus affecting the entire globe, I really look forward to being back in person.

And I’ve shifted roles recently into working at GoDaddy Pro in field marketing, which means we sponsor events and I handle some of the sponsorship of things. I also get to go to events and, oh man, I can’t wait for that to be a good option for me again to do that. I joined the training team because we had a contributor day and I met people and I learned about how the teams work and how the stuff happens.

So I learned a lot by going to an event, hearing the people present at the event. I learned a lot by talking to people in the hallway. I learned a whole lot by joining one of the teams and getting to interact in person with them. I also think that there are times in spaces where I have had some years where I had to step away from things. I had children and I couldn’t get to meetups.

My husband has a job that is considerably long hours as well and I had two children within 14 months. And so that’s my years when I worked at The Events Calendar and was off the radar for much else because I could clock in and work in support and other release communications endeavors during my kids’ nap time before or after they got up when they were little babies. So that’s what worked for our family.

And I couldn’t get to meetups, but if meetups would have been available online during that same time span, I would have been more able to. So I’m thinking a little through what that hybrid experience afterwards is going to look like. For some people, being able to jump in online, yeah, it’s not as exciting as being in person, but I wouldn’t have been able to go in person. There was no way I could have. So we’ve removed that barrier in some senses and that’s been really good.

I think that there’s just different formats and different approaches also for different personalities, or introverts that are extroverts might learn differently, and to make space for that.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Yeah. I recently spoke at a WordCamp in Rochester and then another one in Phoenix, just from the same office I’m in right here. And I was like, “This is cool. This is great.”

Courtney Robert…: No plane needed. Yeah.

Chris Badgett: And also, I just want to give, for the listener, if you’re listening in your earbuds or if you’re watching this on the LifterLMS YouTube channel, I just want to give a shout-out to Chris Lema who put on an event called CaboPress. I was not really involved in the WordPress community.

I mean, I was building an agency. This is pre-LifterLMS. Well, actually, in the early days of LifterLMS. Building a product, serving clients, trying to put food on the table, create some jobs and try not to burn out in the process. And I saw a post from Chris Lema about this thing where these agency and product people in WordPress were getting together.

I’m a big believer in masterminds, I was like, “What the heck?” I went. It was one of the best decisions I made in terms of being social about learning and just meeting other people just like me who are into all this online stuff, and this niche was amazing. So getting out of the building is super important. And later I’ve done lots of WordCamps and meetups and stuff like that. But it’s so powerful. It’s so powerful.

Courtney Robert…: I saw a picture float by close to that same timeframe that you’re referring to. I got to meet Shane, Reid, and Peter, who are the partner owners at Modern Tribe. And I forget which of these gentlemen posted the picture, but they had gotten together some years ago with comparable agencies in the WordPress ecosystem that could have been seen as competitors, but the partners of these companies got together for a mini-retreat experience. Obviously, it would have been some years ago at this point.

And they were able to talk through ideas about WordPress serving the enterprise world, so those that have very large-scale websites. What I would give to be a fly on the wall for their hiring needs at a place like that. It just was really fascinating to me to see those that would otherwise be competitors talking through some of these things, the same challenges, needs, mindset things that they needed to go through.

And so even in those contexts, getting together to go through some of that, that’s freaking amazing. Also, shout-out again, I loved Modern Tribe. We got to go to Panama for a week while I was there, paid. And that was my first time away from my littles. And it’s been a while since I’ve been out of the country when I took that trip.

The value of having your team get together, having your teams inside of a product plugin type of company, having people gather and share ideas in person is also really valuable. And contributing in our own internal hackathon day was probably the highlight of my time there. We got to do creative stuff that we otherwise couldn’t do when we were busy dealing with the regular day-to-day.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I was in Santa Cruz, California meeting up with my co-founders of Lifter, and we met up with Shane from Modern Tribe and had a great conversation, later went running with him and just picking up all kinds of nuggets of wisdom there. And a similar thing has happened where I’ve been at a private WordPress event and gone out with what you would consider my competitors and just shared ideas.

The concept there, which is really relevant to WordPress, is the infinite game where somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for somebody else to win. So we can just move this industry forward together. And sure, I consider it friendly rivals versus competitors.

Courtney Robert…: Right.

Chris Badgett: I want to get one more nugget of wisdom out of you before we go. I know you have some background in high school experience. So this web world and developers, it’s all moving really fast. The traditional school system has a really hard time having an end-to-end learning solution. But if we go back to more just traditional education with the classroom, you had used the LMS to augment the experience, an online LMS to augment the experience.

How does a traditional school teacher or a school… I often have to remind myself we’re cutting edge, we’re in tech, we’re really far, we’re seeing the future. But there’s these legacy industries that are still catching up with going online or implementing technology in a way that helps. How can traditional schools use an online LMS?

Courtney Robert…: So the first intro into open-source and/or LMS world… I’ve had college classes, by the way, on using LMSes. The one that I had was about using Moodle.

Chris Badgett: Yeah.

Courtney Robert…: And this would have been in 2006/7 roughly.

Chris Badgett: eLearning is not new. It’s not new.

Courtney Robert…: No, it isn’t.

Chris Badgett: Yeah.

Courtney Robert…: So my needs were this; I was a high school teacher, and at that point, not in a vo-tech, but in a regular ed classroom and teaching Microsoft products and getting students prepared for the Microsoft exams. I needed to collect the files. My district, before they hired me, had somebody that had just retired who trained my mother to be a teacher, literally.

And so her method was typewriters and print the papers. Right? And that doesn’t teach me on the resumes if they’re hitting space bars or tabs like I tell them to. So I needed to electronically collect the files. So I have my own Moodle server to gather the files, right? I needed to get their files and look at them electronically, and so I found my own way to do that because the work-provided laptop didn’t include a floppy drive at that point, and I had no means of otherwise collecting the files efficiently.

I also used a WordPress-based LMS when I was teaching at a vo-tech and there it was. I had lots of links and resources to direct students to and I wanted to track their progress through, did they see this page and do the thing? And I could not gather that type of feedback from using just a website, right? So eventually, I found WordPress.

I couldn’t find a way to track them that way, so I definitely knew I needed an LMS to do that, along with some quizzes and grade book feature add-ons and things that would augment what I was doing in my regular classroom. And what was really nice is that it was a lot easier to distribute the links and a lot easier for students who are out sick to get the replay and catch up.

Chris Badgett: Yeah. The internet was literally invented, well, for the military, but also education stuff; transfer of knowledge, professors, and stuff like that. Courtney, this has been an awesome conversation. This is Courtney Robertson. Where can people get involved with your work or see you around with GoDaddy?

Courtney Robert…: Yeah. So if you are interested, we have meetup events of our own that we run at GoDaddy at events.godaddy.com. And I’ll be in the ones that are North America-centric, and you can check into the GoDaddy Pro area for that. You can also find me at lots of the WordCamps and WordPress-related events online, hanging out. And if there’s a sponsor booth, look for GoDaddy and you’ll find me in the booth.

Likewise, hopefully, in the future in person, but I get to hang around with Sandy Edwards, Maja Loncar, and Adam Warner, who are all great people. You could also find info about the training team for WordPress, the ones that wrangle the content that goes on Learn at make.wordpress.org/training. Make.wordpress.org/training.

And there we recently put out a call for folks to help with UX testing. We want some feedback about your real experience of using learn.wordpress.org and also to watch you, if you’re interested in joining a little cohort kind of a group to do some UX testing for us, gather some feedback in that regard. They’re kicking off in the very near future. So you can find me in all those places or at courtneyengle.com.

Chris Badgett: And also follow her on Twitter. She’s always got good stuff out there. Courtney, thanks for having this conversation. These are my favorite topics. We’re talking about WordPress, we’re talking about learning, and we’re talking about community. These are the things that light me up. I look forward to contributing more to the Learn WordPress project.

That’s kind of part of the WordPress ethos is I benefit tremendously from the WordPress ecosystem, I try to give as much as I can. I’m happy to help with Learn WordPress and what I can do there, so I look forward to connecting more around that. Thanks for coming on the show. I bet I’ll see you one of these days at some WordPress event somewhere. And thanks for all the value you dropped today. I really appreciate it.

Courtney Robert…: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Chris Badgett: And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. Did you enjoy that episode? Tell your friends, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. And I’ve got a gift for you over at LifterLMS.com/gift. Go to LifterLMS.com/gift. Keep learning, keep taking action, and I’ll see you in the next episode.

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