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joshua millage: Hello everyone, we’re back with another episode of LMS Cast, I’m Joshua Millage and joined like I am every day with Christopher Badgett. We are broadcasting to you not live, but somewhat live, from Santa Cruz in Whitefish, Montana, right, Chris?
chris badgett: Yeah.
joshua millage: Cool. Well we love LMS Systems, we love WordPress, and today is actually a really good episode for me because I don’t know the answers to some of the questions I’m going to be posing for Chris, and really what we’re trying to figure out is the WordPress LMS plugin do’s and don’t’s, like what is it we should be focused on when we’re looking at LMS plugins, how many plugins should we be stringing together, is that a good idea, is that a bad idea. I’m not really that technical, as you know, Chris, and so for me it makes sense. I’m going to go get this plugin to this and that plugin to do that and it all seems fine and dandy to me. Why not? They’re plugins, string them together, see what happens.
I’ve learned from your kind, generous teaching as well as Mark and Tom, that that’s not always a great idea. There’s some disadvantages to that, so give me the top level, high kind of bird’s eye view of how we should be looking at LMS plugins and how we should be considering buildign this bullet-proof foundation of an online school or online course system.
chris badgett: Let me back up and first start with when you’re learning WordPress and you start building WordPress sites or you’re hiring development design marketing teams to do it for you, a more beginner person, if you’re doing it yourself, or a beginner agency, they may be very quick when you pose a question, to be like can we make the website do X, that be like, oh, let me search and see if there’s a plugin for that.
Plugins on the WordPress repository, there are some that are extremely popular and almost ubiquitous, and there’s others that come out, they’re great ideas at the time, but the developer behind them stops supporting it, and you’ll see a lot of plugins at WordPress that haven’t been updated in over 2 years.
Not all plugins are created equal. There’s a core group of plugins outside of learning management systems that I almost always recommend and always use. To give a couple examples of those, one of them is Akismet, which comes when you install WordPress to prevent spam, another one is WordPress SEO by Yost, and then those are really core plugins and anything else is really extra, and you don’t even need the SEO plugin if you don’t plan on investing time into developing your SEO, but to tell a story of Lifter LMS, the WordPress learning management system plugin that we’ve built here at [Cobox 00:02:55], we decided to make that a plugin and not a theme because it’s really all about functionality and we’ve built it in a way that it can work with any well coded WordPress theme, and we also … A lot of times people don’t realize this with certain themes or plugin, the plugin or theme developer has actually bundled all these other plugins inside of it to make it look as if it does more. It’s not that they’re doing a bad thing, they’re taking shortcuts to getting functionality quickly into their plugin.
We were very intentional about how we created Lifter LMS in that we didn’t bundle or sneak in some plugins for our functionality. We’re building everything from the ground up, and we’re very conscious about what additional things we’re going to integrate with.
Two examples. One of them would be WooCommerce. We know WooCommerce is really popular. Lifter LMS has its own e-commerce system that’s really amazing and designed specifically for WordPress LMS, but we know a lot of people use WooCommerce and like it and want to integrate with it, so we did add to our plugin to allow that to happen.
Same thing with BuddyPress, which is a social networking plugin for WordPress, but really at the end of the day when you’re building a WordPress management system, you don’t want to get to a point where you have 10 or 20 or 30 or even 50 plugins going, because the opportunity for conflict and the complexity involved in opening up just the door to plugins not getting updated or whatever, it’s just not a road worth going down, and at the end of the day, if you need like 40 different plugins, you might actually be putting too much functionality in your site because at the end of the day it’s about learning, and Lifter LMS has the core foundational pieces you need, and of course if you want to integrate something unique to your situation, go for it. Use gravity forms to do a survey or use other plugins, but make sure they’re well respected.
joshua millage: I just want to speak out to anyone who’s like me out there, it’s like sometimes I get plugin mania, like just because I can install a plugin I want to. It’s not that it’s a good idea, but I’m like ohh, that sounds fun, boom, I plug that in, plug that in, plug that in, I’m like 40 plugins in deep and all of a sudden something crashes, I’ve got the white screen of death, I can’t even log in, and then I’m paying somebody to help me go figure out a PHP area in some random line. It’s just because I got plugin crazy, you know?
If anyone resonates with that story, my suggestion is have a separate WordPress install to have your plugin craziness on, but don’t do that to your main site, and so what I’ve learned is that you want to have the minimum viable plugin setup. Having more is not better at all. You’re adding, like you said Chris, complexity to the site, and you want it to run as lean and efficiently as possible, and sometimes there is reasons to install more, different plugins but for the most part you want to look for a system that takes care of all of it.
I would echo your statement about Yost, I think Yost is phenomenal, as well as, is it Akismet?
chris badgett: Yeah, Akismet. I’m not even sure how to say it and I’ve been using it for a decade it feels like.
joshua millage: Me too, and that one does save you a lot of pain and stress with the stand box and what not. Those two are pretty bullet proof. I love what those guys are doing at Automatic and then the Yost group, but I would say when it comes to LMS systems, just be conscious of what you want to do, whether you’re on WP courseware with Sensei, the Academy, well I guess that’s a theme, but still, you want to make sure that you’re not bogging down your server setup with a bunch of different plugins because some of these systems have e-commerce, some of them don’t. Some of them have just course structuring no quiz, so you’ve got to maybe figure out how you’re going to integrate that.
You want to be conscious of what you need and then go look for a system that meets that.
Obviously you’re not going to … Full disclosure, we developed Lifter LMS, so we’re going to pretty much pitch you on that one all the time. I’m kind of sorry that I’m not sorry about that, but we’re passionate about it. That’s why we stepped out into this space. We wanted to do things differently. We saw a gap in the market and we wanted to create an end to end system. We think we’re approaching it in a very new and different way with getting this incredibly amazing test group of people and listening to their feedback and iterating and moving in directions that they think we should move in.
chris badgett: Absolutely. Just to give a really specific WordPress LMS plugin example, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who have been using the WP LMS theme, which I’ve used before and helped people set up. When you install that, that WordPress learning management system, you have to, at the moment of installation, install something like 12 other plugins.
Now the end result is it makes a nice learning management system but people start getting confused, and there’s just a lot of like moving parts there that we’ve heard a lot of people say when we reached out to the WordPress LMS community that they want an experience not like that. That was really the community help shaped our vision for a more minimalist approach. Something that’s simple, that does the core functionality, that we’re going to continue to evolve over time, but isn’t locked into all these other dependencies to all these other plugins.
joshua millage: Right. Right. I love it. Well this is a great foundation episode for anyone who’s just starting out with their WordPress LMS system and looking at WordPress LMS plugins, or if they already have one, maybe looking to the future and how to refine and make things much more efficient and lean. Good work, Chris, thanks, I feel really educated now, and that was … I needed that.
Any closing thoughts for us today?
chris badgett: Yeah, I would just take the counterpoint real quick and say plugins aren’t bad. If you find a plugin and it works well with Lifter LMS or with your learning management system theme and you’re like wow, this is really awesome, it works, and not getting any conflict, let us know about it. We want to hear from you. Leave a comment, and let us know what you find out, and in some cases, I mean we’re a web development shop so we actually build our own plugins sometimes just for specific projects, but maybe you see something that a plugin is doing that you want included in Lifter LMS or you just want to share that hey, what this plugin does is important to the needs of the learning management system community, I just wanted to let you guys know about it.
That’s my closing thought. They’re not all bad, but I would encourage minimalism whenever you can.
joshua millage: Absolutely. That’s a great point, Chris.
All right guys, until next week, we will see you soon.