“Home Base” is your own place on the Web – not Facebook, not Udemy, not any platform where you don’t control the content and the branding completely. Anyone serious about being in the online learning business needs be serious about maintaining a top-notch home base, even if you make use of other platforms.
What you use for your home base will depend on your particular situation. If you work for an organization where you don’t have much say about the Web site, then you will probably just have to use your best negotiating skills to gain whatever control you can. Whatever you do, though, don’t rely on third-party sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Udemy to serve as your home base. You never know when or how these sites will change, and you always want to have control over a Web domain that is associated with your brand name.
As you have probably already gathered from both the book and from The Learning Revolutionary’s Toolbox, I am a big fan of the free, open source WordPress software available at www.wordpress.org. I use it for all of my sites, and though I am not a programmer, I’ve tried to practice what I preach over the years and develop pretty good hands on knowledge for how to use it well. Here are some additions to WordPress I think are valuable:
A key feature of WordPress is that it enables you to apply “themes” to customize the look and feel of your Web site. The best of these themes are really frameworks that make it easier to achieve the full potential of WordPress without having to know how to program. The ones I recommend – both of which I have in place on one or more Web site currently are:
- StudioPress with Genesis (used for this Web site; starts at $59.95 for unlimited sites)
- Thesis (used on the Tagoras and Mission to Learn Web sites; starting from $87 for Basic package)
With each of these frameworks, you have the ability to apply a wide variety of off-the shelf or custom child themes (Genesis) or skins (Thesis). If aren’t finding anything you like on the Thesis and StudioPress sites, you may also want to check out Themedy (which offers Genesis and Thesis themes) or ThemeForest.
While there are plenty of very low cost hosting providers out there, I believe strongly that you get what you pay for with hosting. Having fast page load times on your site has become a key aspect of good user experience and search engine optimization (SEO) – both of which are critical for a successful Web-based business. Additionally, you want to be sure the software behind your site is as up-to-date and secure as possible.
Personally, I don’t want to spend my time worrying about things like this – I’d rather focus on building my business and let experts handle really technical stuff. So, I use WP Engine to host all of my sites. They are absolute experts.
There are thousands of plugins for WordPress. These are just a few that can help you turn the home base for your training and education business into a vibrant hub for learning:
- Membership Site Capabilities
There are a lot of membership options for WordPress, so I am limiting this list to a handful of the best. For the purposes of most people who would be reading this post, you are going to want membership and e-commerce to work in tandem. Some of the options below are an add-on to an WordPress e-commerce solution. Some include both the e-commerce and membership components as a single package.
- iThemes Membership (add-on to iThemes Exchange)
- WooCommerce Membership (requires WooCommerce)
(Note: Good membership plugins will already have some of the capabilities that follow built into them)
- Discussion Forums and Listservs
bbPress and BuddyPress seems to be pretty much dominating the discussion plug-in space on WordPress at this point. I’ve also been looking for a true listserv functionality – i.e., allowing a group to communicate easily via e-mail, since it can sometimes be hard to get people to log into a Web site to use a forum. WordPress Mailing Group is the first option I have seen for this that actually seems to be solid.
- Shopping Cart
As noted above, most membership plug-ins are going to have some sort of e-commerce capability, or be an extension of an e-commerce plug-in. If you need e-commerce independent of membership capabilities, though, the following are good simple options.
If you have questions, or want to share your own experiences with any of these tools, please comment below.