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For example, I think I might want something like an e-learning system with a shopping cart grafted on, but there may be something out there with the e-learning-type features I need that is simpler and more small-business-friendly. But I am stumped as to how to figure it out, and I'm not sure where to find the right kind of person to ask.
How are you planning to implement the CMS once you've chosen it? Who is going to be setting it up? How are you going to be hosting it?
I feel like the answers to those questions depend on things I don't know yet. I will add a little detail about my business without getting overly specific.
I have a one-person business providing continuing education in my professional field. I have just added this "retail" service to what had been strictly B2B consultation.
I want customers to be able to browse, select, and pay for courses on my site. Then they should be able to log into their account and view files and complete activities needed to get credit for the course. Upon completing all activities, they get a certificate. It should be easy for them to know what to click on at any stage of the process. Customers with disabilities should be able to access the site.
On my end, overall, I want to spend more time developing courses than fussing with the website.
I have a "wish list" of features that include some e-commerce features (e.g., categorize courses, put customers on a waiting list if the course fills up, give returning customers a discount, run special offers) and some e-learning features (e.g., select from a reusable "library" of course files; add content unique to a course; easily create tests and surveys).
So you see, I know what I want to provide for my customers and how I would like to do it, but I don't know how to translate it into what that means in terms of setup, implementation, and hosting.
I would love for the solution to be cheap and easy, but I am expecting to find out that it can't be both cheap AND easy. Then I will need to decide what to spend my money on and what to learn to do myself. So maybe that is another way some of you with more experience can help out - give a sense of what is worth researching, learning, etc., and what I should just give up on and find a consultant.
I want customers to be able to browse, select, and pay for courses on my site. Then they should be able to log into their account and view files and complete activities needed to get credit for the course. Upon completing all activities, they get a certificate. It should be easy for them to know what to click on at any stage of the process.
Background: I'm right in the middle of trying to choose a CMS for a client. We're struggling to choose between Typo3 and several other options.
There are flexible, powerful CMS systems.
There are flexible, powerful e-commerce systems.
There not many systems that do both of these things well and integrate them nicely.
The requirements you described make me think you're heading towards a fairly horrendous custom-built project.
I would be very wary of anyone who says they can deliver it quickly OR cheaply :-)
You're going to need to sit down with your developer for hours and hours to try and agree every aspect of what you want. And even if you do this you'll likely end up with a system that doesn't quite fit the requirements!
Sorry to be negative (comes from bitter experience with this kind of thing). Good luck with your project.
1. A fairly simple CMS to manage the content. There are many free/open-source scripts you can use.
2. SOmething to sell access to content, ie registration to courses. I can highly recommend something here, search for amember - it will do pretty much everything you need from that end, and if there is anything it cannot do, they are likely to be able to creat a mod for you. This is not free, but is very rich in features and worth investing in since it will deal with all the complicated stuff.
3. A script to create tests and survey, again pretty much immaterial what you choose, since the access will be managed by your registration system. Again there are quite a few free scripts around.
It is not difficult to make all these things work together, though it does take some configuration and there will be a learning curve if you have not done much of this sort of thing before.
As an alternative - look at Moodle, which is a learning system that should do everything you want, though it is a fair bit of work to set up and to my mind anyway is not the most intuituve for users. It is free though.
I've looked at Moodle, but it seemed too complicated (and when I look at a page made with moodle I never know where to click). But it is looking like whichever way I go, I am going to have to hire someone to help with at least some of the setup, so I'll keep it in mind.
I've looked at Moodle, but it seemed too complicated (and when I look at a page made with moodle I never know where to click).
Honestly it looks as if Moodle, or some other courseware-based cms, could be your best starting point...
Considering that your site's primary purpose is administering these online continuing education classes and then delivering some type of certificate to those who pass, you'll need to make sure that that functionality is at the core of whatever system you choose.
I quickly looked at some of the sample Moodle sites and, while some make use of the basic template, there are those with a more simplified design. It's probable that you could adjust the look of Moodle to fit your site's design scheme.
I didn't see any type of ecommerce integration/plugin for Moodle, but that might not be that difficult to implement.
At any rate a system like that would place you well ahead of the game....
I took another look at Moodle, decided I like it after all, and found a not-entirely-clunky way to manage enrollment through an ecommerce program. But I have run into some problems installing it and might need to find a new host if I want to stick with it.
This might be a better topic for elsewhere here, but it seems like self-described Moodle hosts come in 2 varieties: too cheap to trust and too expensive to consider, with nothing in between. The lower-end plans of the higher-end hosts (if that makes sense) restrict you to a very small number of courses. I am getting the idea that Moodle is very demanding of resources but I don't know how to find what I really need from a host. Can anyone point me the right way, or, alternately, help me to find out how to compare the resource-hogginess of various CMS's?