Want to build a LearnDash app? You're in the right place. We're going to show you how to convert a LearnDash site to mobile apps in just weeks - for a fraction of the traditional cost. Let's start with a little background though.
The Power of LearnDash
LearnDash is the best learning management system (LMS) plugin for WordPress. It allows you to create, sell and manage online courses from a self-hosted platform that you control 100%. LearnDash has been one of the go-to WordPress LMS solutions for large educational institutions, non-profits, and smaller scale course creators alike since it was first released in 2013. With the recent release though, LearnDash 3.0 has really blown the competition away!
If you used LearnDash to build an eLearning business, you made a great choice. Perhaps you have thousands of happy students and a thriving revenue stream thanks to LearnDash’s simple monetisation options. What now? How can you keep growing, keep innovating, and provide an even better experience for your learners?
One great option for growth is to expand onto the app stores by building a LearnDash app - and grow your presence on iOS and Android as well as the web.
All the eLearning giants like Khan Academy, Coursera, edX and Lynda all started off on the web, then moved into the app stores to truly adapt to a mobile-first, app-first digital world.
There are good reasons why they all made this move. In this article we’re going to explain why you should follow in their footsteps and build mobile apps for your own eLearning business, and how you can build them easily with your existing LearnDash site. Let’s get started.
Why you should build a LearnDash App
If you’re currently pairing LearnDash with a responsive theme your eLearning site probably works great on a mobile browser, and users can access it through their smartphones with no problems.
So why would you build a LearnDash app too?
Meet Modern Expectations
Back when eLearning first became a thing in the late 90s, accessing a course through a browser seemed cutting edge. That was more than twenty years ago though. The Elearning industry itself has grown nearly 10x since then, and people’s technology habits have changed a lot too. Desktops gave way to smartphones and the mobile web, which gave way to apps. Now the vast majority of online time is on mobile, and the vast majority of mobile time is in-app.
In 2020, a portion of users simply expect an “app like” experience - whether they are learning, socialising or shopping. They want a visible icon on their home screen, to receive notifications from instructors, and to have an “enclosed” experience. A LearnDash app can give them this, and thus broaden your appeal as a brand.
That’s just one reason, the big picture. Let’s go deeper.
A More Engaging, Less Distracting Learner UX
In today’s digital world - we are all competing for attention. If you don’t seize attention, earn it, and grow it over time, your competitors will. This is especially true with eLearning. The more you can keep learners focused, the more they will learn and the happier they will be.
Compared with your site, a LearnDash app will give students a more ‘enclosed’ experience with no other browser tabs to compete for their attention, while the native tab menu and native navigation allow them to move around your learning platform in an intuitive and smooth manner.
At this point they expect to find mobile apps for any tool or product they intend to use frequently.
When it comes to online courses - they want to catch up while on the bus, the train, on sitting having coffee. Just one tap will take them quickly into where they left off, and the app can keep them logged in too - much easier than the struggle of typing a URL into the mobile browser, logging in and waiting for it to load!
Building a LearnDash app gives you the chance to offer a more modern and convenient learner UX.
There’s a reason why app users are generally more engaged than their counterparts on the mobile web, and tend to churn less. Your existing site is great for desktop users, now build iOS and Android apps to serve mobile users just as well!
A LearnDash app will give you the ability to send push notifications directly to the learners devices.
Browsers are increasingly cracking down on web notifications, and on iOS you can’t use them at all. Native push is still the most effective channel to directly reach learners, and will be for the foreseeable future!
Push works great for eLearning. Your learners can be notified of messages from instructors, learning milestones, course updates, and reminders to study to keep them on track. This will lead to more engagement and retention over time, as well as better learner outcomes.
Learners are also far less likely to miss push notifications when compared to email - they are highly visible on the lock screen. Even if they don’t open it right away, that’s no problem - it will simply be stored in the app’s message center.
Overall, there is no better way to reach your users on their most valued device whenever you want to.
Get More Visibility and Acquire new Users Through the App Stores
On smartphones, people use the App Stores to search for solutions to their problems. That’s why apps allow you to pick up new users as well as please existing ones.
If you optimize well for App Store SEO, users will find you by searching for related keywords.
They might search for “learn (your topic)” or “course on (your topic)” - who do they see when they type that now?
They could be searching for your exact kind of content. If you aren’t there you’re not even in the game, and you’ll lose them to a competitor who does have an app store presence.
This opens up a whole new user acquisition channel and gets you in front of people who would likely not have found your LearnDash site through the crowded mobile web, or worse, would have found other eLearning brands through the App Stores and built a relationship with them instead.
Make a Great First impression To Learners and Members
Online course creators and eLearning companies with apps live on iOS and Android look more serious, professional and established.
Just look at all the huge eLearning companies like the ones mentioned earlier - they almost all have a presence on the App Stores. Just not being there when someone types in your name is a knock to your brand.
In 2020 mobile apps are like a mark of quality and make you look good in the eyes of potential students, partners and investors. These are some of the main reasons to build a LearnDash app. Are you ready to join top eLearning companies on the App Stores?
But wait - this all sounds fine - but aren’t eLearning apps massive projects that take half a year and cost $50K plus?
They certainly can be. When committing this much time and money - you would need to be pretty certain of the benefits. It would be a lot of risk for a small company.
There is another way though, that allows you to launch on the App Store and Google Play for a manageable investment in just a week or two.
Let’s go over all the options first so you have the full picture.
How to Turn Your LearnDash Site into Mobile Apps for iOS and Android
Justin Ferriman is the CEO and co-founder of LearnDash. He wrote a piece on the main site giving his advice on building apps for Learndash sites.
Ferriman’s argument is essentially that apps can represent a route to growth for LearnDash-based eLearning companies, but that you should think hard about whether you need them, because they require a huge investment.
“The truth is apps in any context require an investment. If you’re building it yourself then be prepared for many, many hours of development, trial, error, debugging, and more. If you are paying someone to create an app from scratch then expect a heavy financial investment”
He is completely right. If you aren’t a skilled mobile developer already, forget about building it yourself from scratch unless you want to dedicate years to learning.
Native development - costly and unnecessary
You can simply pay someone who does have those skills of course.
You can find developers capable of building you apps from scratch that recreate the functionality of your site and sync seamlessly with LearnDash.
You’ll need at least two, one to work on the Swift iOS app, and one who’s focused on the Java-based Android version. You would probably need another to manage the entire project too. If you don’t have such people on-staff already, which you don’t as a small/medium eLearning company, you’ll need to take them on at their day rate of around $800 minimum - and they will be billing for a lot of days.
The project will likely take them six months. That’s because building apps from scratch is painstaking work. Every piece of functionality in your existing site will need to be recreated on iOS and Android, then connected with your LearnDash backend through an API.
The agency route
Of course, you don’t need to hire developers directly. You can contract an app development agency. Someone at the agency will also mostly manage the project, potentially saving you a little stress. The costs will likely be even higher though, and the timescale just as long.
With both these options the work on your LearnDash app will never really be done. Updates, maintenance, and tweaks will add 10-20% of the cost yearly.
On the plus side, this can get you great apps. They will be truly native and after many costly iterations highly functional for your users. Ferriman’s point though - to question whether you really need them - is crucial when we’re talking multiple five figure costs and countless months of hard work.
The decision becomes easier though as the barriers to app development drop. What was a painful, stressful and expensive decision can become a no brainer.
Let’s look at a few more efficient options.
They will be able to build the apps faster than purely native developers - but will still take months and run up bills into the multiple five figures.
Even if everything goes well, you’ll really struggle to completely recreate the functionality of your site in the apps. You can’t reuse any of your existing web code, and custom components will have to be rebuilt from scratch. You’ll then need to connect your backend to the apps with an API. Although code can be shared well between iOS and Android versions, it is still a ton of work.
With both of these options, you would need to replicate the functionality of your site in the apps, then ensure a flawless communication between the iOS and Android apps and your LearnDash backend. Both will have you investing months of effort and tens of thousands to get a great result, and then you’ll have the ongoing hassle and expense of maintaining separate codebases.
The more complexity, plugins and custom code there is already on your site, the harder it will be to replicate that in an app.
Let’s look at something a little more manageable.
One way to cut down the financial burden of building apps for your brand is to go with a template based solution.
At the low end these are simple, general app builder templates. They are cheap, but pretty hopeless if you want to recreate your LearnDash site’s functionality and features. They could be OK if you just want to create a simple message board or small community for your students in an app - but forget about creating an actual mobile learning experience with one.
On the higher end, you have companies like Tangible who have created a more flexible template for building ‘hybrid’ apps from LearnDash.
This is definitely a better option than a basic app builder, and may allow you to recreate your learning experience in-app. The price reflects this though. You would spend $10K on iOS and Android apps, then $300-500 monthly for maintenance and updates.
The more custom you want, the more it will cost. If you have a complex site that leverages multiple plugins other than LearnDash, it will be an expensive challenge for them to recreate that exactly.
Another is AppBoss. AppBoss uses the above mentioned React Native to build LearnDash-powered apps. They can get you a good result no doubt, and they do it all for you too.
There are a few drawbacks though. Firstly, they have a pretty long waiting list - you have to apply and perhaps wait months to launch the project.
The end result may look great and be pretty fast. The problem is, it’ll be difficult for their team to recreate the entire functionality of your site if you use multiple plugins, and have a more complex functionality. It’s likely they can find a way and build custom integrations, but it will take longer and cost a lot more than their standard service.
There’s a final route we’re going to look at. A way you can build iOS and Android apps that mirror your LearnDash site exactly, in weeks not months, and for a fraction of the usual cost.
Let’s outline how it works so that you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.
Should You Use MobiLoud Canvas to LearnDash Mobile Apps?
Our platform, Canvas, is the best “wrapper” on the market for building mobile apps from LearnDash.
With Canvas, you can instantly reuse 100% of your site’s plugins and functionality - there’s nothing to rebuild and nothing extra to manage going forward.
There is no ‘recreating’ your learner experience in the app, Canvas is ‘putting’ your existing experience in an app!
How Does Canvas Work?
Canvas takes your LearnDash site, along with all its functionality and plugins, and wraps it in your own mobile apps that work like a dedicated browser with a customizable native tab menu.
Like any other app, it will be installed on your user’s phones, gets you push notifications across iOS and Android and an icon on the home screen. Your app will be distributed through the AppStore and Google Play.
We will take care of the whole process of preparing, submitting and publishing the apps for you.
It is your existing site, with all its features - LearnDash or otherwise. It's more than that though. We’ve built everything you need to get your learner experience running smoothly as a mobile app: native navigation, native animations, splash screen, spinners, an internal browser, push notifications inbox, loading indicators, and much more.
Your LearnDash app really will have everything you need!
There is nothing to rebuild or recreate natively, everything works out of the box.
Converting your site to mobile apps with Canvas gives you many, if not all, of the same functional benefits of a true native app, without the cost!
Changing The Logic of LearnDash App Development
Let’s track back to the article by LearnDash CEO Justin Ferriman. He makes the completely accurate point that native app development may not make business sense, not because apps are not effective, but because the benefits may not justify the huge investment of time and money.
Canvas allows you to avoid these downsides, defeating the risk/reward argument against building apps by bringing the barriers way down.
Your Canvas apps will be ready to publish in a few weeks and cost less than 10% of custom developed native apps - spread out over a manageable, stable monthly fee rather than a lump sum. There will be no unexpected expense going forward, as we handle everything for you forever as part of our full service.
When Ferriman deals with template-based app builders, he makes the point that they:
“Will have less custom features and branding. It’s not “cookie-cutter”, but it’s not completely custom either”
This is completely true. It will be impossible to create a truly custom, full featured experience in a template-based app builder.
Luckily, Canvas helps you get around this too. As your Canvas apps will be an exact mirror of your existing site, you customize them simply by customizing your LearnDash site. Any changes will be automatically reflected in the apps. Create a unique, engaging experience for the web and the apps will take care of themselves!
We’ve looked at the reasons for building apps from LearnDash, some ways to get it done, and why MobiLoud Canvas is a great option in our (completely biased) opinion.
Let’s wrap up by going over a few key benefits you’ll get with Canvas.
Move Fast and Get to Market In Days
As we mentioned, true native apps will take months to build. Using React Native would be faster than traditional app development - but it’s far by being a fast solution to turn your LearnDash site into apps. If you signed up for Canvas today, you could be ready to launch straight onto your learners smartphones in under two weeks.
You’d save countless hours, weeks, and months - and could keep your team focused on interacting with learners, marketing and creating content.
Save 90% Of The Cost
Native app development cost tens of thousands of dollars (or more even). Using one of the good template based solutions will take you into the low five figures upfront too, and that’s with minimal customization.
MobiLoud Canvas takes all the labor out of the app-development process, and we pass the savings on to you in both time and money.
That’s why you can get great-looking, functional apps on the stores for 10% of the standard cost - and for a manageable monthly fee rather than a lump sum investment. Take the savings and reinvest them in building out your core LearnDash product, acquiring new users, and growing your business.
Even if, longer term, you want to build true native apps, Canvas is a great option for building an MVP, launching fast, and testing the market before the larger investment.
Nothing To Rebuild, Nothing New to Manage - Save Your Effort and Resources
Canvas is the best way to build apps from LearnDash fast. Because it is a conversion process, there is nothing to rebuild natively, and no need to touch a line of code. Everything works automatically. All your existing plugins aside from LearnDash will work perfectly too.
You'll have options to configure and customize your Learndash mobile apps, but it's all code-free and intuitive.
Everything can be managed through a simple no-code interface. You don’t need to update or tweak the apps, they will update automatically with any changes, course updates, or new content on your site. If it works perfectly on WordPress, it will work perfectly through the apps too.
The apps can grow with your core business into the future
Unlimited Push Notifications
With a 4x higher open rate compared to email and unrestricted reach unlike through social media, push notifications are the most effective engagement channel.
Over time, your app audience will start to reflect your most loyal and engaged learners. Push gives you a direct line to these most valuable users.
Canvas integrates with the best push provider on the market, OneSignal, and we set it up for you so you can send unlimited notifications that you can configure to go out automatically or manually whenever you see fit.
If you’d like to integrate push deeper into your site, you can just follow OneSignal’s excellent documentation. You can integrate your site with OneSignal’s REST API - Canvas allows you to send notifications to individual users, on top of broadcast messages. Just get in touch with our team to discuss the details of what you need.
Canvas provides a whole control panel for your users to manage their preferences for push notifications, so they can easily choose what they’ll be notified for. On your end, you’ll just need to attach a tag to notifications, to match what’s available to choose in your app.
The Canvas native “Alerts” screen also allows users to review all the notifications they’ve received. You can configure this to load a built-in list of notifications or to load an internal notifications screen in your web app.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to engage and re-engage learners with timely notifications to keep their motivation high and your content top of mind.
Packed with All The Features You Need
We’ve built hundreds of apps with Canvas and have seen almost every edge case possible. Chances are we have a solution for the issue or request you have in mind.
Native animations, splash screen, loading spinners, native tab menus, internal or external screens, everything can be controlled from MobiLoud’s simple configuration dashboard.
App Submission Done For You
You will use Canvas to configure and customize your apps, then our team will take it from there. Not remotely technical, or too busy? We also offer a full service package so there’s nothing at all to do on your end, we configure and build your app from start to finish.
We always take care of building, testing, compiling and submitting your mobile apps.
We’ll dedicate several hours to review your app with you and ensure it’s working smoothly, with the best performance and experience achievable, so you have the highest chances of approval in the stores.
Approval Guaranteed, Full Service
Because we help you with the build process and manually test your apps we can guarantee we’ll get your app approved on the stores - or you can get 100% of your money back. There’s absolutely no risk for you.
Our team will also handle all ongoing technical maintenance and new version updates for your apps. We are your mobile partners, handle anything that crops up fast and effectively, and are never more than a phone call or email away.
You won’t have to worry about security issues, new iOS versions or phones coming on the market, we’ll take care of all of that for you and update your mobile apps as needed, saving you thousands in developer fees.
You’re fully in control
These are your own apps, you’ll be listed as the developer on the stores and every account used will be your own - you just invite us as your developer. So don’t worry about being able to replace the apps or being stuck with a provider - you’re in control and can switch away any time.
Whichever way you choose to build mobile apps from your LearnDash site, you’re making a good decision.
Mobile apps are a great boost to any online course creator! They give you the opportunity to grow through a whole new channel. One with loyalty and engagement baked in.
Try Canvas out today if you want to build eLearning apps the lean, efficient, and fast way!
There’s zero risk with our 60 days guarantee, and you’ll be launching on the app stores before you know it. We’ve built over a thousand apps which have been enjoyed by millions of users - and we can help you launch in under two weeks for less than a contract developer’s day rate.
Start building a LearnDash app for your student community to enjoy today, with Canvas, and take your business to the next level.