Online learning is becoming an essential part of our modern education system. However, it can be very expensive to teach your web courses. Companies like Zoom start at $14.99 per month… per user just for video conferencing. It’s not even a complete virtual classroom solution. It’s for video conferencing. There’s no file uploads, curriculum building, quizzing, tracking, or anything else like that. For that, you need what’s called a Learning Management System on which you build your curriculum.
With all of the expenses involved, many educators are deciding to create their own online learning classroom to teach web courses to their students. In this article, we will show you how to make a virtual classroom that can support an entire organization with potentially hundreds of teachers, and thousands of students.
First of all, it’s important to understand that there are many different ways to create an online classroom or transition to an online eLearning environment. There isn’t one standard way to build it. Therefore, I will show you how I would build an online learning classroom platform for myself, my organization, and my students. I’ve done this several times before for various reasons. Essentially, there are 7 steps to successfully building your online learning platform. So, here’s how to make a virtual classroom for as little as $3.
Step 1: Get Web Hosting that Can Handle a Virtual Classroom for eLearning
The first thing you need is a good web host that can handle a Learning Management System with multiple online classes and plenty of users. Depending on how tech savvy you are, there are two options to choose from for your web host.
A2 Hosting: Starting at $2.96 (at the time this article was written), A2 Hosting provides lightning fast web hosting services. I use A2 Hosting for some of my highest traffic websites and currently run an eLearning platform on it as well. If you get A2 Hosting, you can install Moodle, a free distance learning and online classroom software for free. More on Moodle later.
Kinsta: Being one of the most premium, user friendly web hosting companies, Kinsta starts at $30 per month. Kinsta is a “Managed WordPress” host. If you aren’t very tech savvy, Kinsta is definitely the way to go. However, if you go with Kinsta, you will not have the option to install Moodle.
Step 2: Install WordPress on Your Web Host
Unless you decide to use Moodle, the next thing you need to do is install WordPress on your web hosting server. If you go with Kinsta, WordPress will already be installed for you.
What is WordPress? WordPress is an open source content management system used for creating websites and blogs. WordPress is completely free and easy to use. It has a little bit of a learning curve, but what doesn’t?
Keep in mind, if you decide to use Moodle, you don’t need to install WordPress. However, both are free.
Step 3: Use LearnDash for WordPress to Easily Create and Manage Online Learning
WordPress alone isn’t a learning management system or virtual classroom platform. However, WordPress is an extremely powerful software for building all different types of websites. In fact, WordPress is the most common website platform in the world. Since it’s so common, there are a lot of free addons and plugins available.
Since WordPress alone isn’t an online learning platform, you will need to add a plugin. Use LearnDash to quickly and easily turn WordPress into one of the most powerful and flexible learning management systems in the world.
LearnDash does come with a price, but it’s worth it. Right now, at the time I wrote this, LearnDash costs $159. One time payment with a year of support. Sounds expensive right?
Well consider this…
Blackboard is a similar learning management system. The average cost of Blackboard for a school district or university is $160,000 per year!
Furthermore, there are several Virtual Classroom software solutions that run between $15-$99 per month, per teacher. That $159 is starting to sound a lot better isn’t it?
If you don’t have the budget for LearnDash, you can use Moodle instead. Moodle is a completely free eLearning platform and has many of the same features as LearnDash. Although it isn’t quite as user-friendly or powerful as LearnDash, Moodle is 100% free. It will get the job done.
Remember, if you use Moodle, you don’t need to install WordPress at all. Moodle stands alone as a website builder and learning management system. Also, Moodle has an awesome app for Android and iOS. Keep in mind that if you use Moodle, you need to go with A2 Hosting (not Kinsta) to get it for free.
Step 4: Create a YouTube Account for Virtual Classroom Lectures
I know what you’re thinking… What in the world would I use YouTube for anything? You may think of YouTube as the annoying app on your kids cell phone that distracts them all the time. This is not what YouTube is all about.
YouTube is the largest, most reliable video streaming platform in the world. Additionally, anyone can use it for free as much as they would like.
With YouTube, you can pre-record your lectures and upload them for students to watch anytime. Furthermore, you can have Live Stream sessions to engage with your students. You can Live Stream Q&A sessions or broadcast your lecture live to engage with students during class.
This next part is important…
You can embed your YouTube videos and live stream in your LearnDash or Moodle platform. Also, your free YouTube account has a lot of settings for restricting video access, hiding your videos from the search engine part of YouTube, and even if/how people comment on your videos.
Sorry to say this, but YouTube is awesome… and it’s free.
Also, most people are already familiar with it and know how to use it. Especially kids. If you want a paid video platform for some reason, use Vimeo. But it’s not cheap. If you want a free solution for live streaming and video, YouTube is the way to go.
Step 5: Install the Free StreamLabs OBS Software on Your Computer
I have to say, Streamlabs OBS is one of the most awesome free tools a teacher could have. Would you like to be able to record your computer screen? Your webcam? Both at the same time? Streamlabs OBS is incredibly easy to use and does it all.
Streamlabs OBS was built for Live Streaming from your laptop, webcam, or both at the same time. It easily integrates with YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, and a number of other platforms.
This part is pretty cool… I use this a lot.
If you want to draw like you’re on a chalkboard, you can get a free drawing app and stream your computer screen while you solve problems. You can even keep your webcam stream of your face in the corner so the students can see you while you write or draw.
Step 6: Build Your Virtual Classroom Environment
Now that you have all of your tools picked out, installed, and set up, it’s time to build your virtual classroom. You have all the tools, but you need to figure out how they work and get them working together.
A lot of this might be planning and testing. But it’s much easier to plan and test your online classroom after you have the tools you need. So make sure you have your web hosting setup, your learning management system installed, and everything else before you try to plan it or put it together.
Step 7: Move Your Curriculum to Your Online Learning Classroom in LearnDash
Once you have your online eLearning environment all setup and ready to teach, it’s time to start moving your curriculum to the learning management system. Now this might take some time. In fact, this will probably take longer than anything else we’ve talked about.
Moving your curriculum online will consist of getting your worksheets into PDF format for download, creating sections or modules for your lessons and topics. If you want to pre-record your lessons, you should start recording and uploading them. Although, for engagement purposes, I highly recommend Live Streaming your lectures.
You should build the course curriculum in the same way you would plan the curriculum on a calendar. Except go ahead and add any materials they would need. Also, add quizzes, activities, notes, reading material, and online tests. You can make things available to the students as needed or as time goes on.
Have any questions or input? Feel free to comment below or open a discussion on YouTube!