TL; DR: Whether you’re making your first website or explaining to someone the difference between WordPress posts and pages for the thousandth time, WP101 helps solve the mysteries of the internet’s most popular content management system. With dozens of video tutorials geared toward beginners, WP101 and Founder Shawn Hesketh have given more than 1.5 million WordPress rookies the skills to create, manage, and grow their website. Other options allow developers and hosting providers to easily train their customers, freeing up valuable time to take on more projects and customers. Shawn gave us a peek behind the curtain to see how WP101 started, grew, and continues to evolve alongside the popular publishing platform.
When Shawn Hesketh started making video tutorials in 2008 to show his clients how to use this newfound platform called WordPress, the bar was not set terribly high.
“There was only one other series out there,” he said. “It was poorly produced, hard to follow, and badly out of date.”
As a freelance designer for 26 years, Shawn would provide one-on-one in-house WordPress trainings. To avoid having to explain the same topics, he used his background in professional audio and video production to record his own series of high-quality instructional videos that also served as follow-up resources.
Roughly 10 years and 1.5 million users later, WP101 now offers dozens of videos that help new and aspiring site owners learn the basics of WordPress in less than an hour.
“Whether you’re building a personal blog, business website, or an eCommerce site, our goal is to continue providing the additional training you’ll need to be successful,” he said. “The best feedback we receive regularly is that we’re able to break down complicated, technical stuff and make it easy for the novice to understand.”
Keeping Pace With WordPress and the Online Learning Industry
For years, Shawn worked as a freelance designer creating sites in Adobe Dreamweaver. As more customers asked for the ability to change their content without having to hire a developer, he eventually found WordPress in 2007.
“WordPress provided an easy way for site owners to update their own website using just their web browser,” he said. “That was revolutionary at the time. Today, we take it for granted, but tools like WordPress have truly democratized web publishing.”
As WordPress has grown in popularity, so have the opportunities to learn online. Comparing the eLearning industry to an explosion, Shawn called attention to a report that anticipates the global online learning market will reach $325 billion by 2025.
“One challenge is just ensuring our audience can find our courses,” he said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our reach and ensure that our training continues to be best in class.”
Multiple Learning Options Match Courses to Learners’ Experience
According to Shawn, WP101 serves two distinct audiences: beginners and WordPress professionals such as developers, designers, agencies, and hosting providers.
GoDaddy and Media Temple have both licensed WP101 videos, along with WooCommerce, WPBeginner, NASA, and hundreds of other companies looking to help their customers learn.
WP101.com: Perfect for Motivated Beginners and Site Owners
Most people who come to WP101’s website for training are site owners, Shawn said, whether their website endeavor is something they want to craft themselves or has been built by a developer.
Nearly everyone starts with the basic lessons covered in the WordPress 101 video series, he said, before they progress to intermediate tutorials that cover search engine optimization with Yoast SEO, running an online store with WooCommerce, and the extra features Jetpack introduces to the WordPress platform.
“We’ve all wasted hours wading through boring tech books, or scouring homemade videos on YouTube that are filled with jargon, ‘uhs’ and ‘ums,'” he said. “Our WordPress tutorial videos are meticulously scripted for beginners, then professionally recorded and produced.”
WP101 Plugin: Allowing Developers and WordPress Pros to Teach Their Clients
Several years ago, WP101 launched a plugin to help WordPress designers, developers, and agencies deliver impeccable training without a major time investment.
“Instead of spending hours teaching WordPress basics to their clients, the WP101 plugin frees their time so they can get back to what they do best,” Shawn said.
The plugin, which currently boasts more than 10,000 active installations, delivers WP101 videos directly to clients’ WordPress dashboard. Web professionals can choose which videos to show or add their own videos to explain any custom features they’ve crafted for their client.
“We’ve had testimonials from companies who have seen a measurable reduction in the number of basic support questions after installing the WP101 plugin on their customers’ websites,” Shawn said. “So, WP101 helps both beginners and WordPress professionals save time — and that time saved also equates to tangible savings elsewhere.”
What’s Coming: How WP101 Adapts and Stays Ahead of Competitors
Right after producing the first WordPress video tutorials, Shawn said he realized the biggest challenge in his new business would be keeping everything current and accurate with the latest version of WordPress.
Despite updating the WordPress 101 series “something like 22 times,” he said, one of the biggest challenges is making sure WP101 courses cut through the cluttered online learning options and become a go-to resource.
1. Redesigned User Experience to Promote Social Connections
Given his decades as a professional designer, Shawn said he is very interested in and responsive to trends in UX and UI design.
“I love geeking out over conversion and marketing research,” he said. “If I gave into those impulses, we’d probably redesign our website a couple of times per year.”
With the rapid influx of online learning courses, he said he has discovered that most educational experiences are unsatisfactory — they either fail to deliver the outcome promised or just provide videos without any room for interaction or collaboration.
“I’m really excited about the work we’re doing to improve the overall experience at WP101.com,” he said. “We’re exploring ways to make the learning experience more social, more connective.”
Part of that improvement is WP101’s Q & A help forum, where members can post questions and receive trustworthy answers from other members and expert instructors — including frequently from Shawn himself.
2. Renewed Emphasis on Objective-Based Learning
Shawn said he keeps his UX/UI inspirations under control by focusing on one key metric: Does this new course, feature, product, or partnership help WP101 audiences accomplish what they’re trying to do?
“If not, it’s just a distraction,” Shawn said. “We’re optimizing everything we do to provide the best online learning experience possible. The success of WP101 is directly proportional to how well we’re able to help our audience accomplish their own goals.”
As such, the WP101 team is redesigning courses to be more directly connected to specific tasks or outcomes, focusing less on specific tools, products, or plugins.
“Very few people truly want to learn a new technology just for the sake of learning it,” he said. “For the most part, you want to learn how to do something, create something, or accomplish something online. We need more objective-based training in the tech space and fewer product feature tours.”
Day-to-Day Operations Mean Daily Feedback From WP101 Audience
Shawn still runs the day-to-day operations of WP101.com, including answering questions in the user forum.
“I plan to continue doing that as long as it’s feasible because that provides the best point of contact with our audience,” he said. “It gives me the best idea of what people are struggling with, what their pain points are, and what they’re trying to accomplish.”
That connection with users provides Shawn the understanding of how to tweak current courses or ideas for what training should be provided next.
“The insight is invaluable, but those conversations with our members are also what I most enjoy,” he said. “Too many online courses today are created for the purpose of generating passive income, and the course creator is completely absent and unavailable. I view WP101 as a vehicle for me to connect with people I would never have been able to connect with otherwise. I love helping them get from Point A to Point B.”