In his annual State of the Word address, Matt Mullenweg gave a number of interesting statistics relating to WordPress over the last year. Some were good, but others, not so good.
On the “good” side of the ledger was the increase, of 2.2%, of total sites now using WordPress, a number that brings usage up to 18.9%. He also mentioned that overall awareness of the WordPress brand in the USA is at 29.3%—very impressive.
But the stat that really stood out to me was on the opposite side of the spectrum, the “not good” side of the ledger:
Of the approximately 50,000 signups that WordPress.com gets per day, 96% are abandoned within seven days. That means that more than 369,000 sites are abandoned on a weekly basis.
Optimists, no doubt, heard that number and said that WordPress is doing great because they sign up and keep 2,000 new sites a week, but the Product Manager in me immediately zeroed in on that 96% attrition. What’s the cause? How does that number get reduced? While there is no definitive answer to that question as yet, it seems likely that a large portion of the solution lies in the education of new users of the product.
One of the biggest problems we have as a community—and let’s be clear that I think our community is pretty damn awesome as it is and that any help it needs is in the way of small tweaks, not massive overhauls—is that we are moving into a developer-first mentality when it comes to WordPress education.
Think about it: You can find any number of tutorials and screencasts on topics such as using conditional tags in WordPress (I know, cause I’ve written one of them), but very few on how to change the default category of your WordPress site, or how to fix the white screen of death, for examples.
Going back to the State of the Word address, Matt also announced the launch of a new resource for developers, developer.wordpress.org, which, while it hasn’t launched yet, will obviously be geared to helping people learn to develop for WordPress. By contrast, if you go to learn.wordpress.org, the space for end-user education, it’s a virtual ghost town. One can almost hear crickets in there. There’s some info about a workshop that happened in San Diego in March of 2013, and not much else.
Who Are the Educators?
One of the hats I get to wear on a regular basis is that of WordPress Educator, as I teach an Intro to WordPress class at a college in Toronto and also do private training on occasion. I know that there is tremendous demand for this topic; having filled one class to overflowing for several terms, we have had to expand my offering to two sections as well as an additional online version in the last year.
And I’m not alone. I know that Lorelle also offers a WordPress class out of a college in the Pacific Northwest, for starters, and I see more and more classes being offered by higher education institutions trying to meet the demand for training in WordPress. But this increase in demand for training brings with it a question: Who is doing all this training? How much experience do they have with the product? Are they teaching the right things?
I’ve seen plenty of private course offerings that claim to offer comprehensive WordPress training but, upon closer inspection, actually had course outlines along the lines of “Use a one-click installer because it’s easy. Install these plugins because I said so. Now learn what kind of content to write and how often.”
While I am sure there are people who are successful offering these kinds of classes, they don’t actually teach much of the abundant functionality built into WordPress. Those students will either never know many of the great features the rest of us enjoy or they will have to stumble upon them on their own, because their teacher has taught content curation rather than the WordPress platform itself.
There isn’t a semester that goes by when I don’t hear “I had no idea WordPress could do that!” at least 3 times. Not only do those moments make teaching worthwhile, but they also let me know that my student is going to be using WordPress for a long time to come as they continue to explore the functionality.
So how do we make sure that people who want to get training in WordPress are actually getting quality training? Do we certify trainers? The concept sounds good in theory, but the logistics behind training, testing and updating the credentials of those certified would be challenging at best and would result in there being a limited number of certified trainers, a closed group controlled from head office—very much against the spirit of the open source fundamentals upon which WordPress has been built.
My suggestion? An approved WordPress training curriculum, available free of charge to all who want it. Whether you want to use it as the base curriculum for your course as an instructor, download it to learn WordPress on your own, or even give it to your clients when you finish building their WordPress site, it would be freely available to all.
It would be relatively easy for an individual to contact a few other instructors and put together a decent curriculum. (In fact, on my site, WPTeach.com, I have an entire section called “The Curriculum” – under development – for the purpose of educating the end-user on some basics.) The issue with this is that unless it comes with the blessing of the folks at WordPress themselves, it has next to no chance of acceptance within the community as a whole.
So, assuming anyone agrees with my suggestion for a standardized WordPress curriculum for end-users, how would this be accomplished in a way that has it gain acceptance?
You invite a select group to work on the project, people who know the platform well but also, more importantly are positioned to know what is on the minds of new WordPress users (let’s say, for the sake of argument, we assign three Happiness Engineers, three instructors who currently offer a WordPress course at an accredited school, and three private instructors). Have them put together a curriculum present it to the entire community for review and recommendations with the goal being the production of a complete, here-is-how-you-can-learn-WordPress curriculum.
Will it take some work to get this done? Yes.
Will there be points we can’t get consensus on ? Of course.
Will this help in bringing in more long-term users of WordPress and get us a little closer to our shared goal of democratizing the web? Absolutely.
So how do we get started?
When not at his day job in the hosting industry, Al teaches WordPress at a Toronto, Ontario college and also does corporate WordPress training. As a freelance web developer, he is always busy building sites on the WordPress platform. All this leaves him very little time to ride his Harley and watch NFL football.