Scaling to 1 million learners

How we helped a client overcome the “WordPress wall” and scale to 1 million learners.

    The challenge

    Our client faced a challenge that many of our clients before them had faced. They’d enjoyed incredible growth, with account numbers increasing by thousands every week.

    But now their WordPress based learning management system was no longer up to the job. What was once the company’s most-powerful tool was now its single-biggest barrier to future growth.

    All of the tell-tale signs of an LMS bursting at the seams were there:

    • The system slowed to a crawl and beefing-up server resources was providing diminishing returns
    • Users were frustrated, and they were vocal about it too –  filling up the ticking system with their support requests and complaints
    • Individuals and corporate clients were unsatisfied, and they were leaving at an alarming rate
    • Administrating the LMS became a laborious task and was becoming an increasing drain on team resources

    They’d reached the WordPress wall, and the future of the business demanded a more scalable LMS solution.

    WordPress life-support

    WordPress is not infinitely scalable and cannot be seriously considered for learning management systems that expect huge user-numbers. So our client prepared to say their tearful goodbyes.

    But creating a new, more scalable system would take 8-12 weeks. So our very first job was to buy some time and extend the life of their WordPress system, if only for a few months.

    • We carried out a plugin audit, deactivated non-essential plugins and replaced particularly bloated ones to minimise disruption caused by bugs
    • We made significant improvements to overall performance using on-site optimisation techniques
    • We moved the site to our specialist LMS hosting environment and loaded media from a CDN
    • We built new tools that would better support their corporate clients, reducing churn during this interim period

    And with these changes in place, we could now focus our efforts on crafting a scalable LMS.

    Building a scalable LMS

    After carrying out a collaborative Needs Analysis and building a technical specification with our client, we set out to build the system that would allow their business to continue to grow.

    While our designers were creating interactive prototypes to help determine the LMS’ interface, our developers built the LMS framework that could be scaled horizontally – a critical decision that would allow us to introduce multiple servers as demand increased, sharing the load to ensure optimum performance at all times.

    The system would support 1 – 5 million learners with relative ease, so it was future-proof, avoiding future growing pains.

    WordPress allows for vertical scaling (adding more power to a single server) which is limited. An elastic infrastructure allows for horizontal scaling (adding more servers) for infinite scaling.

    Elastic infrastructure

    A scalable LMS without a scalable hosting infrastructure is useless.

    We worked with Amazon to create an elastic hosting environment that would easily scale up and down as necessary, effortlessly handling unpredictable growth and spikes in traffic.

    We also custom-built a video delivery system (with help from Amazon), allowing our client to upload their training videos with automatic transcoding into steam-friendly SD and HD formats. This form of content delivery had two key benefits; reduced demand on the main server, and reduced media serving costs (when compared to video hosting site costs).

    Migration & launch

    Migrating users from one learning management system to another is always a challenge, but one that is often necessary to overcome.

    We built a custom import tool that migrated their WordPress users into the new system, and also imported the most-essential learning records such as the courses they are enrolled in, their completion status and assessment scores.

    We also migrated Stripe memberships, ensuring that there were no lost payment subscriptions during the switch-over and no dip in revenue.

    And with the migration complete and the new LMS launched, our client was free to grow once again.

    Overcome your WordPress wall

    If you’ve hit the WordPress wall, congratulations on your growth! Now it’s time to scale – let’s chat and see if we should work together.