Woo Sensei Plugin – Almost Ready for Prime Time?

Woo recently released their highly-touted (by them) e-learning WordPress plugin, Sensei. Features look nice, but is it solid? Not as of this writing.

I found out about this little gem because I was contacted for help by someone who had bought it. The install had gone OK, and it was operating, but it looked funny. The course pages looked Overly Wide and strange. I am not linking to the site for now, because I’d rather not hold them up for unwanted scrutiny. But if you pay me, maybe I’ll show you. 🙂 I took a look at the site, and noticed problems immediately.

Caution: Developer-Speak coming up. But I’ll try to make it somewhat human-understandable.

Woo Woo drink. You won't be a sensei after a few of these!
Woo Woo drink. You won’t be a sensei after a few of these!

Rookie Woo Developer Mistake #1

When I looked at the HTML code, I noticed that they used the ID “content” on the DIV containing the course info. That sounds logical, except for one little thing – zillions of WordPress themes already have a DIV with an ID of “content”. Doh! So if the theme’s “content” has a certain width, the Sensei DIV will use this width, even if it’s drastically wrong in the Sensei context. Also, in some themes this may cause 2 DIV’s with an ID of “content”, and this is a definite no-no, pages won’t validate, CSS won’t work, etc.

In English: if your site’s content container is of a certain width, the Sensei course content area might be too narrow, or too wide. Annoying, yet fixable.

Woo Developer Mistake Number Deux

The above problem (unless there are 2 “content” DIV’s) can be fixed with appropriate CSS. Plugins frequently come with their own CSS. This plugin had none. Ouch! And before you storm in with a comment, in the Sensei menu I did have the box checked to use its CSS. There just wasn’t any. 🙂 And even if the CSS had been decent, this would not have prevented the potential duplicate ID’s problem. Doh! So I wrote extra CSS to fix the problem, and all was well again.

English: if their CSS and HTML had been working and appropriate, the problem may have been prevented.

Sensei about to open a can of whup-ass because his plugin won't work!
Sensei about to open a can of whup-ass because his plugin won’t work!

It’s especially ironic that there was no Woo CSS for this, because Woo Themes have tremendous amounts of very complex CSS that can take significant time to modify, even for a CSS geek like yours truly. Since that first site, I was asked to look at another Woo Sensei misshapen site, and this one DID have Woo CSS, so I guess that site owner had gotten the latest partial bugfix from Woo, but there were still contextual CSS problems. Ouch! (almost Developer Mistake Numero 3, I suppose) Again, writing some CSS fixed the problem. I can’t even offer a stock fix, because every theme’s CSS dimensions and layout are different!

In Woo’s defense, I will say that their documentation is usually decent, and in fact, somewhat better than that offered by other WordPress theme companies. Here is a nice page describing how to alter the Sensei layout with template code. I actually didn’t need to resort to that, but the instructions sound pretty clear, and I’d be happy to tackle that for someone who needs a more drastic or more customized fix.

Woozy Support – We Can’t Get No WordPress Satisfaction

CSS and template documentation are plenty enough to allow someone like me to quickly fix this type of site. But if you bought Sensei and you’re not a web developer, you may not be able to fix your site with either CSS OR template documentation. And this is what’s getting people very torqued. I’ve been hearing anecdotally that Sensei buyers are frantically asking for help from Woo tech support, and they are getting little or unsatisfactory help. I can’t comment firsthand on that, because although I’ve worked on Woo Themes and Woo Commerce for various people, I didn’t buy the products, so I’m not able to access their support, nor am I informed as to when bugfixes are released. So I do my own troubleshooting.

My specialty is creating themes using the Genesis framework, and people asked me if this is a Genesis problem. I would say no. The problems above can occur in any WordPress theme.

So I hope Woo nails this stuff down sometime soon. It occurs to me that if they get rid of the “content” ID to fix the above scenario, some sites’ CSS will re-break! 🙂 Well, that’s what you get for releasing something before it’s fully baked. Fortunately, so far no known Woo Sensei salmonella poisoning cases!

8 Comments


  1. Thanks for hitting the high points, Dave. I agree with you – out of the box, Sensei is completely useless with Genesis. And the $99 pricetag for something that needs a developer’s touch to make look presentable is ridiculous. Hopefully they’ll get their act together soon – in theory it’s a good plugin. In practice, …

    Reply

    1. Jeni,
      That’s a great point. If it were a freebie someone made in their spare time (some of which are great!), one might expect some bumps in the road, or a need for manual work. They ought to pro-rate the price based on how much help you need! 🙂 But they’re busier making the big bucks, I guess.

      While thinking about this issue, I read one of their blog Posts where they were all contrite about how their support had sucked (their word!). I wonder if it’s getting better. Who knows, anything’s possible.

      Dave

      Reply

  2. Any chance you could do an updated write up now with further development being done?

    Reply

    1. Hi Nathan,
      That’s interesting that you mentioned that. This article has been out a long time, but I just wrote a brand new one on getting comments to appear on lessons for certain themes. I hope to have the Woo people link to that, and if I do more Sensei modifications and fixes, I could write even more.

      Thanks,
      Dave

      Reply

  3. Hey. I have an online course and would like to change my platform. I saw sensei and thought it was a good deal even if I have to pay a developer to do some work since people want 10k to build something similar from scratch. What I would like to ask you is if you can alter their quiz, for example, their fill in the gap quiz can only be manually graded. I would like to have it automatically graded because i don’t wanna have an instructor to take care of this. Is it possible to do? That’s my question. Thanks for your article.

    Reply

    1. Bom dia, Paulo,
      Thanks for asking. To be honest, I don’t have a solid answer for you right now. I think I see your general meaning – I can see where it would be complicated: someone’s answer might have variations. For instance, even with a simple word, you may have answers like this: “yes”, “YES”, “yeah”, “I agree”, “yup”, “y”, “true”, etc.

      I can tell you this – I have modified plugins before, and it’s possible I could do that for this purpose. I would probably need to discuss details and do some investigation to give you a better answer.

      If you’d like to discuss it further, please send me a message.

      You may already know this, but it’s important to know that when making changes to a plugin, that makes plugin updates either more difficult, or even impossible in some cases. And of course, the original plugin author (Woo in this case) usually won’t support code that they have not written.

      I hope that helps,
      Tchau, Dave

      Reply

  4. I’ve created a theme using the Genesis framework too and I liked the result. Are you still using Genesis?

    Reply

    1. Matheo, Yes, I’ve created lots of custom themes with Genesis. I still use it, and I also like a variety of non-Genesis themes, too. There’s lots of great stuff out there, something for every taste.

      Dave

      Reply

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