LearnDash is one of the most popular LMS plugins available for WordPress.
Its popularity is due to the fact that it’s a WordPress plugin, and has extreme versatility as it leverages the inbuilt features of WordPress and also of various plugins.
Although WordPress-based LMS like LearnDash has a steep learning curve, it offers powerful customization options and also preserves the optionality for custom development.
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If you’re very serious about learning experience design and want to implement features in your LMS that sets you apart from the competition, LearnDash may be the perfect platform for you.
It plugs in directly into the WordPress ecosystem, giving you all the benefits of the platform and other existing apps.
For example, LearnDash integrates with Elementor, WordPress Gutenberg Editor, BuddyBoss (best community management app), Astra theme, etc.
I’ll be reviewing LearnDash in-depth, and help you decide whether it’s right for you or not.
You can create a really awesome instructional design experience with LearnDash especially leveraging the dynamic content functionality of Elementor when used with Advanced Custom Fields.
These are the plugins I use mainly on my course platform:
- LearnDash (Plus)
- Elementor Pro
- Advanced Custom Fields
- Astra Pro WordPress theme (actually BuddyBoss is the best option here)
One thing you need to note here is that with LearnDash or any other WordPress LMS, you need to make use of an external video hosting platform like Vimeo or Wistia to host your videos.
I’m having a Vimeo Plus plan ($7/month) that comes with the ability for me to enable domain-level privacy for my videos.
For you, the cost of the plugins and solutions for the LearnDash platform comes at around $362/year (LearnDash Plus, Elementor single site, Vimeo Plus, and a free WordPress theme) – which comes down to $30/month.
When it comes to value for money and flexibility, it beats every other hosted course platform out of the water. But don’t mistake me, you need to be quite tech-savvy to set up the platform.
The main reason why I’m using LearnDash is to preserve optionality and to implement my creative ideas without any limitations.
When you choose cloud platforms like Teachable or Thinkific, you’ll be constrained by the features and flexibility that these platforms offer.
For example, you can’t hire a custom developer to build a plugin for you to develop that unique feature that’s not available to any other instructors using the platform.
- Intelligent course builder: It has a well designed, flexible drag and drop/visual course builder that makes it effortless to create and edit courses.
- Extensive documentation and help guides: It has video tutorials and how-to-guides that make course creation uncomplicated. For that, if you’re considering learning how to operate LearnDash and want to make use of it right away, you are in luck.
- Drip-feed content: This is another helpful feature that allows you to restrict users from binge-watching the course in a single day. You can schedule and make some lessons accessible X-days after sign-up or make the course content available on a specific date/time.
- The prerequisites functionality: This is also another notable feature I liked about LearnDash. I use it to ensure that my students have relevant foundational knowledge before they can proceed to the next topic. Users can’t skip the course content because you’ll be dictating the flow and order of the course that learners have to follow.
- Video progression support: LearnDash has a unique built-in video progression feature that makes it easy to embed both self-hosted and externally hosted videos. The video player is easily customizable in that you can hide the play bar to restrict learners from skipping the videos.
- Focus-mode: LearnDash has prioritized learners’ experience by introducing the focus-mode view in the course frontend. This feature allows learners to go through the lessons without distractions. However, I don’t use this feature as I need to sacrifice some customization options, especially with Elementor. Focus mode feels quite rigid when it comes to customization.
- Broad library of plugins and addons: As LearnDash is a WordPress plugin, if you need more functionality, you can integrate it with other plugins like Elementor to create well-designed courses. As LearnDash is built right on top of WordPress, even small things can be accomplished using plugins (suppose you want to change the topics to lessons, you can make use of “Post type switcher”) and so on. You can even integrate LearnDash with WooCommerce for enabling more features and payment gateways.
- Topic/lesson reuse: With the help of a shortcode, you can easily insert a certain topic onto a page or post or rather use the same topic on multiple courses. This is possible because Topics and lessons are separate post types, so they can be used across multiple courses/pages on your site.
- Finally, I like the idea that LearnDash gives me the option to localize my courses. Don’t worry if English isn’t your students’ first language. You can easily translate your course content without installing separate plugins.
- It’s not an all-in-one solution: You need several third-party plugins to create a fully functional course. For example, you must install WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads plugins if you’re keen about accepting payments from payment gateways other than Stripe or PayPal.
- It doesn’t have direct compliance with Sharable Content Object Reference Model (Scorm) or Experience API (xAPI) thus difficult to track, personalize, and improve the learning experience.
- It doesn’t have a free trial despite the 30 days money-back guarantee. But it being a WordPress plugin, it’s illogical for you to expect a 30-days trial as it invites many illegal users.
- It’s not a membership plugin making it difficult to restrict or protect some pro content in your course. You must install a membership plugin like MemberPress or Restrict Content Pro for more flexibility. But by making use of the “groups” feature in LearnDash you can set up memberships – and also make content visible to only those enrolled on a specific group using shortcodes. Although this may not be the most elegant solution, it surely serves the job.
LearnDash features reviewed
If you’re trying to figure out which LMS will give you the most flexibility and control, then look no further than LearnDash.
For many trainers, how the interface will look is not a secondary consideration, it is their number one priority.
We want an LMS that will make the entire course creation process seamless -an LMS with a great backend and one that can create a classic front-end interface for our students.
To start with, LearnDash doesn’t have the best backend UI/UX, but at least the features you require during course creation are easily discoverable.
After using it for a long time, I can confidently say that working with it is super easy.
As long as you understand how courses, lessons, and topics are structured, you’ll realize that it works very similar to other functions in WordPress.
If you’re already using WordPress, the learning curve of LearnDash is pretty easy.
I’d suggest you go with SSD cloud hosting and also have CDN enabled for a much faster website.
I liked how the course content hierarchy is structured making the entire course creation process easy.
At the top level is the course, then lessons followed by topics. Below these, you’ll find quizzes, certificates, and assignments which you can add to the three levels above -the basic things you need to build a course.
To add a course, click on Courses, then hit the Add New button.
Add the name of your course, then hit the publish button.
Following the same procedure, go to lessons and topics. Add your topics and lessons then publish. Your course will be ready.
Unless you want to edit the pages, you can do a bit of CSS work using plugins like custom CSS or CSS Hero. I prefer using Elementor Pro to bring out the best user experience for the frontend interface of my courses.
LearnDash has 5 different course types that you can create. They are,
- Open courses: Those that don’t require registration/login to access them. They’re free to your website visitors.
- Free courses: Registration/login is required for one to access the course. Also, a “take this course” button must be shown to send the user to a default WP login page.
- Closed courses: Registration/login is required to access the course. Again, this course type allows you to sell it with a shopping cart or membership plugin.
- Buy now courses: This is a premium course type (not for free) with which the users must log in to access the course content. It works with the default LearnDash payment options, PayPal and/or Stripe. It is not recommended to be used with membership or shopping cart plugins.
- Recurring courses: This course type is like the buy now course only that the course fee/payment is recurring instead of one time. You can customize the billing cycle in days, weeks, months, or years.
Besides, with LearnDash you can populate your course content with an unlimited number of topics, lessons, and quizzes.
During this process, you can use the forced lesson timer – a feature which ensures that students spend a certain amount of time on a topic/lesson before they can proceed to the next one.
LearnDash has a lesson/topic-level drip functionality.
But how beneficial is this feature?
You can use it to make specific lessons or topics available on a certain day/date. It doesn’t help much for an instructor (“you”), but your students will have enough time to digest what they learned in their previous lesson before they can proceed to the next.
Apart from that, it results in a guided learning experience. It allows new students to learn at their pace and not rush to catch up with the others who joined early.
Personally, I don’t make use of the Drip feature most of the time. Because not every student you enroll in my training course is slow learner.
Sometimes, the drip functionality can backfire and people don’t have the patience to wait for the content to unlock and they don’t complete the course.
But, if you offer a limited-time trial or even a money-back guarantee, you can make use of drip content strategically to make sure that people won’t pirate your complete course and request money-back soon after.
Want to see if your course is helping your students?
Create quizzes and find out.
LearnDash allows you to create meaningful questions, quizzes, and assessments to measure the student’s level of understanding before they get a certificate or move to the next module.
It has 8 quiz/question types you can choose from including, single choice, multiple-choice, free choice, sorting choice, matrix sorting choice, fill in the blank, assessment (survey), and essay (open answer).
For all these quiz types, you can enforce quiz completion using the block progression feature, which ensures that users complete and pass a quiz before starting the next lesson.
Enforcing quiz completion rather than drip-feeding the content is the way to go. Because, if they are anyhow learning proactively and demonstrating it (via quizzes) why restrict their learning pace?
Besides, LearnDash has an intelligent course compliance feature that academic institutes can use to track the course completion rate of every student.
Now, the quiz is over…what next?
LearnDash offers several options for displaying/analyzing/reporting the results.
You can show/hide correct or incorrect responses, email students their final score, display leaderboards (learners with more points in the quiz), award personalized certificates among others.
Even though this LMS doesn’t have pre-built certificate templates to get you started, you can create one with Canva and upload it or create a dynamic, printable certificate using Elementor.
You may ask,
Do I need a membership plugin with LearnDash?
No! LearnDash has a built-in course content protection feature that you can use to create membership levels, sub-levels, sell course access, and even award membership/group certificates.
If you want to restrict a resources page, non-course related videos, bonus content, special downloads or want to hold a webinar for members of a group…here’s how to go about it:
Click on groups in the side menu then hit the add new button on the top-right corner. Add the group title, in my case I have BloggingX Pro.
Head over to the settings tab and customize the display and content options.
Now go to the courses tab, click on the course you want to add to the group you just created and hit the right-pointing arrow. Finish the setup by hitting the publish/update button.
Note: For more control over user access to your courses, use MemberPress which excels in grouping, memberships, reminders, coupons, etc.
You must understand that not all LMS support digital products selling except for a few like Podia and Kajabi.
LearnDash doesn’t have this functionality (such a deal breaker), but you can use its supported payment gateways (PayPal, Stripe & 2Checkout) to sell your courses.
I use it because it supports digital product selling, upsells and order bumps, a built-in affiliate program, and an inbuilt sales tax calculation system.
Alternatively, you can use CartFlows to access the same features plus it has more customization options and a page builder to design your checkout pages.
The only downside I encountered with CartFlows is that, unlike ThriveCart which embeds on any website, CartFlows works only with WordPress.
You can even make use of WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads depending upon your use case and the options you need.
Most of us have enrolled in one or two online courses. I have, and I understand that taking an online course can be a little lonely.
So, how does LearnDash ensure that your students network and get to know and share ideas with one another, and probably ask questions to the instructor?
Well, this LMS doesn’t have its own community portal, but they understand that online courses are more than just delivering content to learners.
People prefer social opportunities (which is why social networks are so popular) and so LearnDash allows us to develop communities around our courses with BuddyBoss integration (for social profiles like Facebook) and Slack (for chat rooms).
If you want to take the community-creation aspect to the next level, you can get BuddyBoss theme for WordPress.
It seamlessly integrates with LearnDash and also provides you access to create communities (like social media sites), implement badges, gamification, and much more.
When you use tools like BuddyBoss and Uncanny Automator, with LearnDash you can entirely put your community engagement and management on automation.
But when you are just beginning with expert business, getting BuddyBoss seems like overkill.
LearnDash works with any modern WordPress theme, but to my experience, it slots perfectly into the Astra theme(review). When used along with Astra, the theme also unlocks some LearnDash specific features, especially inside its customizer.
Astra even has a dedicated module for LearnDash.
No additional settings are required because it will automatically adopt all stylings and attributes of the theme.
Again, if your theme works well on mobile, LearnDash will. So don’t worry about mobile compatibility.
For additional skins and customization, it comes with a Visual Customizer addon that you can use to customize LearnDash specific templates like course content table, course progress bar, and widgets.
Other than the default skin, this customizer has five professional skins (namely modern, classic, rustic, playful, upscale, or even use the default) ideal for transforming the look and feel of your LearnDash course content.
Also, when using LearnDash, the student experience depends on how much effort you and your developer have put into the frontend design.
This is because poorly designed interfaces can frustrate users and heavily affect their learning experience and completion rates.
Some of these page builders (e.g. Elementor) can be used to create and customize sales/landing pages for your courses instead of using LearnDash shortcodes.
For example, I took advantage of the LearnDash-Elementor integration to create an Elementor-created popup navigation bar that allows my students to navigate through different course sections.
Additionally, I have made use of the Elementor button to help people jump to the comments section to make my lessons interactive.
You can get creative and add some CSS or custom code to tailor your LearnDash courses to your brand and make them unique to your learners.
Down the lane, you can even hire a custom developer to add some features to your LearnDash site (this is not possible with cloud platforms like Teachable).
Another thing I liked about LearnDash is that you can maximize your online course sales with SEO.
Tell me if this sounds familiar…
You spend months researching and creating a comprehensive course that you’re passionate about. You realize that there isn’t any other course like yours because it covers all topics in-depth to a level above that of your competitors.
To make it more fun, you supplement the course with some gamification elements (e.g. leaderboards and badges).
After many days of work, you publish the course. It’s available for purchase but nothing happens -there’s no traffic to the course and also no sales.
What should you do?
Use content marketing and SEO tools that come with WordPress to make your course visible in SERPs. You are already on the world’s best blogging platform – WordPress!
Here’s what I mean, Teachable supports custom domains but they usually insert their brand name (Teachable) in the checkout page URL whereas LearnDash does not.
It also provides additional permalink settings for customizing how URLs will be structured for your courses, lessons, topics & quizzes.
And by making use of Uncanny Toolkit (a plugin that also supports front end password reset with a custom email) or a free plugin like Frontend Reset Password (which I use) you can replace the default WordPress login and forgot password form with a custom, modern login form.
Finally, LearnDash is a 100% white label. And when it comes to securing your students’ data, it has PCI compliance -important for safeguarding credit card details.
SSL cryptographic encryption is also available to ensure that traffic between servers and web browsers is not compromised.
There are several ways to handle new users’ registration payments and payouts in LearnDash. However, you must always make the process as simple as possible if you want people to purchase your course.
To sell your courses, you need to set up a payment system available in LearnDash. You can use built-in options like Stripe or PayPal.
If you want to offer coupons and discounts, then a shopping cart plugin e.g. Woocommerce, membership plugins, custom forms, etc will come in handy.
I use CarFlows for digital products, funnels, and upsells, WooCommerce/Zapier for more payment integrations. I also use ThriveCart and Zapier or Integrately integration to provide access to purchasers.
On their own, these products make it simple to get started with accepting payments. Generally, they make my entire purchase process straightforward.
LearnDash also allows you to sell your courses in bundles so that someone can be enrolled in all the courses in a certain bundle if they purchase that package.
One thing I don’t like about LearnDash is that it does not provide for any marketing functionalities for courses – like upsells, downsells, etc.
Email is one of the primary tools I use to communicate with learners online. I believe it is the backbone of online course businesses because if used well, learners will feel engaged – reducing the chances of them falling behind on their course work.
But now you ask, does LearnDash have a built-in email marketing system?
No, it doesn’t. However, since this LMS blends well with the WordPress ecosystem, it provides some options for integrated email marketing.
You can also enhance the learner engagement in your courses using the LearnDash notification feature.
Using this feature together with the email marketing integrations that LearnDash supports can help you do cross-selling and send promotions to your learners.
I found this feature useful than having none because just like Podia (review), I can send or notify my learners of new drip content or send reminders of the course due dates right in my LearnDash dashboard.
Added to this, LearnDash also comes with various free and pro add-ons for integrating with your email marketing softwares.
The fact that LearnDash integrates with MailChimp and ConvertKit will allow you to create segmented email lists for your courses.
Additionally, this will help you build your mailing list and connect or communicate with your students.
On top of that, you can use the Zapier integration to connect to other email marketing services and marketing automation tools like MailerLite, ClickFunnels, Infusionsoft by Keap, etc.
Do you know what’s better when you create your courses with LearnDash? It is when your visitors or students sell them for you.
The logic is simple. People refer customers to you, and you reward them a percentage of the sales (commission) as an appreciation.
There are several ways you can add an affiliate program to your course.
You can either use the popular AffiliateWP plugin if you want to create an affiliate program with Woocommerce or Easy Digital Downloads. Or you can make use of the affiliate program functionality in shopping cart apps like ThriveCart or SamCart.
Automation is the modern buzzword, and you may ask if LearnDash supports such functionality.
The answer is yes.
There are several things you can automate in LearnDash to get learners the support they need before they know that they need it.
By making use of Uncanny Automator (Zapier for WordPress) or LearnDash Notifications add-ons, you can automate actions like:
- Emails: Welcome emails, course completed emails, or quiz retake emails can be automated so that you don’t have to manually send them to each student.
- Community (BuddyBoss): With BuddyBoss, you can have your students share their feedback in one social community you create for your course. With this plugin, you can gather valuable feedback and let your students learn together.
- Certifications: The automation feature can also be used to send strategically timed notifications related to certifications.
- Upsells/cross-sells: You can automate emails of products or offers that you think will be beneficial to your students.
These are some of the triggers and actions available for LearnDash inside Uncanny Automator. You can use this plugin alone as a replacement for costly-Zapier with unlimited triggers and actions.
Along with this, for email automation, the LearnDash Notifications addon is extremely powerful.
Please do note that you should use these emails as transactional emails only. For marketing emails, you need to make use of LearnDash email software integrations (which I’ll discuss shortly), Uncanny Automator, etc.
I have used the “user enrolls into a course or group” trigger to send a welcome email to my new registrants. The email contains all the information they need to get started with the course.
It’s not the only trigger you can set, there are more like:
- A scheduled lesson is available to users: This sends a reminder to learners of the upcoming lessons or even exams.
- User fails a quiz: You can use this trigger to send students some review materials if they fail an exam.
- The User hasn’t logged in for X days: Students may become busy or lose interest in your course. How do you handle this? Send them an email to spark some interest and give them confidence that they can make it.
- The user passes a quiz or completes a topic/lesson/course are other triggers you can set up.
If you want some specific automation/integration that none of these plugins offer you, you can always get a custom plugin developed as you are on WordPress.
There are no limits on how many tools you can integrate with LearnDash.
Want to create unique lesson pages with many customizations and styling? Activate the Elementor for the LearnDash plugin.
Wondering how you can send notifications based on LearnDash student actions? LearnDash notifications add-on is there to help.
As of writing this post, LearnDash directly integrates 16 add-ons including 2Checkout, Stripe, Woocommerce, Elementor, MemberPress, bbPress, Event Espresso to name just but a few.
It also integrates with numerous third-party plugins like Uncanny Automator/Toolkit, BuddyBoss, CRM HubSpot, CRM Salesforce.
I liked the fact that this LMS supports Zapier and webhooks, which you can use to connect to other apps.
For example, using Zapier, you can make a connection between LearnDash and SurveyMonkey and send surveys to students after they complete a course.
It also allows you to connect to MailChimp and ActiveCampaign without having the developer skills.
LearnDash a premium LMS with 3 pricing plans is a go-to choice when it comes to pricing, support, and flexibility.
You can purchase any of these plans:
- Basic: This plan is priced at $159 per year. You’ll get access to all the features except that the new ProPanel feature won’t be available. Also, it is a plan to be used on one website only.
- Plus package: At $189 per year, you’ll be able to enjoy all the features of the basic plan except that you’ll have access to the ProPanel. This plan supports upto ten websites.
- Pro package: The Pro package stands at $329 as the annual fee. It includes all the Plus plan features and uses on 25 websites.
What if you’re not happy about the services, is there a free trial period?
No! LearnDash does not have a free trial, but all plans are covered by a 30-days money-back guarantee.
So, if you’re a startup tutor who wants to turn your WordPress site into a learning management system, the Basic plan can work out the magic for you.
The Plus and Pro packages will be a perfect subscription for academic institutions or online course hubs who want access to an enhanced LearnDash admin experience – the ProPanel.
I initially went with the basic plan, but I eventually realized that I needed a ProPanel feature as it helps me measure students’ progress and actually helps me stay motivated as an instructor.
I immediately upgraded to the “Plus”. Even if you don’t use the 10 site license in the Plus plan, the ProPanel feature alone makes it worthwhile.
Good customer support translates to better services and LearnDash fairly excels at this.
If you have questions or need a helping hand in setting up this plugin, you can submit a support ticket any time. However, responses are sent during office hours – Monday-Friday 7 AM-4 PM EST.
They may not offer 24/7 support, but they have an active and ready to help Facebook group community.
Their YouTube channel and documentation have enough info to get you started, even if you have never used an LMS before. Additionally, they have an actively maintained blog that will help you stay in the loop.
Unlike LearnDash (a premium LMS), LifterLMS is a freemium plugin that sells premium add-ons separately.
Another great feature that is not available in LifterLMS but LearnDash has is the focus mode. I don’t use this feature in my courses but some students may need to toggle to focus mode to increase concentration.
Also, another huge difference is that unlike LearnDash, LifterLMS does not have the lesson reuse functionality.
To reuse a lesson in LifterLMS, you must clone it – something that will create duplicate pages and content in your lessons list.
Both plugins are easy to use but LearnDash is the go for LMS when it comes to accepting payments.
LearnDash supports PayPal and Stripe as the default payment gateways. With these, you can add the currency that your audience will be comfortable with.
On the flipside, LifterLMS doesn’t have default payment gateways. You have to buy a payment addon if you must accept payments on LifterLMS making it even more expensive.
LearnPress is a solid, free plugin that looks great out of the box. But there are major concerns with it like not implementing proper coding standards.
Unlike LearnDash, it does not blend well with the WordPress ecosystem. Even worse, there are several cases of websites breaking.
Additionally, I can tell you to go with LearnDash as it is easy to get help from their ticket desk and Facebook community group.
And as of writing this post, LearnDash is seriously underpriced compared to LearnPress thus affordable.
Since the V3 of this LMS plugin was released in 2019, there has been a completely new learner experience.
It has brought in the new focus mode feature that could only be found in expensive SaaS/cloud-hosted apps like Teachable.
To add, LearnDash doesn’t break down your website in any way and your website’s performance will not be compromised when you install it.
Setting up a course is easier, thanks to the drag-and-drop visual builder and the swift integration with Elementor. You can now easily create courses that are 10x better and more professional than the traditional cloud-based LMS.