LearnDash: Best WordPress LMS Plugin
Are you looking for WordPress LMS (Learning Management System) plugin to create your online courses ?
To help you make your choice, I got a hands-on with LearnDash to give you real perspective on how it works and what’s good (or bad!).
In the end my goal is for you to make sure if LearnDash is the right tool for your needs.
To accomplish this, I will organize this LearnDash review as follows. Depending on your familiarity with the plugin, you may want to jump straight to one of the more detailed sections – it’s up to you!
- LearnDash feature list – I will introduce the plugin if you are still not sure how it works.
- A hands-on look at how the LearnDash dashboard works – I’ll show you the interface and give you a high-level look at how it works.
- LearnDash pros and cons – I’ll go over some specific pros and cons of using LearnDash.
LearnDash Review: A Quick Introduction to the Plugin
If you’re already familiar with the LearnDash feature list and want a more hands-on look, you can probably skip straight to the next section.
However, if you haven’t spent a few hours browsing the LearnDash website yet, I’d like to start with a quick introduction to the plugin’s functionality to get you up to speed.
LearnDash has a deep list of features which is one of the reasons it is so popular .
Using the drag and drop course builder, LearnDash lets you create complex courses complete with:
- Separate lessons and topics
- Videos, including on- demand autoplay videos that jump straight to the next topic
- Lesson timers
- Drip-fed content
- Certificates and badges
- course forums
If you plan to earn money from your courses, payment infrastructures can be simply integrated with Virtual post payment infrastructures. Or subscriptions, memberships, discounts, etc. You can connect third-party e-commerce or membership plugins for more flexibility in matters.
And to manage your courses, you can:
- View detailed reports in the backend
- Create user groups with custom users assigned to manage each group
- Sending email notifications, including automatic triggers based on user activity
- and much more…
At higher tiers, you can also access everything with the ProPanel feature, which gives you more detailed reports, including real-time activity.
Who Really Uses LearnDash?
LearnDash is used by both large educational institutions and businesses as well as numerous small websites and instructors.
On the business/corporate side, you have major players such as:
- University of Florida
- University of Michigan
Hands-on with LearnDash: Creating a Course
The part of the LearnDash review where I actually use the plugin hands-on and show you how it works. This is not an in-depth tutorial – my goal is to give you a good idea of how LearnDash works on the backend.
Then, in the next section, I’ll share more specific thoughts on some of the things I like and dislike about LearnDash.
For practice, I set up a test site using the Astra theme with custom integration for LearnDash. If you choose a different theme, your courses may not look flashy right away unless you have another theme with a custom LearnDash integration.
After installing LearnDash, you will see a big new LearnDash LMS section in your WordPress dashboard menu :
You will do most of your work here.
Creating a New Course
LearnDash uses simple custom post types, so the LearnDash interface is easy to navigate.
For example, to create your first course, simply go to Courses → Add New ( just like you would create a regular WordPress post ):
The top of the Add New Course interface looks exactly like the regular WordPress editor ( again – you should feel right at home ). But if you scroll down, you’ll get a new Course meta box where you can configure core functions .
The Question mark icons here are very helpful as they explain exactly how each setting works:
You’ll see these question marks throughout the interface, and they usually do a pretty good job of letting you know what’s going on.
Further down the page, you get the drag and drop LearnDash Course Builder .
This visual, drag-and-drop interface, you set your course and organize your very makes it easy to:
Basically, you just drag the available lessons, topics, and quizzes from left to right.
If you want, you can also create new lessons, topics and quizzes from the convenient drag and drop builder. Of course, you’ll still have to go back and edit them later. However, it’s nice to be able to add them quickly as you build the skeleton of your course.
Also, LearnDash includes a button in the drag-and-drop editor that lets you open the edit screen for a lesson, topic, or quiz in a new tab. This makes it really easy to jump into editing a particular item when needed.
Setting Course Lessons and Topics
Lessons are the building blocks of your courses. And each lesson can be divided into separate topics.
So the hierarchy goes:
Lessons > Lesson > Subject
You can use the visual builder mentioned above in the course interface to create lectures and topics. Or you can use the special menus in the sidebar.
When you edit a course, you can select the associated course and perform other actions such as:
- Upload an assignment for that course
- Enable video progression (makes it easy to embed video content as part of your lesson)
Similarly, when you edit a single topic, you can choose which course and course to associate it with, along with some other similar options.
Any changes you make in these separate interfaces will be automatically synchronized with the visual course builder, which makes it easy to switch back and forth as needed.
Embedding Course Content with Shortcodes in Front-End
I still have a few things to show you…
So, let’s take a quick walk and explore how you view front-end content with LearnDash.
This answer? Shortcodes!
In the Lessons section, LearnDash gives you a huge ‘ole list of tons of different content display shortcodes:
You have a ton of flexibility, which is nice ( although a bit overwhelming ).
To make it less overwhelming, you can use the new LearnDash Shortcodes button in the WordPress editor to choose from a multitude of possibilities :
Let me give a simple example though. If you want to view a single course, all you have to do is use the [course_content] shortcode with the course ID.
For example, just add the shortcode to a regular WordPress page like this…
…builds your entire course structure on the front-end. Notice again how the hierarchy goes:
To add other course content such as:
- Full course list
- User profiles
- Course categories
- course progression
Similarly you will use the same shortcode approach.
Creating Quizzes and Assignments
Ok, back to the WordPress dashboard to show you a few more things you can do with LearnDash.
Trainees your gasp , actually work by work you love to torture, at your disposal you have several options:
Let’s start with the quizzes. There are lots of options here. You have a ton of control over how your exams work ( I know some people complain about the limited number of question types ):
Configuring all these options for each quiz would be a pain. However , LearnDash has thought of this and included a handy feature that lets you save a number of settings as templates; this allows you to start pre-configured exams quickly and save a lot of time.
To actually create your questions, you open to the Questions tab where you can :
- Enter question text
- Choose the type of question (e.g. multiple choice, essay, fill-in-the-blank, etc.)
- Calculate points
As for assignments, you add them to the Lessons or Topics interface ( you’ve already seen them ). Then you can manage submitted assignments in the Assignments area:
Groups, Reports and Settings
To get things done, there are three more options available in the LearnDash LMS sidebar area:
- Groups – allows you to assign group leaders to a group of users.
- Reports – allow you to monitor statistics about your courses and students.
- Settings – allows you to configure basic settings such as translations, PayPal settings and more.
Seven Things You’ll Love About LearnDash
I hope the above has given you a solid understanding of how to use LearnDash on the backend at a high level. Now, I want to point out some special things about LearnDash that I think you will like.
1. Visual Course Builder is Super Helper
Visual Course Builder, and organize your course everything is linked to visualize how much makes it easier. I don’t think I can imagine using one of the LMS plugins without a drag and drop builder.
Additionally, the option to add new lessons, topics, and tests directly from the course builder makes it easy to edit everything at once and then go back and edit as needed.
2. Drip-Feed Ingredient and Prerequisites Eligible
The built-in content option for lessons is really helpful if you want to keep people coming back to your course ( or just to keep them from overdoing it in one sitting ).
LearnDash allows you to:
- Make content available X days after signing up
- Make content available on a specific date
Similarly, the prerequisites function is useful if you want to make sure people have the relevant basics before taking an advanced course.
With prerequisites, you can create a course group that will act as a prerequisite. Then you can decide whether a potential trainee should:
- ALL of these courses completed
- Less than one of these courses completed
3. Unique Video Progress Feature
If you use videos in your courses, LearnDash’s Video Advance feature makes it really easy to embed self-hosted or externally hosted videos.
You can even get creative and:
- Automatically mark lessons/topics complete after viewer finishes video
- Send students straight to the next video when finished
- Hide the playbar (to prevent skipping ), autoplay videos and much more.
4. Interaction Triggers for Automation
Engagement triggers are a powerful feature that allows you to automatically “do something” based on the specific action a student has just taken:
Now, that’s pretty vague…but it has to be vague because the tool is so flexible. A user can choose from a ton of different triggers such as:
- Enrolls in a course
- Completes a lesson
- fail an exam
- Uploads an assignment
- Not logged in for a certain number of days
When you trigger an event, you have several choices on your part as to what to do. First, you can send a specific email to the user. This alone helps anyway.
But what’s really cool is LearnDash’s Zapier integration. If you are unfamiliar, Zapier is a tool that helps you connect to a number of other applications.
Through LearnDash’s triggers and Zapier, you can automatically do things like :
- Add users to a specific segment in your email marketing service as soon as the user signs up for a course
- Create a helpdesk ticket or open live chat when someone fails a test
- Send yourself a text when someone signs up for a course
- much, much more
5. Lots of Official and Third-Party Add-ons for More Functionality
If you need more functionality than the core LearnDash plugin can offer, there is a huge marketplace of both official and third-party plugins that can help you :
- Integrate with other plugins
- Sending email notifications
- Using badges in your courses
- Creating better-designed courses
- …and much more
6. Easy Translations for Localization
If your site’s native language is not English, LearnDash makes it easy to translate and localize your course content without the need for a separate plugin:
You can also download/upload the PO file if you want more control.
7. Much Cheaper than SaaS Alternatives
Finally, we come to the price. One of the biggest advantages of LearnDash is how much you can save compared to SaaS tools like Teachable.
For example, Teachable’s cheapest plan already costs $39 per month , plus a 5% transaction fee! And if you want to get rid of transaction fees, you’re looking at $99 per month.
LearnDash, on the other hand, starts at $159 for one year of support and updates (for a single site license) . That’s a huge price difference.
A Few Things You May Not Like About LearnDash
While there is a lot to like about LearnDash, there are also a few potential downsides to consider before making your final decision.
1. If You’re Serious About Accepting Payments or Affiliate Functions, You Need a Third-Party Add-on
Ok, LearnDash includes basic core functionality for selling courses. But if you’re serious about accepting payments, you’ll want to integrate it with another plugin like WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads.
Similarly, if you want more membership type functionality, you’ll also want to integrate it with a separate membership plugin.
None of this matters too much because LearnDash includes custom integration plugins. But that means you have to learn and work with another interface beyond LearnDash.
2. No Onboarding – Missed Opportunity
When I first installed LearnDash, I was expecting some kind of setup wizard to start. This is something LifterLMS does and it really makes the “Day Zero” experience much less overwhelming:
But…LearnDash pretty much throws you to the wolves. I did not receive any guidance in the control panel.
In the long run, it’s not a big deal because you’ll understand these things. But I think if LearnDash was a better recruit, it might be more beginner-friendly.
3. Generally, Casual Users Will Struggle To Use LearnDash (At least At First)
LearnDash’s depth of functionality is great. But if you are not a power user, I think you will have a tough battle to find LearnDash.
The problem isn’t that a casual user can’t eventually create a study course with LearnDash. But there are lots of little tweaks and quirks that will take some time to learn.
Basically, I think you can figure this out – but you’re definitely going to have to experience some frustration until you get the learning curve out of the way.
With that being said – you do n’t need to be a developer to use LearnDash. I’m not – and it took a while to go through all the options, but once I got the hang of things, I still had no problems using the plugin.
Final Thoughts on LearnDash
It offers deep functionality that allows you to create truly customized courses for your students. And it’s also scalable and won’t bend under pressure, as its adoption by major educational institutions shows.
Yet this deep functionality comes at a price. Casual users will have to go through a learning curve to get the most out of the plugin.
However, if you’re willing to fight through this learning curve, or if you’re a more advanced user with a few WordPress sites already under your belt, LearnDash is one of the best WordPress LMS plugins you can find.
- Deep functionality gives you a lot of control in most areas
- Drag and drop course builder makes it easy to edit courses
- Built-in video progression support is perfect for video courses
- Email/Zapier trigger functionality turns on automation
- Deep functionality can be a bit overwhelming for casual users
- For deeper membership/payment functionality, you need to integrate with third-party plugins
LearnDash is one of the most popular WordPress LMS plugins. Its deep functionality makes it a great option for creating truly custom courses. The only downside is that casual users might have a hard time understanding all these deep functions.