Top Eleven Best WordPress Membership Plugins – Compared (2021)
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If you’re planning to build courses on your WordPress site, you’ve probably heard of WP Courseware. The plugin is quite popular, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best option for the job. In this guide, I’ll compare five of the best WP Courseware alternatives to help you to find the best learning management system (LMS) for your needs.
But first, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you may want to consider WP Courseware alternatives:
- Access to advanced functionality: WP Courseware lacks advanced course building features, such as the ability to create and accept assignments. The plugin also lacks complementary features, such as the ability to create a membership program.
- Complex sales capability: WP Courseware doesn’t offer the ability to create an upgrade/downgrade path or prorated subscriptions.
- More built-in integrations: WP Courseware offers integrations with many popular tools for ecommerce, marketing and membership programs, but they must all be installed as separate plugins. Many also require separate purchase, raising the overall cost of the plugin.
- Compatibility with specific tools: If you already work with a specific email marketing service or CRM tool that isn’t compatible with WP Courseware, you may want to find a plugin that’s compatible with those tools.
- Pricing: At $124 a year, the base cost of WP Courseware is reasonable for many business owners but inaccessible to others. Some of the alternatives are more affordable or even free for the base plugin.
All of these are valid reasons to look for WP Courseware alternatives, and by the end of this guide you’ll know what the best learning management system is for your needs.
What to Look for in a Learning Management System
What you’ll need from an LMS depends on the type of courses you want to build. If your courses are meant for casual self-improvement, the only things you need are a code-free course builder with the option to price your work.
On the other hand, if your courses are aimed at building professional skills, you may want to use quizzes and certificates to establish the legitimacy of your students’ achievements.
Here’s a quick overview of features to consider when you’re looking for an LMS.
Most of the learning management systems explored in this article are WordPress plugins, but that isn’t the only option. There are many third-party options for course building software, including learning networks with an established audience, such as Udemy.
You should be able to choose whether students gain access to all of your content at once or if they must complete one lesson before moving on to the next.
This is the option to release content to students on a predetermined schedule. For example, you may want to send out lessons every seven days after someone purchases a course.
This option allows you to limit the length of time someone has access to specific content. Most learning management systems with this option let you specify it by number of days or by a specific date.
Some learning management systems don’t feature quiz builders, and the quiz builders available don’t always have the same features. For example, many LMSs only let you create multiple choice questions, while others may not have full grading capabilities.
The ability to accept assignments is a great way to assess how well students understand what they’re being taught. Unfortunately, this is a pretty rare feature among LMSs, and, when it does exist, it’s often a paid add-on. Consider this a major bonus if you find an LMS you like that has this feature built in.
Most learning management systems give students the ability to comment on lesson content — and some offer advanced community options, such as forums. This can be a great way to get students more involved in the learning process.
This is an area where customers can view all of the course content available to them and change their basic information.
Most LMSs are only compatible with one or two payment systems, with the most popular options being PayPal and Stripe. Make sure the LMS you’re considering is compatible with a payment system you have access to.
Many course building tools offer additional functionality, such as the ability to create membership programs or coaching programs.
Ease of Use
The interface of your chosen learning management system should be code-free and intuitive. You don’t want to be dealing with convoluted processes at every turn.
Support and Documentation
The best course building tools offer support and documentation not just for technical use of the tool itself, but also for building successful courses. Look for a program that makes this information easily accessible.
In an ideal world cost would be the last concern, but many businesses start with a shoestring budget. Many course building tools also run on annual subscriptions, so you’ll need to think of it as a long-term cost rather than a one-time payment. Know what you’re willing to spend going in.
The Best WP Courseware Alternatives
- Multimedia lessons
- Content dripping
- Advanced quiz builder
- Grading and academic reports
- Certificates and badges
- Course content protection
- Membership program creation
- Integrations with many popular tools including bbPress, BuddyPress, and more
LearnDash is a powerful course building plugin with all of the advanced tools you need to build a professional certification program. The visual course builder is compatible with a variety of media types and requires no knowledge of code.
One thing about LearnDash that stood out to me right away was the documentation. When you load the plugin on your site, you’ll have the option to go through the LearnDash Bootcamp. This is a step-by-step resource that shows you precisely how to build your first course and start selling it.
Another reason LearnDash stands out in this list is the quiz builder. The base plugin lets you configure several question types, including multiple choice, true/false and essay questions. You can also specify the grade required for students to pass the quiz.
The final feature of the base LearnDash plugin that impressed me was the ability to create badges and certificates. Most LMSs only offer these tools as add-ons, if they’re offered at all. LearnDash including this in the base plugin makes it an excellent choice for teachers who want to offer professional certification.
Not seeing the feature you want in the base LearnDash plugin? There’s probably an integration for it. LearnDash offers both built-in integration with tools such as bbPress and add-ons for integration with tools such as WooCommerce. There are also several proprietary LearnDash add-ons that allow you to do things such as have multiple instructors.
Price range: LearnDash plans range from $159 (regular $199) to $329 (regular $369) a year.
Who this tool is best for: WordPress site owners who want to create interactive courses with the opportunity to earn certifications.
- Multi-tier course builder with course tracks
- Multimedia lessons
- Content dripping
- Quiz builder
- Student dashboard
- Capacity for multiple instructors
- Optimized course review collection
- Quick course export (ideal for backups or moving content to a new site)
LifterLMS is a simple course building plugin that offers an interesting mix of features. The most interesting of these are the multi-tiered course builder and course track tools. You can use these to create layered certification programs or even degree programs.
The course builder itself is intuitive and seamlessly integrated with WordPress technology to make everything fully customizable. I particularly enjoyed the built-in module for instructor bios on course pages.
The quiz builder lets you create multiple choice and true/false questions. You can also set a time limit and restrict the number of times students are allowed to retake the quiz.
Technically, LifterLMS is also free. However, the free version of the plugin can’t be connected to any payment gateway. You’ll need to purchase an add-on for $99 a year, or sign up for one of the LifterLMS bundles.
This pricing system is, for me, where LifterLMS falls flat. The need to pay to sell your courses undermines the plugin being free. Purchased on their own, add-ons are $99 a year apiece, while the most affordable bundle is $299 a year and it mostly includes integrations with other marketing tools, rather than advanced functionality for the plugin itself.
Considering LifterLMS seems targeted at companies creating advanced professional certifications, it seems unfair that the features required for an academically rigorous course, such as advanced quiz building and assignments, must be purchased separately or as part of the most expensive package at $329 a year (regular $369 a year).
All in all, I think LifterLMS is an excellent course building plugin, but I have some concerns about the pricing system.
Price range: The core LifterLMS plugin is free. Paid plans are priced at $99, $299 and $329 a year.
Who this tool is best for: Businesses with a decent budget and an interest in creating academically rigorous courses on their WordPress sites.
- Easy-to-use Setup Wizard
- Visual course builder with numerous assessment options
- Multimedia lessons
- Quiz builder
- Question bank
- Advanced reporting
- Ability to reset progress for individual students, specific groups or all students enrolled in a course
- Payment processing through PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net
LearnPress is a free, easy-to-use course building plugin that gives you all of the tools you need to sell simple online courses.
I was immediately impressed by the LearnPress Setup Wizard, which walks you through connecting LearnPress with a payment processing system. You’ll also get the opportunity to customize the pages people see at a specific point of the customer journey, such as the checkout page.
Another thing that makes LearnPress stand out is the ability to store individual questions separately from its quizzes, making it easy to add a question you’ve already created to a new quiz. LearnPress also allows for three question types: True/false, multiple choice and single choice.
All in all, the core LearnPress plugin is a fantastic tool for building and selling simple online courses, especially for businesses on a tight budget. The only major feature I wish were included in the main plugin is content dripping. However, LearnPress offers add-ons for content dripping and numerous other features, and most add-ons for this plugin cost under $50.
Price range: Free. Premium add-ons range in cost from $29.99 to $249.99.
Who this tool is best for: WordPress site owners with a small budget and no immediate need for advanced features.
- The ability to create multiple schools with one account (each school requires a separate plan)
- Multimedia lessons
- Content dripping
- Quiz editor
- Coaching program creation
- Members-only community
- High-quality student dashboard
- Two admin-level users
- Custom domain support
- Access to specialized training for course creators
- Integrated email marketing
- Instant payment system for instructors in the US, UK and Canada
Teachable is an off-site learning management system with an excellent visual course builder and a members-only community where students can discuss your courses.
One thing that makes Teachable stand out is the account dashboard. All Teachable courses are connected, so users will be able to view courses from every school they’re enrolled in on this page, and they’ll also have the opportunity to add a custom avatar.
Instructors can use this page to access both schools they’re enrolled in and schools where they teach. This was great for me, since I’m already enrolled in three Teachable schools and I didn’t have to create yet another account.
Teachable is also easy to use as an instructor. There’s no need to use code and the site provides access to extensive resources, such as the checklist on the main page:
This makes Teachable less intimidating for people who have never created an online course before.
My big problem with Teachable is the cost. The most affordable plan is $29 a month when purchased annually, which makes the yearly cost $348. This may be reasonable for some businesses, but it’s significantly more than you’ll pay for any other tool on this list, meaning I can only recommend Teachable for people who intend to create coaching programs as well as online courses.
Price range: Teachable plans start at $29 a month when purchased annually. The most expensive plan is $249 a month when purchased annually.
Who this tool is best for: Instructors who also want to create a coaching program.
- Quiz builder
- Assignment creation
- Specialized code exercise editor
- Payment through Payoneer or PayPal
- Access to a community of more than 35 million learners
Udemy is a little bit different from the other WP Courseware Alternatives on this list. Instead of keeping schools and instructors separate, which puts all of the marketing responsibility on you, Udemy incorporates all courses into its digital marketplace.
Udemy is also free for instructors — but the site has two instructor levels. Anyone can sign up and start building a free course within minutes, but if you want the ability to sell courses on Udemy, you’ll need to apply for the site’s premium instructor program.
As for the course builder, I had mixed feelings about using this one. The first several sections are mostly resources for planning courses and recording course lessons. While this information is useful, including it within the actual builder made the experience feel unnecessarily long.
On the other hand, the ‘Curriculum’ area provides a high-quality visual course builder.
What really impressed me about the course setup was the ability to create assignments. This option is often an add-on even for premium learning management systems, so having it included in a free tool is excellent.
Udemy also offers specialized lesson and assignment options for coding exercises in several programming languages:
Overall, Udemy is an excellent place to create and sell online courses, especially in technology-related fields.
Who this tool is best for: Instructors who teach professional skills such as programming, graphic design and marketing — especially those who only have a small audience.
Best WP Courseware Alternatives: The right choice for you
The learning management systems we’ve discussed in these tools are all quite distinct, so the best tool for you depends on your goals.
- LearnDash is an ideal tool if you want to create advanced courses with certification options directly on your WordPress site.
- LifterLMS is a great tool if you have a decent budget and a desire to create academically rigorous programs with the potential to earn degrees.
- LearnPress is the best option if you’re working with a tight budget and you still want to create high-quality courses on your WordPress site.
- Teachable is an excellent choice if you want to create coaching programs as well as more traditional courses.
- Udemy is a great platform for selling professional development courses, especially if you teach skills such as programming.
Used/using any of the above? Thoughts and experiences?