Are you an edupreneur looking for a WordPress (WP) plugin that can help you create, market, and sell online courses? In this review, I’m going to give you a high-quality, close-up look at AccessAlly – one of the best WordPress learning management system (LMS) plugins and membership sites that I’ve come across to date. It does a great job all-around of building attractive courses, has sophisticated marketing tools, and high-converting features. If you already have a WordPress site, you’re halfway there.
This review goes into great detail, so if you’re wondering why you should trust it:
- I have 6+ years of professional experience as an in-class instructor, curriculum developer, e-learning developer, and instructional designer (I run my own small business)
- I have ample experience providing LMS consultations and Training Needs Analyses for startups, small businesses, and solopreneurs in an impressively vast variety of niches
- Over the years, I’ve become well-acquainted with over 20+ LMS systems while making mental notes about what works well, what doesn’t, and in what contexts
For much of my career, I’ve mainly worked with cloud-based LMSes and e-commerce platforms, and only a handful of WordPress LMS plugins. But they’re increasing in number and popularity, which got me thinking, “How do WordPress plugins compete in this domain?” So. I began digging and came upon AccessAlly.
(Helpful note: You can click any image in this review to go to the AccessAlly site.)
Is AccessAlly right for you?
Whether you’re a seasoned edupreneur or looking for your first LMS and e-commerce platform, it helps to know why many people are gravitating towards AccessAlly.
Firstly, people who decide to make the move from third-party platforms like Teachable, Thinkific, or Kajabi usually want a more powerful, flexible, and sophisticated platform. Third-party platforms tend to be quite rigid, offer a limited number of page themes and templates, and charge transactions fees. Furthermore, they make it extremely difficult, if even possible, to migrate your content to other platforms, making their customers beholden to them. But AccessAlly sidesteps all those constraints!
Secondly, many people already have their own WP site and are familiar with how to navigate the back-end. And even if that’s not the case, and you’ve never hosted a site on WP, AccessAlly is extremely intuitive, user-friendly, and deeply integrated with WordPress – it simply turns webpages into lesson pages.
If you’re a web developer or a techie, you can use HTML and CSS coding to modify any aspect of your site, and if you’re not, then AccessAlly is perfectly compatible with all of WP’s 11,000 themes and templates. You’re destined to find exactly what you’re looking for! No one wants to deal with tracking and paying for a wide assortment of plugins and subscriptions – it is both time- and money-consuming. With AccessAlly, you won’t need to look elsewhere to meet your basic needs and beyond!
Every edupreneur, as passionate as he/she might be about delivering high-quality courses, cares about profitability factors such as marketing, customer conversion and retention, branding, and the required e-commerce capabilities. The ability to sell courses while leveraging a full-featured membership site is a killer combination for edupreneurs.
In spite of all the control, sophistication, and user-friendliness that AccessAlly offers, it might still not be the right fit for you. Perhaps you’d like to have your site up and running as soon as possible, and don’t foresee any need for additional functionality in the near future. You might be content with sitting back and letting a third-party platform hold your hand and take on the brunt of the work. If you don’t have a particular vision for your course design, don’t feel the need to take advantage of integrations like ActiveCampaign, OntraPort, ConvertKit, or Infusionsoft, and you don’t plan to scale your business, then AccessAlly might very well be overkill for your purposes.
Comprehensive AccessAlly Review and Pricing
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely in the online course business, which makes selecting the appropriate plan that much easier. AccessAlly has three major plans:
- AccessAlly Essentials – This plan currently costs $82 per month and includes ample e-commerce features for small businesses and solopreneurs. However, it lacks all LMS and course creation capabilities, so we can simply move on.
- AccessAlly Pro – This plan currently costs $108 per month annually (otherwise it’s $129/mo) and includes everything in the Essentials plan except it tacks on LMS and e-learning capabilities, making it the ideal option for educators and marketers, and relevant for our purposes.
- AccessAlly Done For You – This plan starts at $4500 dollars, which is intimidating, to say the least. It includes everything in the Essentials and Pro plan, except it goes a step further by enabling you to hire a certified expert to perform tasks from site migration and setup to site creation, design, and implementation.
Ironically, the Essentials plan lacks the essential of an LMS and course creation capacities, so we can disregard that option. And AccessAlly Done For You is more of a luxury, a convenience for businesses and edupreneurs who have a lot of money to throw around and don’t want to embrace the exciting task of building the site themselves.
But getting set up and established really isn’t that hard. That’s why, clearly, the best bang for your buck is AccessAlly Pro!
The Pro has all the features found in standard LMSes, including quizzes, progress tracking, checklists, private notes, assignments, video bookmarks, etc. But it also has other noteworthy distinctions that places it a station above other LMSes, especially as a WP plugin.
For example, it incorporates engagement and interactivity (e.g., gamification), and its e-commerce features are unparalleled, boasting high-converting registration forms, member directories, and affiliate marketing integrations. It is the only WP LMS and membership site plugin that offers seamless, automated 2-way-street integrations!
AccessAlly Review: Marketing and Selling Your Courses
In this review, I’m switching things around. Rather than kicking things off by talking about LMS and course creation capabilities, I’m going to start with AccessAlly’s marketing and selling features. Its e-commerce features are powerful, and include but are not limited to:
- Membership sites
- Managing subscriptions
- Gamification (yes – I placed it here deliberately!)
- Member directories
- Affiliate marketing
- Order forms
- Promotional tools
- Metrics and analytics
Building and Managing Your Membership Site
AccessAlly’s membership site capabilities places it in a league of its own. It’s arguably the platform’s most distinguishing feature. It serves as a robust and reliable hub that easily showcases all of your products. When deciding on an LMS system for your e-learning products, you should do your due diligence while investigating its membership site features. The ultimate aim of a membership site is to help you engage your customers and maximize retention.
It is extremely easy to build your membership site, especially if you’re familiar with WordPress. You can simply use the “Course Creation Wizard” (don’t let the name stump you) to create or upload your membership site content, such as text, images, and even quizzes that can be leveraged for membership site on-boarding – a very unique feature!
Furthermore, managing your subscriptions couldn’t be easier, given the extensive nature of options. You can cancel a plan so that payments automatically halt when the subscription period is over, upgrade existing customers to a higher plan and pro-rate the refund for the rest of the current month. It’s worth noting that AccessAlly gives you the option between refunds in money or credits.
Your course might aim towards business teams with team-based subscriptions, or “bulk licenses”. In most cases, the manager is the admin of the course and monitors his/her subordinates’ progress. When the team progresses to the next level, the admin can control the content drip-feeding instead of it all being automated. All he/she has to do is trigger an email with a link that unlocks access to the next course. Bulk licenses could also be useful for teaching assistants and even parent-child accounts.
Affiliate marketing is an invaluable yet easy way to reach a wider customer base. I’ve noticed that a lot of third-party platforms offer some degree of affiliate marketing features, but many, particularly on WordPress, ironically require you to pay for an additional plugin, which isn’t cheap (easily an extra $99 per month). But with AccessAlly, there is no need for an external plugin or additional costs – everything you need is well-integrated.
Even amongst the platforms that do have affiliate marketing capabilities, I noted how AccessAlly really goes above and beyond.
For example, affiliates can receive their affiliate links, grab snippets of copy for their publications, and even use their promotional graphics. Affiliates can also view their sales stats (not as common as you’d think!). And you won’t have to worry about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – the affiliate system works on all of them. AccessAlly even hosts contests where you’re placed on a leaderboard and you can see how your fellow affiliates are also doing on the platform.
If you don’t know what gamification is, simply put – it is an instructional design technique meant to maximize student motivation and engagement. It doesn’t entail a game itself. Rather, it borrows from the features of game design, such as points, levels, and fantasy.
While most people limit gamification to their e-learning products, I love how AccessAlly has cleverly incorporated it into its membership site. Your customers can collect points every time they complete a course, quiz, or other pre-defined objectives. You also get to decide how many points they earn for each objective/activity and how they can cash them in. For example, this “bank account” of points can later be cashed in to unlock content, purchase other courses, access bonuses or special offerings like a one-on-one personal coaching call, etc. And to make things even more interesting, as much as the students can gain points, they can lose points based on the parameters you’ve established.
Member directories in AccessAlly can be public or private, and organized per course cohort or membership level. Each directory listing contains the customer’s names, pictures, a link to get in touch, and a short description about who they are, what they do, etc. Giving your customers the opportunity to update their profiles and connect with other members is a sophisticated interactive feature. It creates a community or social learning environment.
From the site owner’s perspective, membership directories enable AccessAlly users to store all customers’ information such as their names, bio, image, and website links all in one place. You also have the flexibility to create custom fields for members to fill in and share.
These membership directories are also a potential source of additional revenue. Priority listings, as with paid advertisements that show up at the top of Google, give your customers the opportunity to pay for and secure a spot with an advantageous level of visibility!
Customer conversion is highly dependent on the ease of your user interface (UI). If your customer decides to purchase your product but the process of ordering is chaotic and convoluted, not only does it reflect poorly on your business, but your customer’s not going to scratch at the door to pay for your products. Therefore, one of the biggest advantages of AccessAlly’s order forms is that they’re not only extremely simplistic and minimalist, they are also mobile-friendly, attractive, and professional! To make a purchase, your customer simply enters his/her name and email address. Once the purchase is officialized, they’ll be able to login and access the content.
But here’s the best part, and where AccessAlly’s 2-way-street integration really shines!
Right after the customer purchases one or more products using the order form, the info is sent to your marketing automation platform to maximize the opportunity to deepen your customer relationships. Another invaluable feature is that AccessAlly lets you to conduct automatic email follow-ups with customers who were part-way through the conversion process, but for whatever reason, “abandoned cart”.
Of all the order forms I’ve worked with and navigated, you can tell that AccessAlly really put a lot of thought and consideration into theirs. For example, you can:
- Sell products as one-time payments or generate residual income with subscriptions
- Sell individual products or bundle them together
- Offer free products, short-term, or long-term trials (e.g., 2 weeks to 6 months), as well as payment plans for products of heftier prices
- Control how often you receive payments and the length of the subscription (monthly/annual)
- Accept payments through Stripe and/or PayPal (AccessAlly integrates with both!)
- Accept multiple currencies and collect taxes based on the customer’s country (very handy, and rare!)
I can tell that AccessAlly is honoring their commitment to help you sell more! The variety of promotional tools that an e-commerce solution affords you is a strong signifier of its overall value and quality. AccessAlly doesn’t fall short in this arena. It can provide your customers with:
- One-click upsells, which have been proven to add to at least one-third of edupreneurs’ revenues. The upsell items can be added to an existing order where the purchase is automatically made without customers having to re-enter their payment information all over again.
- Order bumps, which add “Order Now” buttons to products that are displayed when the customer is already at checkout. If they’re interested, they won’t have to re-navigate to the sales page.
- Coupons/discounts, which are presented in many strategic ways. AccessAlly has considered most, if not all of the best discount strategies. You can generate coupon codes for specific customers, have store-wide or product-specific sales, or provide existing customers with appreciation discounts.
AccessAlly is a premium choice for the marketing and selling aspects of your business. You’d be hard-pressed to find an LMS system that can automate “abandoned cart” emails. If someone has items in their cart and then leave your site without paying/converting, then the CRM can automatically generate a 48-hour coupon code that’s sent to the customers’ email, highly incentivizing them to finish what they started.
AccessAlly is ideal for WP users who’d like to streamline the course-selling process with comprehensive, 2-way-street integrations. Its e-commerce platform is sophisticated, powerful, and highly strategic!
But that’s not all it can do! In the second half of this article, I’m going to walk you through AccessAlly’s LMS and e-learning functionalities.
AccessAlly Review: Building Your Course
With AccessAlly, you can easily structure your courses, offerings, and membership content by using the highly user-friendly Course Creation Wizard, which guides you step-by-step to make the process easy even for the technologically challenged.
As you can see in the image above, the Course Creation Wizard has different options such as standalone courses, which gives you access to the full course straight away, or the stage released courses (drip courses), where content is dripped module by module. Stage released courses can be based on student progress or used as a fast-track upsell to established customers.
Setting up Standalone/Stage released Courses
Whether you’re setting up a standalone or stage released course, the process is the same. Click one of the pink buttons (as shown in the image above) and you’ll be well on your way.
Along the top of the screen, you’ll see a step-by-step sequence that the wizard guides you through (Course identity à Automation Tags à Module à Offer à Content à etc.). Under “Course Identity”, simply fill out the course title and upload your course icon. The nice thing about inputting the icons is that they’re colored in, by default, for courses your learners can access, and greyed out for those that they can’t. If your customer clicks on a greyed-out icon/option, then AccessAlly takes them to the sales page – this is a great feature for impulsive buyers or selling courses that your customers might not have initially considered or known about. It’s a natural way to upsell and cross-sell your products/offerings.
In addition, if you don’t have your own icons, AccessAlly gives you access to a huge media library that lends ultimate flexibility for both techies or non-techies while preserving the high quality nature of the platform.
Setting up Automation Tags
After the “Course Identity” stage, you can set up Automation Tags, or “permission tags”, to moderate who can access your content and to what extent. Because of their unique two-way integration feature, you can automatically generate these tags in your automated marketing platform.
There are two main types of tags: Global Permissions Tags and Module-Specific Permission Tags. Global permissions tags are site-wide, whereas module-specific permissions tags restrict existing customers from accessing certain modules. As shown above, there are four main types of permission tags, each with a specific purpose:
- Base tags only permit access to the main page
- Instant access tags grant access to everything instantly
- Revoke tags cancel or block access to chosen content
- Purchase tags show who has paid vs has complementary access
With module-specific permissions tags, you can assign each module to its own unique permission tag to drip courses after a set time. For example, you can turn 4 modules into a 4-week long course. Another really nice thing about permission tags is that when uploading protected content such as PDF files, the uploads automatically inherit the same tag as the module, making it easy for you to keep your content protected from those without access.
As a matter of fact, you have many options when creating your modules, such as making new posts, pages, and content, or simply recycling them by duplicating existing pages. As mentioned, the plugin perfectly integrates with WordPress, so you’ll be working with the same editor as WordPress when typing your content, adding and images and links, etc. And with its drag-and-drop course building capacities, organizing your content has never been easier! Moreover, a generous feature that AccessAlly has is that you can create an unlimited amount modules and lesson pages per module.
AccessAlly Review: Managing Your Integrations and CRM Automations
Once you’ve finished adding your content to each module, then you can begin thinking about your CRM automations! If you’re feeling intimidated by this important step, don’t worry! AccessAlly provides you with a CRM Automation Guide to walk you through the automation process for your paid or complementary content. And to top things off, each guide is specific to your chosen CRM marketing platform.
CRM software integrations include:
It’s a safe bet that most solopreneurs or small businesses are on one of these platforms. They are some of the biggest names in the industry. That being said, one of the few limitations of AccessAlly is that if you’re using MailChimp or another automation marketing platform, you won’t be able to use AccessAlly.
Nevertheless, you’re not limited to these preset automations. In addition to the CRM Automation Guide, you can also create customized automations with the help of video tutorials from AccessAlly’s “knowledge base”
Creating Quizzes with AccessAlly
We wouldn’t want to offer an AccessAlly review here on Learning Revolution without addressing quizzes. Quizzes are an invaluable tool when creating online courses. They provide you with two of the most important elements of effective course design – engagement and interactivity. In addition, quizzes provide data about how effective your course and learner progress are. I have to say, AccessAlly really impressed me with this feature. I haven’t come across many LMSes that allow you to insert multimedia into the questions! You can embed images and videos into the question prompts or answer options, tag users based on their performance on the assessment, and even use these quizzes as a marketing opt-in tool that enables you to grow your email list!
The quizzes offered are impressive and unique, but I did find them lacking basic features, such as different question types and question randomization. The multiple-choice questions only allow you to select one option, which means you can’t create questions with more than one correct answer. In addition, if your question bank is small, or a business is taking a course as a team, then question randomization would be a more-than-handy feature. Otherwise, it makes it really easy for your students to memorize and share the answers, which compromises the integrity of your student progress results, and hinders learning.
Nevertheless, AccessAlly makes up for this shortcoming by distinctly offering different types of quizzes and scoring methods. You’re given three options:
- Graded quizzes – This is your standard pass or fail quiz type. You can also set quiz parameters. For example, you might let some students pass with 50%, but if the course is for high reliability industries such as aviation or medicine, then you might raise the standards to 70% or more to pass. Graded quizzes work similarly to drip/stage released courses, as you can block access to the next module by making it contingent upon passing.
- Scoring quizzes – These quizzes let you assign each quiz option/answer to its own score. So, if a learner scores n-number or higher based on their selections, then the outcome code and corresponding message will show below. For example, let’s say you have French language acquisition courses at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, then the quiz scores will help students appraise what they know and help you to categorize and direct them to the appropriate-level module(s).
- Personality quizzes – Personality quizzes enable you to assign personalized descriptions or outcomes based on the learner’s selections. These quizzes are highly-engaging as they make students feel like they’re getting tailored responses. So when you’re writing the outcomes and linking it to the options, it is most effective to make the outcomes explicitly exclusive to its corresponding option.
AccessAlly is a platform that works for both the site owner and the learner. While most LMSes provide progress tracking and analytics, it isn’t always provided for the student. But progress bars and pie charts can be harnessed as engaging tools that let students visualize how far they’ve come since the beginning of a lesson, module, or course, which is rewarding on its own. As with completion certificates, these progress bars have the same effect that different belt rankings have in martial arts.
At the core of progress tracking are dynamic checklists, which are also great for students to visualize the big picture of what needs to be done in order to successfully complete the course. Each page on your site allows you to add a checklist by opening it in your WP dashboard, scrolling down, and clicking “Add objective.”
Learning objectives are actionable statements that inform your students about what you want them to accomplish by the end of your lesson, module, and/or course. They are somewhat tied to the notion of “objectives” in this context. By selecting these objectives in the form of a dynamic checklist, you make your learners assured in their preparedness for any upcoming content. In addition, from the analytics page, you can visualize and assess how engaged your students are as well as how quickly they are progressing. From both the student and site owner’s perspectives, this capability is invaluable for continuous improvement. You’ll be able to see if there are any widespread challenges and determine how best to modify your course to mitigate or eliminate them.
Another helpful feature is tracking objectives across multiple pages. You can set objective parameters in the form of dynamic checklists by saying that the student must complete all of the objectives (tick them off) in lesson 1 before proceeding to lesson 2. Of course, in order to do this, you’d have to set this objective in lesson 2 because, logically, it can only retroactively apply these parameters. Therefore, this objective (complete everything in lesson 1) will only be ticked off once the student has ensured they hit all the former objectives. This also pairs nicely with homework, quizzes, videos, etc. Almost any aspect of your course content can be an objective itself.
I really appreciate AccessAlly’s video bookmarking abilities. Using the video objectives parameter, you can make sure your students watch a particular video for a partial or full duration before ticking off the objective box. In addition, this is my first time seeing an LMS system that allows you to have a series of videos all on one page (due to the embed feature and dynamic checklist of objectives). That notwithstanding, some students are apt to skip a series of videos, maybe watching fragments of each to save time and progress quickly. But you can force their hand and ensure that you maximize their learning potential by picking specific beginning and end points within the video and making sure it is played all the way through. Otherwise, the student can’t move forward.
You can embed videos from major hubs like Vimeo, Wistia, and of course, YouTube. As a general principle, I advise against uploading videos. These files are huge and it won’t take long for them to significantly slow down your site, creating frustrating customer experiences.
Privates Notes and Assignments
Private notes are another uncommon feature that AccessAlly grants its users. They’re a great tool when you want your students to be able to reflect on the material directly on the course page or allow them to make journal/diary entries. But there are different types of private course notes such as user-specific QnA threads, admin-initiated comments, admin reviewed answers (these are homework submissions that require site owner approval or grading before the student can proceed), as well as custom options.
For submissions, both the student and teacher can upload and share documents, images, and PDFs privately. Assignment submissions are an especially useful function for more hands-on teaching approaches. Nonetheless, many edupreneurs simply want the course to stand on its own without the necessity of interacting with students. While time and money constraints often make assignment submissions and grading appear unnecessary, I highly recommend finding a way to exploit this feature. This type of bidirectional communication enhances the relationship between the site owner and learner while keeping everything private and personalized. Whatever you choose, AccessAlly is flexible and provides you with both options!
Customized Completion Certificates
AccessAlly offers completion certificates in PDF format. I found many of the certificate templates to be attractive and professional. These completion certificates are auto-generated with the name of the course, student name, the instructor’s name, and with the date of course completion all auto-filled upon download. That way, you won’t need to manually enter the details every time. If you’d like to customize your own certificate, then take advantage of the user-friendly drag-and-drop interface to change its look and feel, text, colors, dimensions, etc.
AccessAlly Review: Final Thoughts
AccessAlly is a true one-stop-shop solution for your course creation, marketing, and selling needs. It is a superior platform, going head to head with premium third-party LMSes like Thinkific, Teachable, and other WP plugins like LifterLMS and LearnDash. Nevertheless, it largely distinguishes itself as a WordPress plugin due to its affordability. An annual subscription for $108 per month is extremely reasonable, not even factoring all the value it’s packing. There are no hidden costs or transaction fees (except maybe those imposed by the payment vendors), and I doubt you’ll need to look beyond the platform to find sophisticated integrations and functionalities. There are a lot of WordPress plugins on the market right now that appear free or cost-effective at the beginning, until you dive in and realize that you can’t get them to do what you want without paying an additional arm and a leg.
As an e-commerce platform for marketing and selling your courses, AccessAlly is a platform to be looked up to by its competitors. While its LMS and e-learning features are also above average, I did find the quiz feature to be impressive yet simultaneously limited. Nevertheless, I love how it uniquely integrates cross-platform with tags and allows you to turn almost every aspect of your course content into an objective for progress tracking. In addition, the ability to submit assignments and engage in bidirectional communication provides ample opportunity for engagement and interactivity.
If you’re an edupreneur with a specific vision for your website and course offering, if you’d like to scale your business by leveraging the power of CRM marketing automations all in one place and at no additional cost, then get started today with AccessAlly Pro!
By Sydney Mansaray for Learning Revolution