Choosing an LMS system to host your e-learning courses is no easy feat. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of options to choose from – and they are definitely not all made equal. As a seasoned E-Learning Specialist, I spend a solid amount of time developing courses and doing LMS consultations for my clients. And I have to say, even I can get overwhelmed by the options.
But sometimes, my clients make it easy for me. Sometimes, they specify that they want their courses to be hosted on their WordPress.org websites. This dramatically narrows down the search, as it leaves me with only WordPress plugins.
Well, one recommendation that’s never failed is LearnDash! This plugin effectively transforms your WordPress dashboard into a fully-functional Learning Management System. It is a premium option that’s used by over 30% of Fortune 500 companies, as well as corporate trainers and higher education institutions worldwide.
In this review, we’re going to do a 360° deep-dive into this online course software to see if it’s right for you.
Is LearnDash Right for You?
If you can navigate the back end of your website(s), then you’ll have no issues navigating the LearnDash back-end. As mentioned, LearnDash simply transforms your WP dashboard into an LMS. That being said, you don’t need to be a tech whiz, but you do need a moderate level of tech savviness.
If you’re thinking of starting from scratch – that is, getting a WP site and then getting LearnDash – then yes, there might be a slight hump to jump. For most, this hurdle’s about knee-high, very manageable. When I first started using WordPress, I found the platform to be impressively intuitive. Moreover, LearnDash uses a drag and drop interface to help you create and organize your courses – it hardly gets easier than that.
The most important consideration is your business needs. You need to project into the future. If you’d simply like to bang out courses with minimal involvement in the look, feel, and functionality of them, then you’re better off with standalone platforms like Teachable or Moodle. Sure, there’s limited flexibility and customizability there, but they do most of the heavy lifting for you, enabling you to focus on solely the course-creation aspects of your e-learning endeavors.
On the other hand, if you’re serious about scaling your business and monetizing your courses, then you’re going to need be as “agile” as possible to meet market demands. You’ll need customizable branding, programming abilities, and a vast range of features for ultimate flexibility.
The best part is that LearnDash grants you this scalability, customizability, and richness of features at a competitive rate.
LearnDash Review: Pricing Plans
LearnDash provides you with three annual pricing plans. View the image below for the prices and full-scope of features!
As you can see, the plans look nearly identical. But the main difference lies with the number of site licenses you can have. Moreover, note how the Basic plan doesn’t include ProPanel, which provides detailed reports/analytics about user progress, course and assignment completion, quiz completion and results, and real-time data. This data is indispensable if you plan to scale your business. Therefore, I’d highly recommend going for the Pro package. As you expand and the need for more licenses arises, all you have to do is upgrade plans; the transfer is seamless.
The rest of the features, such as unlimited courses, unlimited users, drip-feeding, advanced quizzes, and free integrations, etc. are included across the board. Given all they’re offering, you’re getting a deal no matter which plan you choose!
Currently, LearnDash is offering each plan at a discounted rate. What’s more? Each pricing package includes a 30-day money back guarantee! So why not try it out, risk-free, for a month before committing?
LearnDash Review: Building Your Courses
Let’s say you’ve taken the plunge and decided that LearnDash is right for you. You’ve gone into your WordPress backend, installed the plugin, and now your WP dashboard looks like this:
As shown above, LearnDash simply adds a new section to your dashboard while keeping everything else intact. The next step involves building your courses! You might already have pre-existing content, in which case, you can simply upload your content.
LearnDash supports the following content types:
- Images (jpg, jpeg, png, gif)
- Documents (pdf, psd, and all MS Word, PPT, and XL formats)
- Audio (mp3, m4a, ogg, wav)
- Video (mp4, m4v, mov, wmv)
Note that, with videos, you’re better off using a video-hosting service like YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia, and then embedding them via an external link. Self-hosting them is not ideal as video files are large and can greatly slow down your sites, especially as your course count increases.
On the other hand, if you don’t have pre-existing content and need to create some from scratch, no worries! LearnDash has a Course Builder feature that allows you to do just that! Just go to LearnDash LMS in the left margin, click on Courses, and then hover over the course you’re developing to see the “Builder” link, as shown below.
Likewise, if you’re developing your first course, a “Builder” tab will appear after navigating to Course > Add New.
The Course Builder function is a drag and drop tool that lets you organize and rearrange your course. For example, you can add new or existing lessons to a module, and then further break down each lesson into a topic. You can title each lesson, topic, and module and move them around to create hierarchies. And of course, you can remove lessons or entire modules as needed. If you’d like to make edits to a specific course, then simply click the course title or “Edit” link where you can make direct changes to the content itself.
Another noteworthy feature of LearnDash is that it allows you to control when users see specific content and at what specific time. In other words, it allows you to Drip-Feed Content.
LearnDash enables you to drip-feed content based on the number of days that’ve passed post-enrolment or based on specified dates. Drip-feeding content not only helps you guide your learners but it keeps them hooked while anticipating the next lesson or stage of your course. A handy tool that pairs nicely with Drip-Feed Content is the Notifications Add-On. It notifies your users when new content is available so they never skip a beat!
As mentioned, drip-feed content enables you to guide your users. But guide them down what? If you have multiple related courses, then with LearnDash, you can Create Learning Paths (or a path of prerequisites) that determine what courses users take and in what order.
So far, we’ve looked at how to create courses, but now it’s time to look at how to hold your users accountable for their learning. Quizzes and Assignments are an inherent part of any e-learning course that’s worth its salt. They’re really easy to create in LearnDash.
First, go to the left margin where it says LearnDash LMS. Just underneath, you’ll see the Quizzes link. The nice thing about LearnDash is that they have an advanced quizzing feature that enables you to create a wide variety of question types, as shown below:
But in addition to testing the learners’ knowledge, this feature can incorporate timers and question banks from which to recycle, as well as display customized messages based on the quiz responses. But the most avant-garde capability that I’ve encountered is that you can use any type of media (audio, video, and images) in the questions and answer options.
That being said, if you’re after somewhat of a “blended” learning experience, you can incorporate assignments. Mind you, you’ll need someone who can view the assignments. But administering the grades are easy with LearnDash’s Gradebook feature. Whether you’re manually submitting grades for assignments or need an automatic tally of quiz results, you’ll be able to deliver weighted and offline grading and generate report cards. To enable this tool, you’ll need the premium Gradebook add-on.
While quizzes and grades are certainly interactive, they’re not necessarily engaging in a way that will captivate your users. In order to do so, you need to invoke the spirit of competition among your users. And few better ways exist than Gamification, which borrows inherent elements of game-playing, such as “players”, competition, points, and badges, to engage learners in a way that naturally stimulates motivation. You can also transform your courses into full-fledged certifications and issue certificates.
LearnDash also incorporates Social Learning, which involves peer-to-peer interaction, be it online or face-to-face. With LearnDash’s dynamic forums, learners can engage with each other both in public and private arenas to enhance their learning experience.
Last but not least, LearnDash has introduced a new course-building feature called Focus Mode. By enabling focus mode, you eliminate all extraneous elements on the screen (desktop or mobile) so that your users can “focus” on nothing but the course itself. It creates a virtual learning environment that’s akin to the focused environments or interfaces seen on mobile apps. Not only does this create a more immersive and engaging experience, but it lets your content shine while boosting learner retention rates! The best part is, you’re not simply beholden to the default LearnDash brand colors. You can incorporate your brand identity by adding your logo and color scheme.
Note that focus mode is optional. To enable it, go to LearnDash Settings, as shown below.
Then, under “General”, go to the Design & Content Elements section and enable focus mode.
You’re almost done. Once you enable focus mode, you’ll have the option of specifying the Content Width. Note that the content width specifies how wide the content will appear on the screen. It thus affects the width of the lessons, topics, quizzes, and assignments. The width of the course page does not actually change. I recommend sticking with the default width – 960px.
Now that we’ve covered the logistics behind building a course with LearnDash, it’s time to explore the other half of its purpose – monetizing your courses.
LearnDash Review: Monetizing Your Courses
Once your courses are complete and ready to go to market, you’ll need to understand what the logistics behind marketing and selling your courses entail. Overall, you need to ask yourself three e-commerce questions:
- How will my storefront look/present my offerings?
- Do I want my courses to be fixed-price or subscription-based?
- What methods will I use to incentivize my buyers?
Because LearnDash integrates with a vast assortment of plugins, the options are virtually limitless. Let’s look at some of these integrations.
You can address the above three questions by integrating LearnDash with:
- A storefront (e.g., WooCommerce, Samcart)
- Payment gateways (Stripe, 2Checkout)
- Email marketing (Mailchimp, ConvertKit)
- Memberships (PaidMemberships Pro, MemberPress)
And much more (see full scope of LearnDash integrations).
Storefront and Payment Options
Once you’ve created your course(s), you’re going to need an e-commerce platform or Storefront where current or prospective buyers can browse your course offerings. You can integrate with WooCommerce, Samcart, Easy Digital Downloads, and iThemes Exchange.
I find WooCommerce to be a premium plugin. Not only does it power over 30% of all e-commerce sites, but it practically is WordPress, and thus inherits all the strength and reliability of WP. Better yet, it has a wide selection of storefront themes that can be programmed and tailored to your custom look and functions.
Either way, in any of these shopping cart options, your users will be able to browse, add courses to their shopping carts, pause and think if need be, and then proceed to the next step – payment. One of the reasons LearnDash is a premium option is that it allows for ultimate flexibility with regards to payment options. There’s nothing worse than missing out on a sale from an eager buyer with an incompatible method of payment.
LearnDash’s shopping carts not only give you the extra functionality of generating coupons and affiliate marketing, but you also gain access to hundreds of Payment Gateway options, not to mention add-ons such as Stripe.
Speaking of payment options, it’s also nice to have flexibility with your business model. Do you want to sell standalone courses on a fixed-price model? Great! Just set your price and your customers can pay through various methods, including PayPal, 2Checkout, or Stripe. Once the payment goes through, your customers are auto-enrolled into your course. You can even set a course expiry date that revokes access.
Or, would you like to generate some passive income by selling your courses on a subscription-based model? Most edupreneurs opt for this route. Your customers can subscribe to a single course or gain access to a wide variety of courses via memberships using integrations such as MemberPress and PaidMembershipsPro!
But the options don’t stop there! I highly recommend taking advantage of LearnDash’s course bundles to incentivize your customers! In addition to providing discounts via coupons, you can give your customers access to multiple courses for a “bundled” or discounted total.
Another handy feature is course licenses. If you have courses that are tailored for corporate training, then you can sell course licenses in bulk, enabling the company to not only share the courses with their trainees, but also track trainee progress.
Course Reporting and Sales Analytics
As mentioned early on in this review, I highly recommend buying either the Plus or Pro plan because they include ProPanel, an enhanced reporting tool that gives you information about student progress and quiz results. You can also view real-time activity to see what content is generating the most traffic.
But what does this have to do with monetizing your courses?
Well, by analyzing user data, you can diagnose potential downfalls with your courses. You can ask yourself why your users are spending more time on specific content within a course and/or across courses. You can also analyze the quiz results to assess your content and determine if anything is impeding clarity. ProPanel is a great course reporting tool from a course admin perspective.
But what about your sales analytics? Before someone makes a purchase, wouldn’t it be nice to have detailed reporting on how prospective buyers are engaging with your website? This information will help you strategize your course offerings, storefront, and buyer incentives to help you bolster sales. Fortunately, because LearnDash is a WordPress plugin, you get access to one of the most thorough and comprehensive reporting plugins available – Google Analytics.
Google Analytics helps you answer questions surrounding:
- Visitor volume. How many people are visiting my site (daily, monthly, annually)? When are they visiting? This information can help you tailor your marketing and communication strategy.
- Pages visited. What pages did they visit? How many pages did they visit? What is my bounce rate? What pages did they bounce from? How much time are they spending on specific pages?
- Email tracking. In addition to email tracking integrations such as Mailchimp and ConvertKit, Google Analytics provides information about how your email marketing campaign is going. It helps you answer questions such as: How many emails were opened/unopened? What email links did they click on? Am I being reported for spam?
Given the number of integrations at your disposal, and the fact that LearnDash seamlessly integrates with WordPress, you have a host of options available to analyze your prospective and current buyers, and enhance your storefront and course offerings accordingly.
LearnDash Review: Technical Features
The e-learning industry is one of the most burgeoning industries to date. To that effect, it can be challenging to not only keep pace with technological advancements, but find software that accommodates all these updates. Fortunately, LearnDash is a highly-robust LMS system that readily conforms to current and changing technological requirements. LearnDash is:
- Tin Can/xAPI-compliant (and SCORM is supported through an add-on)
- Multi-site enabled
- Compatible with all themes
- Compatible with all media types
In the e-learning realm, a technical standard is a mode by which your e-learning authoring tool formats your course content so that it can be “read” by your chosen LMS system. Some LMS systems don’t comply with all (or any) of these standards.
While you can easily create courses from scratch in LearnDash, you might also prefer to use an authoring tool like Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, or iSpring Suite. These powerful platforms enable a wide range of multimedia, including dialogue simulations. Some LMS systems don’t support these formats, which limits your range of creativity. However, LearnDash fully supports content from these tools. You can begin authoring any eLearning content without feeling limited to certain tools.
Moreover, LearnDash is multisite enabled, meaning that if you run multiple websites from one WP dashboard, you’ll be able to share your LearnDash material across the network of sites tied to your account. Believe it or not, this unique feature has many use cases, such as setting up location-specific learning portals, dividing your training environments based on the department employees belong to, and even selling branded training portals to other companies.
LearnDash was clearly designed with ultimate adaptability and versatility in mind. As mentioned, it is compatible with all media types so that your course can be as engaging as possible while avoiding technical limitations. And since WordPress has one of the largest theme repositories, with over 50,000 themes offered for free or a small fee, you can make your storefront as unique as possible, using code to further customize your brand identity.
Depending on the audience your course is catering to, you might also like a mobile-friendly LMS that supports iOS, Android, iPads, and tablets. In this digital age, it’s common for many people to take their courses while on-the-go. Having an LMS system like LearnDash that is mobile-friendly is a valuable feature. If you know the majority of your users will be taking your courses on mobile devices, then I’d highly recommend creating microlearning courses that will enable them to digest information in bite-sized, 5 to 15-minute chunks!
As you can see, LearnDash is decked with a wide degree of features and functionality – the only limitation being that you need a WordPress site to power it. But by transforming your WP dashboard into an LMS, you eliminate the learning curve associated with navigating a new platform. Moreover, because WordPress is also an authoring tool, you can create courses from scratch using LearnDash’s course builder, or simply upload pre-existing content with full assurance that LearnDash is compatible with all content, media types, and technical standards!
Because it integrates with a vast degree of add-ons and integrations, and because WordPress is highly-programmable, you have ultimate flexibility with the look and feel of your courses, as well as your storefront. And with ProPanel and Google Analytics reporting, LearnDash not only helps you sell courses – it helps you sell more courses!
I highly recommend LearnDash LMS if you’re looking for a visually-appealing LMS that’s easy to get started with and optimized for an engaging and distraction-free learning environment.
If you’re thinking about launching online courses, then you have 30 days to try LearnDash out, risk-free!
By Sydney Mansaray for Learning Revolution
Key updates to LearnDash since initial publication of this post:
- Summer 2020 – LearnDash has announced a collaboration with the very powerful Web site authoring tool Elementor. LearnDash design elements that were previously difficult or impossible to customize can now be easily edited to match your brand with Elementor, including color scheme and font choices.
- Summer 2020 – LearnDash has introduced the ability to sell access to memberships. While it has always been able to protect content in the platform, the Groups functionality has now evolved to to include membership capabilities. You can create levels, sub-levels, sell access, award group certificates, and more.
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