Planning to launch a membership website for e-learning in 2021? Here are your best options.

One of the most common use cases we have for LearnDash comes in the form of membership websites. Instructors want to create an experience where their learners can pay an ongoing subscription to have access to certain sets of courses, along with various other privileges. Membership sites are popular among instructors because they follow a familiar service model with a low barrier to entry, and they’re popular among users because… well, they’re familiar and they have a low barrier to entry.

Membership websites can be very simple, requiring only the ability to place certain site content behind login portals. (LearnDash does this for courses—more on that in a minute.) They can also be highly complex, with tiers of access, point systems, discounts, and varying user privileges. To achieve these more robust functions, you’re going to need a membership plugin.

And, to guide you toward the right plugin for your membership website, we’ve compiled this list of the best membership plugins for WordPress websites.

We’re leaving this list unranked because the best option for each individual depends on their specific use cases. However, these are plugins that have been used by our community for years, and have a proven record for success.

Remember: you CAN use LearnDash as a membership plugin.

Since we’re about to recommend a bunch of membership plugins, we want to make one thing very clear: You DON’T need to use one in order to use LearnDash.

LearnDash has always included content protection as one of our core features. If you’re worried that someone will be able to reach protected pages of your course through Google or by being sent a link from another friend who already has access, don’t be. Unless you have the access controls on your course content set to “open,” no one will be able to access your course unless they have signed in and registered.

Our expanded Groups functionality also lets users fine tune membership levels and sell access to groups based on that membership level. You can even give group leaders course creation privileges, which is especially useful for organizations that want to implement training on a regional level.

These features cover many of the needs of any user looking for basic membership functionality. However, we know that our plugin isn’t the end-all-and-be-all. You may need more features to achieve the specific use case you have in mind, which is why we also go to great lengths to ensure our plugin works with other leading membership plugins in the WordPress ecosystem.

So, with that point clarified, let’s take a look at some more plugins that offer additional functionality.

MemberPress

MemberPress is one of the best-known names in WordPress for membership, so it’s only fitting we start with them. As a premium plugin, they offer a full suite of membership service, from granular membership levels to trial membership to customized coupons and member-based offers.

If you choose this option, we also offer a MemberPress integration that allows you to associate membership levels with specific courses and automatically remove members who cancel their subscriptions.

Best for: Instructors or organizations with a generous budget who are committed to growing a large course.

Paid Membership Pro

Don’t let the name fool you: Paid Membership Pro offers a free version of its plugin that can get the budget-conscious instructor a long way. If you’re comfortable with your WordPress skills, you can get a lot done on your own, but even if you aren’t, their paid version offers unlimited support tickets, extra add-ons, and advanced code recipes.

Like MemberPress, we offer a Paid Membership Pro integration that lets you create trial memberships, associate membership levels with specific courses, and even close memberships after they pass a certain expiration date.

Best for: Instructors launching their first course who are confident in their WordPress skills.

Restrict Content Pro

The Restrict Content Pro plugin gives you extra controls over content management, as well as some excellent reporting tools. You can create unlimited membership levels, pro-rate upgrades and downgrades, and keep track of all your subscriptions from your customer dashboard.

Our Restrict Content Pro integration lets you associate courses to specific membership levels, remove members when they cancel, and offer trial memberships via various payement gateways.

Best for: Instructors who want to fine tune access to their content.

Wishlist Member

Wishlist Member is pricier than some of the other options on this list, but they have a well-built plugin with a lot of customizations that make the price tag worth it. Wishlist Member pushes their integrations and automations heavily, which can be great for those who have a lot of heavy duty marketing and/or learner support planned.

Watch our webinar for more details about using LearnDash with Wishlist Member.

Best for: Instructors who are ready to get into the weeds on automation.

WooCommerce Memberships

WooCommerce is a familiar name to anyone in the WordPress space, but not everyone is aware that they offer memberships. This can be a win for anyone already using WooCommerce, as it gives you more sales options, such as selling memberships along with a product purchase, or limiting access to products to certain members.

The downside is that it doesn’t have some of the features of other membership plugins, which won’t make it the best option for everyone. But for the right customer, it could be the perfect solution.

Best for: Businesses already using WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions to manage course sales.

Membership website are an effective way to grow your course—and your community.

One thing we can learn about the popularity of membership websites is that the idea of belonging to someplace is an important draw for many people. Registering to your membership website isn’t just about access to a course, it’s also about access to a group of peers with similar interests with whom they can network, collaborate, and learn. Make that a key selling point of your course, and you can grow your course along with your community.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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