What to make your courses—or even your whole site—available on a membership basis? Here’s how to offer memberships on LearnDash.

So, you’ve read up on membership sites and you’ve decided that’s how you want to offer your courses. The next question is: how do you set one up for yourself?

Well, the good news is that you can do it all from LearnDash. While there are still some use cases in which a membership plugin might be necessary, you can create a WordPress membership site that will handle most of your needs using our native groups function. And because the groups function is hierarchical and lets you assign group leaders, you can get pretty detailed with it!

Excited? You should be. Let us walk you through it.

1. Course access settings let you control who sees your courses.

Let’s start with something basic: content protection. If you’ve put hours into developing a course, you obviously don’t want someone to be able to show up and steal it. LearnDash courses are protected content, unless you specify them to be otherwise (which you can do by creating an “open” course). This means that a user has to be signed into your system to view the content, and they can’t just send a link to one of your restricted content pages to a friend without that friend also creating an account and logging in.

Here’s a handy trick, though. Registration is one of the biggest hurdles an online course creator has to overcome. It’s hard enough getting someone to buy a product (any product!), but especially one that requires a commitment on their end, like an online course. One way you can grow registrations—and eventually sales—is by offering a preliminary course for free. In LearnDash course access settings, a “free” course still requires users to register and log in. And once they’ve done that, it’s much easier to convince them to take the subsequent step of purchasing a course.

You can also control access to courses by setting prerequisites. Setting course prerequisites means that a user can sign up to your membership site, but will have to “unlock” advanced content by completing courses in a certain order, or by requiring a user to have earned a certain number of “course points” by completing other courses first.

2. Create your group leaders and group users.

LearnDash comes with two user roles related to groups: group leaders and group users. A group leader has special permissions which include viewing the quiz scores or progress of any of the group users, emailing the group, and even creating course content for the group. You can also assign the same group leader to multiple groups.

A group user is an enrollee. Adding a user to a group gives them access to all the courses in that group, which makes bulk enrollment easier. Users can also be members of multiple groups, or you can organize their access to courses using group hierarchy.

3. Organize your groups to give access to the right membership levels.

This is where the control you have over groups gets really exciting. Let’s say you want to offer two different kinds of membership levels—a “basic” membership, that had access to a certain range of courses, and an “advanced” membership, that had access to those courses plus some. You can achieve this by creating “parent” and “child” membership groups.

Because group hierarchy is nested, it means that learners who have access to the parent group level will also have access to all groups underneath it. However, a user enrolled into a child group won’t have access to higher level group content.

How would this work in a real course? Let’s run a few use cases.

  • You want to have instructors lead small groups who are all participants in Course A. You also want your instructors to have access to instructor training materials for Course A. You create a parent group with instructor materials, and add the instructors to that group as group users. Then you create child groups that include access to Course A, and assign the instructors as group leaders. Learners enter the child groups as group users and have access to Course A, but do not have access to the instructor training material in the parent group.
  • You want to offer “basic” and “premium” membership levels, where “basic” members can enroll into select courses at a lower rate per course, but have to pay for access to each course individually. “Premium” members pay a higher subscription, but have access to all courses. Create a parent group for the premium members, and have each course listed in a child group underneath that parent group. Premium members enroll into the parent group, while basic members enroll into the child groups for their selected courses.
  • You want to offer organizational training at regional levels. You can create a parent group for your largest geographic area (say, North America), with child groups for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. If you need more control, you can create child pages within those child pages. Regional managers can be given group leader access to their area, and trainees can be enrolled into their local-level programs as group users.

And that’s membership on LearnDash in a nutshell! But if you want more detailed information, never fear! We made a whole webinar about it:

Need more membership management options?

We know we can’t build the perfect tool for everyone’s needs—that’s why we’re on WordPress. Many of our users are looking for options that require more specialized tools than what we offer—like fine tuning access controls for specific pages, or advanced membership settings. That’s why we offer integrations to some of the leading WordPress membership plugins out there—so you can work with us, without being limited in your other options.

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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This was too advanced and didn’t actually give me a step by step of how to set up a membership program

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