LMS Comparison: LearnDash vs. Teachable
Teachable is one of the most popular online course platforms available. But that doesn’t make it right for your course.
For those new to the world of online education, navigating the various Learning Management Systems (LMSs) on the market can be exhausting. However, making the right choice is crucial for the success of any new online education project. The elearning platform you choose will affect every aspect of the learner experience, from how you sell and market your course, to the tools you have to build an engaging course, to the options you have for communicating with and supporting your learners.
Broadly speaking, elearning platforms break down into two camps: hosted, all-in-one solutions like Teachable, Thinkific, and Kajabi, and open source, self-hosted LMS platforms like us. Choosing an all-in-one platform means you have an easier set-up, but fewer options.
Going the self-hosted route means you can pick and choose which products are best for you, and assemble them into a site that actually meets your needs. That obviously requires more research and configuration, but most of our users find the extra effort is worth it—even those who aren’t developers and haven’t ever set up a website before.
“We tried Thinkific and Teachable before we started using LearnDash. Nothing compares to LearnDash. If you want to control your content and user experience, LearnDash is the best option. LearnDash allows you to decide how to present your courses, how to sell it and promote it. It integrates with WooCommerce and plenty of other plugins. Customer support is responding very fast.” — Verified Customer
We know we’re not the best option for everyone, and that Teachable has plenty of satisfied users. But we also believe that most educators—especially those who are serious about delivering a premium learning experience—benefit from using our platform over plug-and-play options like Teachable. The easy onboarding is tempting, but it doesn’t take long for users to begin feeling their limitations.
To show you why, we’re going to do a deep dive into what Teachable’s platform offers, show you how it compares with LearnDash, and make the case for why “all-in-one” isn’t as comprehensive—or as desirable—as it seems.
We’re in for a long one, so if you want to jump ahead, here’s what we’re going to cover:
- User Roles & Membership.
- Emails & Automation.
Let’s start with one of the first concerns for many potential customers: price. LearnDash comes in three different packages, starting at $199 ($159 with our current sale) for a single license site. For another $30, our Plus package comes with ProPanel plus 10 site licenses. Licenses renew annually, and all our licenses come with numerous free add-ons to expand your course functionality.
In other words, when you buy a larger package, you get more site licenses as well as access to ProPanel—but otherwise all license holders have the same access to our plugin’s features.
Teachable’s pricing starts with a “free” plan, which charges a $1 + 10% transaction fee every time you sell a course, and is also limited in the functions it offers (no drip feed, no graded quizzes, no community). Their next step up costs $29/mo., or $348/year (plus 5% per transaction). It includes more features, but still does not offer graded quizzes, unbranded websites, or course completion certificates. For that, you will have to go up to their $99/mo. option, which will cost you $1,188/year, and that still won’t get you advanced theme customization or custom user rolls.
“LearnDash was much more flexible and allowed for more customization/membership options. The pricing for LearnDash was also much more reasonable.” – Eric Z. (switched from Teachable)
It’s true that what you pay for to get a LearnDash license won’t cover all the costs associated with running your website, some of which we’ll cover momentarily. But you also won’t be paying over a thousand dollars a year to access features that are included in our basic package for a fraction of that cost.
Think of it this way: If you need Teachable’s $1,188/year plan to run your course the way you want to, our current Plus Package deal can get you all those features for $189—leaving you nearly $1,000 of budget to cover the rest of your operating costs. The biggest of which is…
Teachable is a fully hosted LMS. That means when you sign up, you never have to worry about running out of bandwidth to host your course. They even offer unlimited video hosting on all plans—even the free one!
If that offer seems suspiciously good to you, you’re correct.
Hosting—especially video hosting—is expensive. If you’re small and just starting your first website, you know this. Hosting costs are the rent you pay for your online storefront, and if someone is offering you those costs for “free,” what it really means is that they’re making up the difference elsewhere.
To start, you’ll be on a shared server with a bunch of other “free” plans, and that will mean an incredibly slow website—especially if you (or someone else on your shared server) is trying to get the most out of their unlimited video hosting. As you move up the pricing package, your service will improve—but you’ll also be paying more for it. If you don’t like the hosting experience on their platform, you don’t have any options, and if you don’t actually need a lot of unlimited video hosting, you’re effectively subsidizing the other people on their platform who do.
We don’t touch hosting. It is literally not our business. That’s because we believe you’re going to have the best experience if you can assess your hosting options and make the choice that is best for you and your course.
You can get good hosting for $15/mo. ($180/yr.), and premium hosting starting at $40/mo. ($480/yr.). If you need video hosting, your options range from free (YouTube) to more advanced plans on dedicated sites such as Wistia or Vimeo that will offer better quality and more advanced content protection options than what comes with Teachable’s built-in service.
We’re not bundling those costs into our LMS, which means:
- You’re not overpaying for services you don’t use.
- We have lower overhead which means we can offer a more affordable price for our plugin.
- Our resources aren’t stretched thin trying to manage hosting and video, which means all our focus goes into developing an excellent e-learning plugin.
That already sounds like a better deal to us, and we’re just getting started.
Student progress reports are only available in Teachable’s two highest product tiers, the Pro ($99/mo.) and Business ($249/mo.). This feature is fairly basic. It lets you see a student’s lecture progress and quiz scores.
If you’re using a video lecture, you can also see how far a student has progressed in a video. Perhaps the neatest part of Teachable’s reporting tool is that it shows a video heat map of which parts of a video learners are replaying. (Similar video reporting tools are offered by popular video hosting sites like Vimeo or Wistia.)
On LearnDash, our ProPanel reporting tool is the only significant feature not included in our basic plan. It is a $30 upgrade (renews annually) included on all Plus and Pro packages. ProPanel lets users track progress by user, course, or group, and it is even possible to display reporting on the front end of your site, if you want.
ProPanel comes with four widgets. The Overview widget shows the total number of students, courses, pending assignments, and pending essays to be graded. The Activity widget shows real-time progress on course, lesson, topic, and quiz completion. The Reports widget offers filtering options to narrow searches by course, users, group, or a combination thereof, and lets you send emails based on those filters. Finally, the Charts widget creates two donut charts showing Progress Distribution and In Progress Breakdown, so you can see how learners are progressing through your course.
Teachable is very focused on making it easy for you to sell your courses—and we have to give them credit in that their tools for doing so look good. They include a lot of options that are easy for you to set up and configure, including coupons and affiliate discounts, as well as a lot of integrations to other popular 3rd-party products. But then again, all of this is in their best interests.
We touched on this previously, but until you’ve moved up into their Pro plan (and are paying $99/mo.), you’re going to be turning over a portion of all your course sales—10% +$1 on the “free” plan, and 5% on the Basic plan. The more courses you sell, the larger their cut, so of course they want to offer you good tools to make that happen.
Here’s the thing, though: You have access to all those tools through LearnDash, too.
We come with a built-in integration with PayPal and Stripe to help get you started selling courses as quickly as possible. For more complex sales needs we integrate with a whole host of ecommerce plugins like WooCommerce, ThriveCart, 2Checkout, and SamCart. You can choose which option fits your needs best, whether that’s a simple payment processor (like Stripe), or a ecommerce powerhouse with coupons, subscriptions, upsells, and more.
Most importantly, though, because we’re built on WordPress, you have more options for how you want to customize the appearance and user flow of your sales and checkout process. Which brings us to our next point, which is:
We’ve spent a long time already talking about basic business topics such as the comparative costs of running an online course on Teachable vs. LearnDash and the mechanics of getting paid. If you’re doing the math and running the numbers, you may feel like so far things are fairly even, depending on what configuration of plans you’d be choosing. But it’s actually in the design and functioning of a course that we think Teachable’s value proposition falls apart.
Teachable markets their platform as a fast, easy, affordable way to launch beautiful courses in a matter of minutes. They do this by letting their visitors choose and customize course templates. In theory, this means everyone can have a unique website that matches their own brand. In practice, the story is a little more complicated.
I haven’t been able to find a specific number for how many templates are available on Teachable. I did, however, read through their documentation for how to customize a template. At first blush, it seems like they’re offering a lot of options. You can update your theme colors, change the background splash image, change fonts, etc.
However, reading the list of things you can edit eventually begs the question: what can’t I edit?
It turns out: a lot.
For instance, you can change your font… but Teachable only supports twelve font options. Only two (Proxima and Merriweather) are serif fonts.
Now, to be fair, Teachable does allow for custom CSS, so if you want to inject your own code into the site, you can do that—it’s just kind of a hassle.
Custom coding templates on Teachable: Can it be done?
If you’re interested in going into the weeds on this, a British web design team wrote an in-depth article on how they helped one of their clients customize her Teachable site. They were successful in the end, but reading through the steps they had to take (and the challenges they encountered along the way) is enlightening.
Teachable offers examples of other educators who have built courses using their platform, and from a brief overview of the top three listed courses in all six of their featured industries, the observations from the Growfox team hold up. Eleven out of the eighteen sites featured centered, white text over a splash image, often with some kind of gray overlay to make the text pop. Those that broke this pattern didn’t necessarily look the better for it, and it seemed clear the owners had to work hard to update their look.
How does LearnDash + WordPress compare?
Now, LearnDash runs on WordPress, which also relies on themes and templates to help non-developers quickly launch a site. Many of these themes are free, but you can purchase a premium theme if you want something nicer, and if you have a generous budget, you can hire a team to custom code a theme for you.
However, the big difference between Teachable and LearnDash is that Teachable is a closed-source platform, which means that their team are the ones developing and releasing new templates. Outside designers can’t design and release templates for sale, which means their users are limited to what their developers can produce.
LearnDash, along with over 30% of the Internet, runs on WordPress. And because WordPress is open source, anyone can design and sell a theme to other WordPress users. For some people, their entire business is selling pre-designed WordPress templates. Others run their business by custom coding templates on demand.
For our users, what this means is that instead of having only the limited selection on Teachable to choose from, they have an endless selection that includes both free and premium templates (the latter costing a license of $20–$100/yr.). WordPress developers can also build custom templates that range from a few hundred dollars (if you have a small project and you’re working with a solo freelancer) well into six digits (if your project is complex and you’re working with a design agency).
All of this is because we, at LearnDash, aren’t trying to design templates. We’re leaving that to the WordPress marketplace, which is available to all our users without any loss of user experience. Searching for, installing, and editing a WordPress template right from the back end of your website is as easy for LearnDash users as it is for Teachable users to change templates on their Teachable sites.
The only difference is that Teachable will graciously offer you a selection of twelve fonts to choose from, then force you to place white, centered header text over a grayed out splash image.
We’ll get out of your way and let you do whatever you please.
We covered design, so now let’s talk function. Teachable claims that they can help you teach the way you want to learn. Their entire business is built around helping educators deliver high-quality elearning content. You’d think they would have invested a lot in building a suite of advanced education tools that take full advantage of the flexible and interactive elements the Internet enables, right?
We’d think that, too.
So what do they offer?
Multiple choice quizzes.
And, if you’re on their Pro ($99/mo.) plan, you also get graded quizzes.
Let that sink in for a minute.
You’re an online educator, building an online course, and the only tool Teachable, a premier elearning platform, offers for you to measure your learner’s progress are basic multiple choice quizzes, and you have to pay nearly a hundred dollars a month to be able to give them an (unweighted) grade.
Teachable does offer certification, though! So do we.
On LearnDash you can:
- Create a bank of questions to make it easier to build or even randomize quizzes.
- Choose from six different quiz question types, including multiple choice, single choice (true or false), sorting, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and essay (free form).
- Weight the number of points a learner receives for each correct answer.
- Offer hints, which can include images, lists, or custom HTML formatting.
- Display answer feedback for each question.
- Post quiz scores to a leaderboard so learners can see how they performed relative to their peers.
- Enable assignment uploads, along with advanced management options for viewing, approving, commenting, and assigning points for assignments.
All that is included in LearnDash’s core functionality. Remember when we said we didn’t want to be all things (web host, video host, payment processor) because we wanted to focus on doing one thing (online education) really well? This is what we meant.
And as awesome as all that is, you don’t have to stop there, because we’re built on WordPress and that means we integrate with other WordPress online education plugins.
Using 3rd party plugins, you can expand the functionality of your WordPress course to include branching scenarios, interactive elements (flash cards, memory games, and interactive videos), and other gamification elements.
Speaking of gamification, Teachable doesn’t offer that at all. That’s amazing, because it’s kind of a big deal.
We’ve always integrated with some of the top gamification plugins on WordPress, including GamiPress and WP Achievements. These plugins are fantastic for adding advance gamification capabilities to your course, but we wanted to make it even easier for our users to include simple gamification.
Our latest LearnDash add-on (free for all users with a valid license) does just that.
LearnDash Achievements lets educators award badges and points to learners based on various course triggers. These triggers can be assigned to specific actions, and the points are separate from a learner’s grade score, giving educators more ways to introduce rewards and friendly competition into their course.
For instance, you can create a special badge for a learner to receive after they complete a specific quiz at the end of a module. The more modules they complete, the more badges they earn. Or, you can award learners ten points every time they complete a quiz, and post those points to a leaderboard. Learners who want to score at the top of the leaderboard will be encouraged to take more quizzes.
There are many ways to add gamification to your course, all of which are possible either through LearnDash’s core functionality, 3rd party plugins, or custom development.
As far as we can tell, Teachable doesn’t have any.
Next, let’s look at a common need in the elearning community: Membership sites. If you’re trying to create an online course with a diverse and engaged community, you’ll need various capabilities, such as the ability to assign users to groups, the ability to create custom user roles with specific sets of permissions, and the ability to integrate with a forum where your learners can discuss the material and engage with their peers.
Teachable integrates with the third-party platform Circle.so, whose most basic plan costs $39/mo. That is your only option for creating a forum on Teachable.
Moreover, Teachable’s user roles are severely limited. They offer five main rolls (primary owner, owner, author, affiliate, and student), but restrict the number of users who can have each role. For instance, on the Basic ($39/mo.) plan, only two users are allowed to have admin (primary owner, owner, or author) roles, and on the Pro ($99/mo.) plan, you can have up to five members on admin roles. If you want to create custom admin roles, you have to be on their Business ($249/mo.) plan, and even then you are limited to twenty admin roles.
Our own plugin comes with a Groups feature that lets you group users together and assign a Group Leader. Groups can also have courses associated with them, and users who are added to group will be automatically enrolled in those courses.
If you need more user management, LearnDash integrates with a number of popular WordPress membership plugins, including Memberium, MemberPress, and Paid Memberships Pro, all of which allow for custom member roles. We have no limitations on the number of admin roles you create, or who you assign them to. We even integrate with the Parent and Student Access plugin from Immerseus, which enables special controls for educators working children and young adults.
And if you want to create a forum on your site, we integrate with bbPress, or you can use any other forum plugin in the WordPress ecosystem.
Teachable includes integrated email marketing and drip course content on all paid plans. They include options for sending automated emails upon the completion of certain actions, and integrate with popular services like MailChimp and Zapier.
On LearnDash, you can also schedule a drip feed of content, as well as integrate with MailChimp and Zapier. For more automations, our Notifications add-on allows our users to email learners depending on certain triggers, like passing or failing a quiz. Emails can even include dynamic content based on a learner’s unique activity.
Honestly, our capabilities here seem fairly even. This makes sense, based on my review of Teachable’s capabilities. They’re very focused on creating an ecommerce platform with some nominal elearning capabilities. To that end, the tools they offer for selling and marketing are good, although not better than what the rest of the market has to offer—and often overpriced.
The only place they fail is in providing their users with a functional elearning tool set.
Out-of-the-box solutions offer an easy on-ramp, but little room to grow.
Teachable, like other hosted solutions, makes a tempting offer: Pay a modest monthly fee, launch your course overnight without any hassle, then upgrade your plan as you bring in income.
The problem is that what most course creators need to be successful in building an online course isn’t included in that modest package. What’s worse, is that many creators don’t realize how constraining the system is until they’re already too invested. By the time they realize they need to move elsewhere, many find it difficult to transition to a different platform, because Teachable isn’t SCORM (Tin Canny API) compliant.
“…I hated that my course would go away on Teachable if I stopped my monthly subscription. That would make me have to continue my subscription indefinitely for people who purchased my course on their platform.” – Rick B. (considered Teachable; chose us.)
Hosted platforms like Teachable like to exaggerate how hard it is to set up a course on WordPress, because it makes their smooth on-boarding look more desirable. And it is true that building your course on WordPress will take more steps to set up. But it’s hardly the insurmountable task it’s made out to be.
In fact, we have a whole live session devoted to setting up your LearnDash site where you can watch our training specialist get LearnDash up and running in under an hour.
Meanwhile, what course creators don’t realize when they opt for the easy option Teachable offers, is that they’re likely to find themselves far more frustrated further down the road, when they can’t get their course configured exactly the way they want, and when their entire teaching toolkit is comprised of video and multiple choice quizzes.
That’s not to say Teachable isn’t the right solution for some users. If you’re interested in selling a simple course quickly, don’t mind handing over a portion of your sales, aren’t concerned about the shelf life of your content, and don’t view online education as a primary part of your business, Teachable and similar solutions can hook you up with a fast course and disposable infrastructure.
But if you’re in it for the long haul, if you want to keep all your course income, if you want to configure your course just the way you like it, and if you care about delivering the a high quality online education experience to your learners, then LearnDash is the best option available.
Don’t take our word for it—listen to our users.