Should You Use LearnDash with a Membership Plugin?
When creating a membership course in WordPress, you will find there are often several paths to the desired destination.
WordPress is the perfect tool for creating and selling online courses because it is flexible and it you own the platform. Combined with LearnDash, it’s the most flexible LMS on the market, because users can combine our course management tools with any of the plugins in the WordPress ecosystem to get exactly the results they need. However, the downside to this is that, with so many plugins available, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming.
One situation that can cause a lot of confusion for learners is around the use of membership plugins, with or without an LMS. You may want to host an online course, but aren’t sure if you need a membership plugin to protect the content. Or maybe you want to build a learning community based around a forum, but don’t need the quiz-building functions or lesson structures of an LMS. What should you choose?
If you are currently in this situation for your own online course and you are not sure how to proceed, we’re here to help you out. Assuming you are going to self-host your WordPress site, you will ultimately face the following decision for your courses:
- Use an LMS without a membership plugin
- Use a membership plugin without an LMS
- Use LearnDash’s advanced Groups capabilities to sell memberships
- Combine LearnDash with a 3rd party membership plugin
The solution to this problem really depends on the specifics of your project, so unfortunately there are no hard-set rules as to when to use each. However, to dig into this question further, let’s start with the most obvious question: Do you need a membership plugin?
1. Use an LMS without a membership plugin
First off, you should begin by asking if a membership plugin is really necessary for your course. If your main concern is content protection, you actually do not need a membership plugin at all. Our LMS will protect your content without the need of a membership plugin using our Access Settings.
For example, let’s say that you want to sell three different courses. The content of the courses (lessons, quizzes, etc.) cannot be viewed by people who are not yet enrolled. Only people who are registered for the course can view the content. If someone purchases one course, they don’t get access to the others. They only have access to the one.
If your course is not free then you may be wondering how to add a pay-gate to your courses. LearnDash integrates with the following popular shopping carts:
- Easy Digital Downloads
- ThriveCart (beta)
The WordPress shopping carts (1 and 2 above) integrate with hundreds of payment gateways. LearnDash comes with the following three payment gateways if you prefer to not use a shopping cart:
You can very easily use one of these methods to accept payment. LearnDash will protect your course content without the need of a membership plugin. People who choose this approach appreciate the streamlined process for creating their course offering as it cuts back on having to learn another solution.
2. Use a membership plugin without an LMS
It is important to note that there are some situations when using an LMS plugin like LearnDash isn’t necessary.
If your project just requires that you protect a couple pages, posts, or assets on your WordPress site, then a membership plugin is all you really need. Using a learning management plugin in this case would be overkill.
One example would be if you have a site that includes a community forum and perhaps some valuable downloads for the members. In this case, you don’t need an a plugin like LearnDash because there isn’t a need for course enrollments, quizzing, certificates, badges, points, and learner reporting.
3. Use LearnDash’s advanced Groups capabilities to sell memberships
Over the years, we’ve had so many questions about membership courses that we finally built this functionality into our LMS! You can now use LearnDash as a membership plugin without needing another outside option.
Here’s how it works. Using the group function, you can create groups that have access to certain courses. (Think of it like membership levels.) When a learner buys access to that group, they also get access to the courses associated with it.
Combine this with subscription pricing, and you get Netflix for e-learning!
Group membership also makes it possible to refine who has access to certain pages or resources. Want to create one group for beginners and another for professionals? No problem. Want to sell access to an advanced webinar, but only to members of a certain group? You can do that, too.
LearnDash even offers subgroups, so that you can add hierarchy to your group management. And, because group leaders can now create courses for their groups, you can expand your team to include managers within your office, or teachers at your school.
4. Combine LearnDash with a 3rd party membership plugin
For most of our users, our expanded groups capabilities make a 3rd party membership plugin unnecessary. However, we’re wise enough to know that we can’t plan for every use-case! There can be advantages to using LearnDash with a 3rd party membership plugin depending on your requirements, and the beauty of working in WordPress is that you can use both plugins together.
For instance, if you want to have additional metrics on your members then using a membership plugin is a nice value-add. Many membership platforms come with their own reporting capabilities. Used in conjunction with LearnDash this gives you more insight into your users.
Another common scenario for using both is if you have a membership site already and just want to add some course capabilities in a more formal, organized fashion. Inserting LearnDash makes it easy to add value to your membership site by creating courses for your members to take. You don’t have to change the way you manage your members either since in this case you continue using your membership plugin.
LearnDash has a direct integration with the following membership solutions:
- Restrict Content Pro
- Wishlist Member
As a word of caution: avoid vendor lock-in!
Learning programs can vary in requirements and sometimes those requirements change. With LearnDash you can start your program with any of the options above and freely switch as needed.
One thing I know after over a decade in the e-learning industry is that learning programs and online courses are not one-size-fits all. Learning evolves, and so do requirements.
Whether you use LearnDash or not, I strongly encourage you to avoid any solution that advocates using a single e-commerce platform or method for content protection. In the same vein, be cautious of any solution that is billed as “all-in-one.” Rarely is this even true, but assuming it is then that means you’re locked-in as well. You don’t want to take on this kind of risk. I have seen this cause people major headaches over the years.
If you are not sure the best approach for your project then write us with some more details and we will happily help! 🙂
Still confused? Watch this webinar!
In this webinar we discuss common use-cases where using a membership plugin and LearnDash together may make sense.