LMS Plugin, Membership Plugin, or Both?

When people look into creating an online course using WordPress they often find themselves trying to decide between a variety of solutions.

Perhaps you are currently in this situation.

Assuming you are going to self-host your WordPress site, you will ultimately face the following decision:

  1. Use a WordPress LMS like LearnDash
  2. Use a membership plugin
  3. Use both

The answer to this question really depends on the specifics of your project, so unfortunately I cannot give you a hard-set rule as to when to use each. However, let’s explore some common scenarios.

Using an LMS Plugin (Only)

If you’re just starting your investigation into solutions, you might be surprised to know that you actually don’t need a membership plugin with solutions like LearnDash. Our LMS will protect your content without the need of a membership plugin.

For example, if you are selling three different courses, each course has its own protection rules. Only people who are registered for the course (either by purchasing or self-enrollment) can view the content.

An added bonus is that someone can have access to multiple courses at once (essentially, multiple “membership” levels), which isn’t always as easy to accomplish with a traditional membership plugin.

You can take this one step further by using a shopping cart to sell your courses. Using LearnDash, a shopping cart product can be associated with many courses which allows you to create various bundles.

People who choose the LMS only approach appreciate the streamlined process for creating their course offering. It also cuts back on having to learn another solution.

Using a Membership Plugin (Only)

There are some situations when using an LMS plugin isn’t necessary.

If your project just requires that you protect a couple pages, posts, or a assets on your WordPress site, then a membership plugin like PaidMembershipsPro is all you really need. Using a learning management plugin in this case would be overkill.

Another possible scenario is if you don’t require a structured course offering.

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 LMS because there isn’t a need for course enrollment and tracking.

Using Both

Sometimes there are advantages to using both solutions.

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 an LMS like LearnDash, this gives you more insight into your users.

One 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 an LMS plugin makes it easy to add value to your membership site by creating courses for your members to take.

In Conclusion

This is a rather high-level overview of when to use a learning management system versus a membership plugin.

In some cases we tell people to use LearnDash only, and other times we encourage them to use both. There are also pre-sales situations where we advise people to use just a membership plugin. Again, the right solution for you varies on your project’s needs and goals.

If you are interested to know which is best for you, do not hesitate to write us with details about your project.

Author

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Twitter | LinkedIn

51 Responses

  1. Hi Justin,
    Helpful advice, thank you. If I’d consider using the ‘LMS plugin-only mode’, does LearnDash provide course content protection on URL and URI level?

    1. Hi Sönke-
      Thanks for the comment. I suppose we would need a bit more context. By default, any lesson/topic/quiz URL associated with your course is going to be access protected. If you send us a note with more details I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it and provide a more pointed response relevant to what you had in mind.

  2. Does Learndash integrate with Infusionsoft and wishlist? I am already using these two platforms for our business so changing is not an option. I would very much like to see and IS integration for the e-mail automation and tagging functionality.

    1. Hi Dave-
      Yes and yes. Infusionsoft integrations can be found with the Memberium extension as well as Zapier. Wishlist Member can protect custom post types which means it can be used to protect LearnDash content. Just activate protection under “SETTINGS > CUSTOM POST TYPES” in WLM.

  3. Great tnx that was just what I needed. Just one question. How can I add a Learndash page to the WLM level. Or do I have to make a normal startpage and add a course to that startpage. I hope you know what I am saying.

    1. Hi Francis-
      To use WLM with LearnDash you just need to activate custom post type protection in WLM. Then you can protect LearnDash created content.

  4. I’ve been a user of DAP (Digital Access Pass) for over 5 years and know how it works very well. However, I just purchased LearnDash and I’m curious as to why there are no comments about DAP. Can I use or integrate DAP with LearnDash successfully? I also have DAP working successfully with Infusionsoft. So will they both work or play well with LearnDash.

    1. Hi Voss-
      I believe there are DAP users also using LearnDash. DAP can protect custom post types and therefore can protect LearnDash content. The DAP support team will be able to speak to any additional integration that may exist.

    1. There is no direct integration as of yet with those solutions but they can be used to protect LearnDash contest.

      1. If I am using Optimizepress/member to protect the LearnDash content only, is there an automated way for new registrants to be registered to certain courses?

        1. We have a beta integration with OptimizeMember that will enroll users into courses upon membership purchase.

          1. Looking forward to that Optimize Member integration — right now I just mark courses as OPEN and protect them using OP2Member

          2. True! Or set them to ‘free’ and only protect the ‘course’ page (which would limit the number of pages you need to protect)

          3. Super!
            Could you please pass the integration link?
            Well I was almost buying another LMS plugin, to strengthen my project!
            Because I have 4 members area plugins!
            I do not like my developer, and other people who work with me on my project. Look how much I sold on courses.
            This is the problem with plugins, which you recommend here!

            Thank you so much!

  5. Hi Justin, thanks for your article. I’m still a little confused about my options with LearnDash. I can see how LearnDash can help me to track members’ experiences, drip content to them and deliver emails that are responsive to where they’re at in my program. So that’s all good.

    I also want to to offer folks who complete my program the next offering in my product suite. So it seems LearnDash might help me with that.

    How would a product like Memberium add to this mix? I’m not quite sure I understand how it would fit in.

    Currently I’m using Wishlist and am looking at other options that provides what LearnDash does.

    Thanks for your help!
    Susan

  6. hello, are videos on both membership pro or learndash completely safe when self hosted or one needs to buy additional hosting services from amazon, vimeo pro or wistia?

    1. You can host videos on your WP site and modify the .htaccess file for additional security, or use a third party service as you mentioned.

  7. Hi Justin, not being the most technically minded person, how does Learndash work with a website. If I have a section on my website that sells my programmes, once someone has purchased one of them, does a link simply take them through to the course? If my website isn’t WordPress compatible, is it still possible to use Learndash?
    Thank you.
    Tony

    1. Hi Tony-
      It kind of depends on how you have everything configured. Selling a course with a shopping cart will have a different process than selling with the built in PayPal integration (for example). Feel free to shoot us an email if you wish to discuss in more detail.

    1. We don’t have a direct integration with S2Member. If it can protect custom post types then it can protect LD created content.

  8. Hi Justin,
    1) Will LearnDash be compatible with SamCart in the near future?
    2) Does LearnDash have a Zapier app?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Grace, there aren’t any samcart integration plans at the moment. We do have a Zapier integration. More details can be found here.

  9. I know you have an addon to integrate WooCommerce with LearnDash, but will it work with the Membership component of WooCommerce, as well?

    1. It depends on what you’re trying to do specifically. LD doesn’t directly integrate with that membership plugin but you could have that plugin and LD both installed on the same site.

  10. Is there a way to create an additional layer of user in between us and the student? We currently use Moodle with amember pro and WordPress.. Our clients are companies that typically buy multiple courses, then assign those courses to their employees. In addition to purchasing and assigning courses, they can review their employees’ exams and earned certificates. Is all of this functionality something that can be replicated on LearnDash?

  11. Hi Justin,

    I have installed S2 member and have changed the course to closed and put a custom page with a membership purchase button. After the customer goes through the transaction, they are not added to the course. How do I get them added to the course when they buy the membership?

    1. Price type must be ‘open’ or ‘free’ with S2Member. Closed can only be an option with PMPro or MemberPress.

      1. Thanks for the reply Justin.

        If price type is set to open or free they will be automatically enrolled once they are registered as a user? or after they have gone through the S2 payment forms?

        1. The issue is that I need to redirect the user to a landing page for them to pay for the course. Closed had a redirection link but open or free doesn’t – what would the customer flow look like?

          1. In this case MemberPress or PMPro would need to be used. S2Member doesn’t directly integrate wit LD so the price type can’t be closed. Or, you don’t have to use a membership plugin and could just use a shopping cart as detailed here.

  12. I would like to have the option like Digital Marketer Labs. Where I can sell individual access to trainings, and I can also give access to all my trainings if they are in my monthly subscription.

    Is this possible with only LearnDash?

    Thanks you

  13. Hi. I have integrated course access with Learndash to set up a membership (Register) page. I was wondering if there was a sign up form for Course Access. I didn’t see when I tested. There was just a simple log in page but not a register form so that a person can enter their details to log in. Thanks

    Adrian

    1. Hi Vander-
      Don’t be afraid 🙂 – if you purchase and within 30 days you decide it’s not a good fit for your project then you can get a refund.

      1. wow…this is what I was looking for…did not see it anywhere on the website…and thought there are no refunds in case it does not fit our case…

  14. I have annual subscribers for other (group) features on my wordpress site. Is there a way to recognize that they have already paid and therefore gain access to LD courses (which requires the same paid annual membership to access)??

    1. If you’re using MemberPress, you can just add the course to the MemberPress membership level and anyone with that level will get course access.

  15. Hey Justin
    Thank you for sharing this article.
    I am currently trying to decide between LearnDash and one of your competitors.
    I have a buddypress site with a membership plugin, I am yet to launch the membership offering.
    What I want to do is offer my members access to courses as part of their membership, they will pay a monthly or annual membership.
    Am I best to use just LD for this or am I best to use the membership plugin? Or both?

    1. You could use a membership plugin, or just use a shopping art to create ‘bundles’ with different payment options.

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