Theme, Plugin, or Both?

questionmarkOne great thing about WordPress is that it is so versatile. If you need a feature, then there is probably a solution out there that can help you accomplish your goals.

Despite this, sometimes all of the potential options can become overwhelming. As soon as you pick one, you start to wonder if you made the right choice. In the end, your eye begins to wander to the other solutions thinking that they must be better than what you picked.

Again, this is the result of having so many potential options. Options are great, but they also lead to situations like the one described.

In the WordPress world, lately this dilemma often arises when deciding to choose a theme for functionality, or to use a plugin.

The correct choice depends on your situation.

When choosing a theme, there tends to be a larger learning curve as themes often leverage multiple plugins. If you are starting your project from scratch, then a theme could be a viable option. You’ll have plenty of time to come up to speed with all of the plugins necessary.

That said, you really need to examine what it is you are trying to accomplish. If the functionality you need can be delivered from a plugin, then you may have more freedom from a theme perspective. In other words, you don’t have to worry about being locked into a particular look or feel.

The choice isn’t always between a plugin and a theme. There are times when you can choose both. Sometimes themes have ways of uniquely using plugins that ultimately will give you more possibilities. By way of example, this theme has gone out of their way to build in LearnDash specific support and templating. They bring benefits of the theme while LearnDash carries the power of a plugin.

Before beginning your project, write down what functionality is a must. With that in hand, you can then see if you should leverage a theme, a plugin, or maybe both to meet these needs.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

12 Comments
    • Hi Lori-
      Thanks for the note. I’d say that if the theme doesn’t advertise compatibility it’s probably not built into their custom styling. That said, LearnDash will work with most modern themes since it leverages core WordPress functionality for delivering courses.

      • Lalo Solorzano

        Justin,
        So in my case, I’m looking to use Buddy Press and LearnDash, together with other plugins, like BadeOS or maybe even Achievements. Would you say it is safe to pick a modern theme that is compatible with BuddyPress and assume it to be compatible with LearnDash as it is likely compatible. This can be a challenge because you need multiple plugins to complete everything on your site, but have to dance around the different themes to make sure you find something that is compatible.

        • Hi Lalo-

          Thanks for the comment. Most modern WordPress themes will allow for BuddyPress as well as LearnDash (and BadgeOS). I believe the theme used as an example above has put in some special templating around both BuddyPress and LearnDash.

          • ron

            Hi Justin:

            Just a quick note on that, the theme linked above is beautiful and polished, and very tempting. However I signed into the demo LD portion and found that (and please correct or redirect me on this) there wasn’t any basic skeleton of LD and the course link sidebar widgets did not appear through the stages of the course.

            That is to say that although it opened “course” pages they had a body paragraph and image with next /previous pagination, but no real demonstration of how the theme would present LD components and lists, and no sidebar widgets with the course components.

            I felt back at square one where I am on my own theme customization.

            Am I missing something that makes this theme enmeshed with LD functionality? Beautiful theme otherwise.

            I appreciate you time, and I’m still amped on LD. Thank you.

  1. Uy

    I wanted to use edu theme for free online courses education.
    http://demo.smooththemes.com/edu/
    I love learnDash. It’s clean, clear, beautiful, functionality. My question is, can i use your plugin in this theme? Because this theme create courses, lesson itself. Can i add LearnDash quizzes in their lesson? ( it mean i can create separated quizzes, then import them into their lessons).
    I would love to hear your answer soon ( please email me if can). I looking to build an education online website. I have looked WPLMS, but it’s not my type!

    • I haven’t heard of that theme. If there is a lesson/course creator in that theme then LearnDash *might* conflict with it (you’ll want to inquire with their staff). If LearnDash can be used, the courses will not be listed in the same format as the theme since that is custom to their offering.

      • Uy

        Thank you! I checked their theme, they used Their own categories>courses. They does not have there lesson format ( it’s post only). I saw that LearnDash used your own categories ( i used nulled both theme and plugin- shameless :), but do not worry, i will buy when i choose to go live). I’m wondering, which should i use? Their theme is really cool, but your function about online course is just perfect!

  2. Ryan DiMascio

    Hey Justin,
    I am currently using both Learn Dash and the University theme you mentioned in the article. I found that the theme provides a separate tab to create “U-Courses”, “U-Lessons”, etc. So I guess my question is, should I be creating courses with the LearnDash plugin or the University template?
    Thanks

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