When it's time to compare tech tools, my automatic starting point is the tech equivalent of an arms race: the plugin with the most features wins.
Maybe in some cases this is a good way to make a decision.
But LMS WordPress plugins are different: their whole purpose is to enhance the learning experience inside your online courses, so that you can have happier students and grow a steady stream of revenue as a result.
In this case, the more important thing is to make sure your plugin can give you the elearning boost you need before delivering “nice to haves”.
That's why we've selected a handful of the best LMS plugins for WordPress to show how they compare in these key areas, to help you make the right decision for your course and students.
Table of Contents
- What Criteria Makes For The Best LMS Plugins on WordPress
- The 5 Best LMS Plugins for WordPress
- How to Choose the Best LMS Plugin for Your WordPress Site
What Criteria Makes For The Best LMS Plugins on WordPress
We've selected five criteria for you to begin your research with:
1. Course Design Flexibility
Can you create and organize your online courses the way that you've envisioned, or are you “stuck” in a format that won't work for your course or students?
Some WordPress LMS plugins are fairly strict with their format; others are totally flexible and let you build the curriculum of your dreams. The important thing is to make sure your preferred course format is supported with your plugin choice.
2. Progress Tracking
Progress tracking is essential for two entirely different reasons:
- To help set up the student's expectations so they understand what's included in the course and how far they've come.
- To give you access to course analytics, so you can see how many people have gone through your course lessons, as well as identifying areas where students are getting stuck.
3. Analytics & User Reports
Data-driven decisions can save your (business) life, but if you don't know what's going on inside your online course area, how can you possibly improve it?
Make sure the LMS plugin you add to your WordPress site can give you the stats you need to grow.
The more personal and engaging you can make your courses, the more incentives your students will have to invest their time, energy, and resources into applying the lessons and achieving a high level of success.
So keep an eye out for how well you can communicate and engage with your students and determine whether your LMS can help you out with this need in the form of notes, assignments, forums, etc.
If a student puts in the blood, sweat, and tears to invest 100% in your online course… you owe it to them to recognize their hard work.
Certificates are a simple, powerful way to congratulate students for their success while simultaneously challenging them to continue growing and learning. If your LMS plugin offers the ability to auto-grant certificates when a user passes a course, you're also able to offer more advanced course options like certification programs.
The 5 Best LMS Plugins for WordPress
In no particular order, here is our list of the 5 top LMS WordPress plugins, along with our recommendations for why you might choose one over the others.
LearnDash is a WordPress course builder plugin that includes all the LMS essentials: progress tracking, certificates, quizzes, and a course credit system.
With LearnDash, you can create courses and sell them as standalone products or memberships; however, it continues to be a well-known option for pairing with membership-specific plugins (that lack LMS) like Memberium (which has its own dedicated LearnDash integration).
LearnDash uses a three-tier system for your online courses:
- Courses – Each course is its own separate entity in LearnDash, and can include multiple lessons and topics.
- Lessons – Your course content exists in the individual lesson pages. There's no limit on the number of lessons you can assign to a course.
- Topics – Topics are a great way to break up lengthier lessons.
Once you have the three-tier format figured out, the rest of the course setup is fairly straightforward: create your lesson and topic pages, and assign them to a course. The learning curve isn't huge, so you can get started right away with the basic structure and content of your courses.
The biggest downsides, though, were that:
- Individual lesson and topic pages can't be associated with multiple courses
- If you want to re-organize your course at a future date and move items from topic pages to lesson pages, there's no easy way to switch out the content besides copy+paste.
With LearnDash, there's no need for additional configuration if and when you decide you want progress tracking, which can be a relief if you're running into tight deadlines or simply appreciate “one less thing to think about”.
Progress tracking metrics are based on whether or not a user completes your topics, lessons, and quizzes, so a “mark complete” button (or finished quiz) will automatically fill the user's progress bar.
Overall, I thought the progress elements themselves were well-designed out of the box. However, you might need to brush up on your CSS if you want to change its appearance (if you want to use your brand colors, or change where the checklist appears on a page, for example).
If you're hoping to have analytics and reporting metrics on your site, LearnDash has you covered with ProPanel by LearnDash, which is available when you're subscribed to their PLUS or PRO packages.
It is a well-thought-out visual dashboard so you can figure out what's going on with your online courses, stat.
The area of communication is probably LearnDash's weakest point: there's just not a lot of options for you to take if you stay within the LearnDash suite of tools.
On the most basic level, you can communicate with student when they submit assignments, which can be required on any course lesson or topic.
If you want to go a bit more in depth, you can add a private forum to your course with bbPress or BuddyPress.
For more options, you can check the current list of extensions, or simply fall back on other tools like Facebook or Slack to help you stay personally engaged with your students.
If you're only looking at the core product, LearnDash is an extremely affordable solution:
- Basic: $199/1 site license & 1 year of updates
- Plus Package: $229/10 site licenses & 1 year of updatesPro Package: $369/25 site licenses & 1 year of updates
However, any premium add-ons, like grading and note-taking capabilities, must be purchased separately, and should be figured into your overall cost of investment.
If you want to create organized courses with progress tracking quickly and don't want to (or simply can't) spend a lot of time on site management, you'll like the simple, clean setup of LearnDash.
The course structure is fairly rigid, which can be helpful when you just need things to work without a lot of pre-planning. And, since LearnDash is fairly limited in its core features, you can either choose to expand your site's capabilities with official LearnDash add-ons, or with third-party plugins.
Keep in mind that, if you want to integrate with any other tech tools (a big one here might be if you use an email marketing automation tool other than ConvertKit or MailChimp), you might need to do some research to see whether a tool like Zapier or WPFusion can fulfill your needs at an additional cost.
LifterLMS pulls a lot of weight in terms of what it can add to your site, from courses and LMS to memberships… and all the basics for getting started are 100% free. For this reason alone, it's a great plugin if you're just getting started, since it pairs ease of use with a surprising number of solidly-built features.
Of all the LMS plugins on this list, LifterLMS wins the award for “easiest to learn” with its drag-and-drop Course Builder that you'll use to create your course outline (with any combination of sections and lessons). The Course Builder also includes your quiz-building tools so you can create your quizzes and add them into your courses, all in one location.
The downside to this format is that the sections are “only” organizational tools: all of your course content will exist in the lesson pages. This means that you can't create tiered courses the way that you can with the LearnDash lesson/topic setup.
Sometimes there's a key lesson that is appropriate for all of your courses, whether that's a welcome video or something else. And this is where LifterLMS (and AccessAlly Pro, further down the list) really come ahead, since they allow you to assign a single lesson page to multiple courses.
Progress tracking is another built-in feature for LifterLMS that doesn't require any extra configuration (after the initial course building). Each lesson page includes a “mark complete” button that keeps track of where the student is at (and relays the info to the reporting section, so you can see at-a-glance how your users are engaging with your site).
LifterLMS then uses the progress tracking to automatically present the user with a certificate or badge once the user has completed a course.
Of all the options, LifterLMS has the most promising analytics and reporting area (although it's still marked beta), where you can see full user stats at-a-glance, check your revenue, and make sure that course participation remains high.
At the free level, LifterLMS doesn't offer much in terms of communication tools (besides the engagements feature), so if you're looking for a way to assign (and grade) assignments, you'll want to check out their paid assignments add-on. Or, for more personal engagement, you might want to purchase the Social Learning add-on.
If you're checking out LifterLMS, take note of their engagements feature, which lets you identify key moments in your site (like a student purchasing or completing a course, passing a quiz, failing a quiz, etc.), and automatically responds to the event with one of the following:
- Award an Achievement (think badges, honors, etc.)
- Award a Certificate
- Send an Email
While LifterLMS itself is free, you will have to pay for additional functionality:
- Individual add-ons (like assignments and Stripe add-ons) start at $99+ per year
- The Universe Bundle (which includes an assortment of add-ons for marketing, design, etc.) – $299/year
- The Infinity Bundle (which includes all available add-ons) – $999/year
If you want an easy-to-learn plugin that includes all of the basics (for free!), this is hands-down the most attractive option. For one thing, you get an extremely solid plugin right off the bat with PayPal integration so you can get started selling your courses immediately.
The add-ons are extremely attractive if you start growing and realize that you need a bit more functionality than the free version provides. (The only downside here is that the giant switch from “free” to $999/year can be tough on some budgets, but remember that quality comes at a price.)
However, LifterLMS is short in the field of tech stack integrations, and might not be a great solution if you want to do more client engagement via your email automation marketing system, but are using a solution other than ConvertKit, and MailChimp.
LearnPress is another LMS plugin that offers solid free version for you to test out the features and layout before asking you to put any money down. They do offer a variety of free and paid add-ons, and help you connect with the right solution from inside the WordPress site itself.
LearnPress doesn't include a formal “course builder” like some of the other plugins; instead, you'll create your course curriculum directly inside the course page settings:
The format of a course built with LearnPress is nearly identical to what we saw in LifterLMS: individual lessons and quizzes can be organized into various sections. The great thing about this setup is that it's straightforward and really tough to mess up… but the downside is that it can be challenging to create complex courses with multiple tiers, since the progress tracking will depend on how you've set up your pages.
This adds a level of complexity to your membership site, that an LMS plugin is supposed to help you simplify.
Every lesson you create in LearnPress has a “mark complete” button at the bottom that students can click to move through the course. This button is the identifier that allows LearnPress to track your users' progress.
As each button is marked complete, you'll see the corresponding lesson on the left sidebar of the page also marked complete, so you can monitor how far you've progressed through the course material.
One of the weaker areas of the WordPress plugin LearnPress is in the statistics that it offers at the free level: an at-a-glance view of how many students and courses you have on your site. If you're looking for more in-depth info on how your students are actually engaging with your course material, you might want to invest in the Gradebook add-on, available for an additional charge.
You won't find any communication tools in the free core plugin, although the LearnPress plugin does give you the option to integrate with bbPress and BuddyPress in their free add-on options.
The lack of communication tools with LearnPress is the other major weak area in this WordPress LMS plugin, and you might find yourself turning to third-party plugins or platforms like Facebook to facilitate engagement. While this might not seem like a huge deal, remember that all permissions will have to be done manually, since LearnPress does control the access permissions of your course students.
The free version of LearnPress does not include certificates; however, you can purchase this functionality for an additional cost as an add-on.
The core LearnPress product is totally free. However, you might want to invest some additional money on their paid bundles:
- LearnPress Theme Bundle – $49 – $69
- LearnPress Pro Bundle – $249
All in all, LearnPress is a really nice free option if you're just testing the waters and want to add a course (or two!) to your existing WordPress site. The course setup is very simple (read: easy to learn), which means that you can count on a smaller learning curve than with some of the other options. And if showing the course outline in a sidebar is an important part of your design needs, but you don't have a theme that allows you to assign a separate menu to each page, you might find yourself gravitating towards the “extra” LearnPress course sidebar.
The downside to this plugin is that, at times, it feels too simple: the lack of tier options for a course can be frustrating, especially if you have a fairly complex topic to cover. They also have a fairly limited number of add-ons, which might limit your growth in the future.
WPCourseware is an affordable LMS option that's meant to be paired with a membership site plugin/shopping cart solution, and they offer a variety of possible integrations to help you sync up with the plugins you're already using on your WordPress site.
With WPCourseware, your online courses are built in a 3-tier model: courses are made up of modules; modules are made up of one or more units. You'll want to create these building blocks first, before heading into the drag-and-drop editor to arrange the order of these pages inside your course.
While WPCourseware will automatically track the users progress, based on how many units they have completed in any given course, you can choose whether or not to display this progress to a user, by adding a simple shortcode to the page.
This is another really weak area of WpCourseware: the lack of site analytic options. On a basic level, you can see some stats through the Gradebook, which displays results similar to how a teacher might track their students in a physical classroom: project completion percentage, quiz grades, the date they passed the course, and the certificate that they received.
Unfortunately, there's no built-in communication tool with WPCourseware, and you will have to look at other third-party plugins if and when you're ready to facilitate more interpersonal engagement in your site.
With a single click, you can tell WPCourseware to automatically reward students with a certificate, the moment they complete a course. While that's as far as you can go in terms of built-in features, WPCourseware does advertise a third-part plugin called WPAchievements.
The WPCourseware pricing model is refreshingly clear and easy to understand:
- Teacher (2 site license) – $129/year
- Professor (10 site license) – $149/year
- Guru (25 site license) – $199/year
WPCourseware lacks some essential features for a standalone course plugin, like the ability to protect content based on the logged-in viewer's permissions. Because of this, WPCourseware is a good option if you only need the basic LMS features and already have a membership plugin installed to do the rest, and a shopping cart to sell digital products.
You'll want to pay special attention to their add-on integration options to make sure that your other WordPress plugins will be able to work with this plugin.
AccessAlly Pro is an all-in-one WordPress LMS and online course plugin that's designed to work with a handful of robust, tag-based CRM systems so that you can build a 100% automated learning ecosystem on your WordPress site. It's a bit different than the other plugins in the sense that it can only work when integrated with that CRM system.
AccessAlly Pro's Course Creation wizard walks you through the logical process of building an online course in one of two formats:
- Standalone (single permission tag) – where a student receives access to the entire course at once.
- Stage-Release (multiple permission tags) – where you can drip-release your course content out over time.
These courses are made entirely of “normal” WordPress pages, instead of the special format used by the other LMS plugins on the list. This setup does allow your site to be more flexible (and allows you to protect any page on your site, versus “only” course pages), but it can be confusing and tough to keep organized if you don't use the Course Wizard.
Since the Course Wizard automatically creates all of the permission and revoke tags you need in your CRM, as well as the pages themselves, the bulk of your setup time will be spent inside your CRM system, adding the permission tags to a custom online course automation.
AccessAlly Pro's use of CRM tags to control students' access to your online courses does require a mindset shift, especially if you're used to working with any of the other LMS plugins on the list.
AccessAlly “reads” the permission tags associated with each student, and from there it will determine whether or not that student has access to any given page on your site.
Because of this tag-based approach, you could (in theory), create an unlimited number of tiers and modules within your courses, simply by nesting the WordPress pages.
Unlike the other LMS plugins on this list, AccessAlly Pro does not automatically track a user's progress within a course. Instead, it allows you to create custom checklists that can be added to each page in your course (or on any page!). These can also be linked as video bookmarks that automatically get checked off a students watch videos.
The downside to this approach is that it takes time to create all of your checklists and sync them up for a course-wide progress tracking extravaganza. However, the benefits to this format is that you have total control over what (and how many) items appear on each checklist, so one lesson might carry more progress weight than another.
If you've configured checklists for your courses, AccessAlly Pro can give you a full set of reports for user engagement, from page access to quiz results.
This lets you identify quickly how well your students are engaging with your courses. The reporting is also fully integrated with your CRM, so if you want to apply a tag when a student completes a module or a course, that's easy with AccessAlly Pro.
AccessAlly Pro leads the pack in terms of communication and user engagement from inside the WordPress site:
- Notes: Users can submit notes (homework, assignments, etc.) to their teachers, and the teachers can choose to respond if necessary.
- Member Directory: Users can search for (and connect with) each other through your own personal site network tool
Also, because it only works when integrated with a CRM system, you can tap into your email marketing automation tool to send out emails during key moments within your online courses, whether that's when a quiz is submitted, or when a course is completed, for example.
Certificates can be created in any WordPress Post or page, and inserted via a simple shortcode. Since a user can receive a special “tag” based on whether or not they've completed the course, many course builders will choose to wrap conditional content shortcodes around the certificate, so that only students with the “completed course” tag can actually grab their certificate download.
AccessAlly stands out when it comes to designing certificates because it's completely drag and drop – and you can style the certificates any way you like.
AccessAlly Pro comes at a flat fee of $99/month (annual subscriptions are discounted to $990/year), which includes all the features mentioned in this article.
AccessAlly Pro is your best choice if you currently use (or are about to migrate to) one of their integrated CRMs, and are hoping to automate everything, from signup to cancellations. It's extremely flexible, and you can create any type of course structure you want, track user's progress, build a credit system, and create a full learning community inside your site. The great thing about this is that all advertised features come standard with AccessAlly Pro: there's no need for add-ons.
However, flexibility in the tech world comes at a cost: be prepared for a steep learning curve, especially if you're not already familiar with the WordPress ecosystem. If you're not techy, it might be challenging to get all the pieces put together, so many decide to hire a certified partner to do the building for them.
The benefit is that you have a single plugin that can grow with you for years.
Best for a one-stop-shop membership site, online course, and LMS plugin that integrates with your CRM.
How to Choose the Best LMS Plugin for Your WordPress Site
First off, let's be clear about one thing: there is no one-size-fits-all LMS plugin solution.
And we say that with honesty: we created AccessAlly Pro ourselves to solve our own LMS and gamification needs, but will be the first to point out that it's not a good fit for everyone.
So when you're figuring out what exactly you need to have happen for your site, take a look at two things:
- Functionality – does it offer the features you need?
- Integrations – will the LMS plugin work with your existing tools, especially your shopping cart solution or email marketing automation tool?
If an LMS tool is missing some of the more basic functionality that you need for students to go through your courses and thrive, it might not be the best choice for your business.
(On the flip side, if a WordPress LMS plugin has a thousand features, but you only need a small handful to make your course amazing, it's ok to go simpler and invest in quality over quantity.)
Understand where you're at now, and how you'd like to grow in order to choose the best WordPress LMS plugin that will enhance your site and keep your students excited and coming back for more.
We hope this WordPress LMS plugins comparison was helpful in your online course creation journey!