LearnDash Review 2018: Hands-on With This Popular WordPress LMS Plugin

LearnDash
  • Editor Rating
  • Rated 4.5 stars
$159
  • 80%

  • LearnDash
  • Reviewed by:
  • Published on:
  • Last modified: August 15, 2018
  • Ease of Use
    Editor: 75%
  • Functionality
    Editor: 100%
  • Value for Money
    Editor: 95%
  • Documentation and Support
    Editor: 95%

Looking for an in-depth LearnDash review to help you decide whether or not this is the right WordPress LMS plugin to build your online courses with?

To help you make your choice, I went hands-on with LearnDash to give you a real look at how it works and what it does well (or poorly!).

By the end, my goal is that you'll feel confident with whether or not LearnDash is the right tool for your needs.

Here's how I'm going to organize this LearnDash review to make that happen. Depending on your familiarity with the plugin, you might want to jump straight to one of the more in-depth sections – up to you!

There's a lot to cover, so let's dig in…

LearnDash Review: A Quick Introduction To The Plugin

If you're already familiar with the LearnDash feature list and want a more hands-on look, you can probably skip straight to the next section.

But in case you haven't spent a few hours perusing the LearnDash website yet, I want to start with a quick introduction to the plugin's functionality to get you up to speed.

LearnDash has a deep feature list, which is one of the reasons why it's so popular.

Using its drag-and-drop course builder, LearnDash lets you create complex courses complete with:

  • Separate lessons and topics
  • Videos, including optional auto playing videos that skip straight to the next topic
  • Quizzes
  • Assignments
  • Lesson timers
  • Prerequisites
  • Drip-fed content
  • Certificates and badges
  • Course forums

If you're planning to monetize your courses, it includes a simple native payment integration with PayPal. Or, you can connect to third-party eCommerce or membership plugins for more flexibility for things like subscriptions, memberships, discounts, etc.

And to manage your courses, you can:

  • View detailed reports in the back-end
  • Create user groups, complete with special users assigned to manage each group
  • Send email notifications, including automatic triggers based on user activity
  • Connect to Zapier for even more automation flexibility

On the higher tiers, you also get access to something called ProPanel, which gives you even more detailed reports, including real-time activity.

Who's Actually Using LearnDash?

LearnDash is used by both major educational institutions and enterprises, as well as plenty of smaller websites and instructors.

On the enterprise/institution side, you have big players like:

  • University of Florida
  • University of Michigan
  • Infusionsoft

And on the smaller end, you have sites like:

Hands-on With LearnDash: Building A Course

Ok, this is the part of the LearnDash review where I actually go hands-on with the plugin and show you how it works. This isn't an in-depth tutorial – my goal is to just give you a good feel for how LearnDash functions on the backend.

Then, in the next section, I'll share some more specific thoughts on some of the things I like about LearnDash…and some of the things I don't.

To go hands-on, I set up a test site using the Astra theme, which has dedicated integration for LearnDash. If you choose a different theme, your courses may not look as polished right away unless you have another theme with a dedicated LearnDash integration.

After installing LearnDash, you'll get a big new LearnDash LMS section in your WordPress dashboard menu:

learndash review dashboard

This is where you'll do most of your work.

Creating A New Course

LearnDash uses straightforward custom post types, so navigating the LearnDash interface is easy to pick up.

For example, to create your first course, you just go to Courses → Add New (just like you'd create a regular WordPress post):

creating a course

The top of the Add New Course interface looks exactly like the regular WordPress editor (again – you should feel right at home). But if you scroll down, you'll get a new Course meta box where you can configure core functionality.

The Question mark icons here are quite helpful, as they explain exactly how each setting works:

configuring course

You'll see these question marks throughout the entire interface and they usually do a pretty good job letting you know what's happening.

Further down the page, you get the drag-and-drop LearnDash Course Builder.

This visual, drag-and-drop interface makes it a lot easier to set up and organize your courses:

using the drag-and-drop course builder

You basically just drag the available lessons, topics, and quizzes from the left over to the right.

If desired, you can also create new lessons, topics, and quizzes from the drag-and-drop builder, which is convenient. Of course, you'll still need to go back and edit them later. But it's nice to be able to quick-add them when you're just laying out the skeleton for your course.

Additionally, LearnDash includes a button in the drag-and-drop editor that lets you open the edit screen for a lesson, topic, or quiz in a new tab. This makes it really easy to jump into editing a specific item when needed.

Setting Up Course Lessons And Topics

Lessons are the building blocks of your courses. And each lesson can be further broken up into separate topics.

So the hierarchy goes:

Course > Lesson > Topic

To create lessons and topics, you can use the aforementioned visual builder in the course interface. Or, you can use the dedicated menus in the sidebar.

viewing lessons

When you edit a lesson, you can choose its associated course, as well as perform other actions like:

  • Uploading an assignment for that lesson
  • Drip-feeding the lesson
  • Enabling video progression (makes it easy to embed video content as part of your lesson)

Similarly, when you edit an individual topic, you can choose which course and lesson to associate it with, as well as some other identical options

editing a lesson

Any changes that you make in these separate interfaces will automatically sync to the visual course builder, which makes it easy to switch back and forth as needed.

Embedding Course Content On The Front-End With Shortcodes

I still have a few things to show you…But at this point, I have a working, albeit barebones, course.

So, let's take a quick detour and explore how you display front-end content with LearnDash.

That answer? Shortcodes!

In the Courses section, LearnDash gives you a big ‘ole list of shortcodes to display tons of different content:

learndash shortcodes

You have a ton of flexibility, which is nice (though also a bit overwhelming).

To make it less overwhelming, you can use the new LearnDash Shortcodes button in the WordPress editor to choose from the huge array of possibilities:

learndash shortcode builder

Let me give you a simple example, though. If you wanted to display a single course, all you need to do is use the [course_content] shortcode along with the course ID.

For example, simply adding the shortcode to a regular WordPress page like this…

embedding a course

…sets up your entire course structure on the front-end. Notice again how the hierarchy goes:

  • Course
  • Lessons
  • Topics

example of learndash course structure

To add other course content, like:

  • Full course list
  • User profiles
  • Course categories
  • Course progress
  • Groups
  • Etc.

You'll similarly use the same shortcode approach.

Creating Quizzes And Assignments

Ok, back into the WordPress dashboard to show you a few more things that you can do with LearnDash.

If you like to torture your course-takers by making them, gasp, actually do work, you have a couple options at your command:

  • Quizzes
  • Assignments

Let's start with quizzes. There are a ridiculous number of options here. You have a ton of control over how your quizzes function (though I do know some people complain about the limited number of question types):

learndash quizzes

Configuring all of these options for every single quiz would be a pain. But, LearnDash thought of that, and included a handy feature that lets you save a set of settings as a template, which lets you quickly spin up already-configured quizzes and save a ton of time.

To actually create your questions, you'll pop over to the Questions tab, from which you can:

  • Enter question text
  • Choose the type of question (e.g. multiple choice, essay, fill in the blank, etc.)
  • Calculate points

learndash quiz questions

As for assignments, you add them in the Lessons or Topics interface (you already saw those). You can then manage submitted assignments in the Assignments area:

Groups, Reports, And Settings

To round things out, there are three more options available in the LearnDash LMS sidebar area:

  • Groups – lets you assign group leaders to a group of users.
  • Reports – lets you monitor stats about your courses and students.
  • Settings – lets you configure basic settings, like translations, PayPal settings, and others.

Seven Things You'll Like About LearnDash

Hopefully the above gave you a solid understanding of how you'll use LearnDash on the backend at a high-level. Now, I want to single out some specific things I think you'll like about LearnDash.

1. The Visual Course Builder Is Super Helpful

The Visual Course Builder makes it a lot easier to lay out your course and visualize how everything connects. I don't think I could imagine using one of the LMS plugins that doesn't have a drag-and-drop builder.

Additionally, the option to quick-add new lessons, topics, and quizzes right from the course builder makes it easy to lay out everything at once, and then just go back and edit as needed.

Learndash course builder gif

2. Drip-Fed Content And Prereqs Are Convenient

If you want to keep people coming back to your course (or just stop them from binging it in one sitting), the built-in drip content option for lessons is really helpful.

LearnDash lets you either:

  • Make the content available X days after sign up
  • Make the content available on a specific date

learndash drip content

Similarly, if you want to make sure people have the relevant foundational knowledge before taking an advanced course, the prerequisites functionality is also helpful.

With prerequisites, you can create a group of courses to act as prerequisites. Then, you can decide whether a potential course-taker must have:

  • Completed ALL of those courses
  • Completed at least one of those courses

learndash prereqs

3. Unique Video Progression Feature

If you use videos in your courses, LearnDash's Video Progression feature makes it really easy to embed either self-hosted or externally hosted videos.

You can even get creative and:

  • Automatically mark lessons/topics as complete after the viewer finishes the video
  • Send learners straight to the next video once it finishes
  • Hide the play bar (to avoid skipping), autoplay videos, and lots more.

learndash video

4. Engagement Triggers For Automation

Engagement triggers are a powerful feature that let you automatically do “something” based on the specific action a learner just took:

learndash triggers

Now, that's pretty vague…but it has to be vague because the tool is so flexible. You can choose from a ton of different triggers like when a user:

  • Enrolls in a course
  • Completes a lesson
  • Fails a quiz
  • Uploads an assignment
  • Hasn't logged in for a certain number of days
  • Etc.

Once you trigger an event, you have a few options for what you do on your side. First, you can send a specific email to the user. That alone is already helpful.

But what's really cool is LearnDash's Zapier integration. If you're not familiar, Zapier is a tool that helps you connect to a range of other apps.

Through LearnDash's triggers and Zapier, you can automatically do stuff like:

  • Add a user to a specific segment in your email marketing service as soon as they enroll in a course
  • Generate a help desk ticket or open a live chat when someone fails a quiz
  • Send yourself a text whenever someone enrolls in a course
  • Lots, lots more

5. Lots Of Official And Third-Party Add-ons For More Functionality

If you need more functionality than the core LearnDash plugin can offer, there's a huge marketplace of both official and third-party add-ons that can help you:

  • Integrate with other plugins
  • Send email notifications
  • Use badges in your courses
  • Create better-designed courses
  • Lots more

6. Easy Translations For Localization

If English isn't your site's native language, LearnDash makes it easy to translate and localize your course content without the need for a separate plugin:

And you can also download/upload the PO file if you want more control.

7. Far Cheaper Than SaaS Alternatives

Finally, we come to price. One of the huge benefits of LearnDash is how much money you can save compared to SaaS tools like Teachable.

For example, Teachable's cheapest plan already costs $39 per month, plus a 5% transaction fee on top! And if you want to ditch the transaction fees, you're looking at $99 per month.

LearnDash, on the other hand, starts at $159 all-in for a year of support and updates (for a single site license). That's a huge price difference.

A Few Things You Might Not Like About LearnDash

While there's a lot to like about LearnDash, there are also a few potential negatives that you should consider before making your final decision.

1. You Need A Third-Party Plugin If You're Serious About Accepting Payments Or Membership Functionality

Ok, LearnDash does include basic core functionality for selling courses. But if you're serious about accepting payments, you're going to want to integrate it with another plugin like WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads.

Similarly, if you want more membership type functionality, you're also going to want to integrate with a separate membership plugin.

Neither of these is a huge deal because LearnDash includes dedicated integration plugins. But it does mean that you'll have to learn and work with yet another interface beyond LearnDash.

2. There's Not Any Onboarding – Missed Opportunity

When I first installed LearnDash, I expected some type of setup wizard to get started. This is something LifterLMS does and it really makes the “Day Zero” experience a lot less overwhelming:

lifterlms onboarding

But…LearnDash pretty much throws you to the wolves. I didn't get any guidance in the dashboard.

Long-term, this isn't a big deal because you'll figure these things out. But I think LearnDash could be more beginner-friendly if it had better onboarding.

3. In General, Casual Users Will Struggle To Use LearnDash (At Least At First)

LearnDash's depth of functionality is great. But if you're not a power user, I think you're going to have an uphill battle figuring out LearnDash.

It's not that a casual user can't eventually build a working course with LearnDash. But there are so many little settings and quirks that will take a while to learn.

Basically, I think you can figure it out – but you will definitely have to push through some frustration until you get the learning curve out of the way.

With that being said – you do not need to be a developer to use LearnDash. I'm not – and while sifting through all of the options took a little time, I still had no trouble using the plugin once I got the hang of things.

Final Thoughts On LearnDash As An LMS Plugin

There's a reason why LearnDash is one of the, if not the, premier WordPress LMS plugins.

It offers deep functionality that lets you build truly customized courses for your students. And as its adoption by major educational institutions shows, it can also scale and won't buckle under pressure.

That deep functionality does come at a price, though. Casual users will have to slog through a learning curve to get the most out of the plugin.

But if you're willing to fight through that learning curve, or if you're a more advanced user with a few WordPress sites already under your belt, LearnDash is one of the best WordPress LMS plugins that you'll find.

Pros

Deep functionality gives you lots of control in most areas
Drag-and-drop course builder makes organizing courses easy
Built-in video progession support is great for video courses
The email/Zapier trigger functionality opens up automation

Cons

The deep functionality can be a little overwhelming for casual users
You'll need to integrate with third-party plugins for deeper membership/payment functionality

LearnDash

Summary: LearnDash is one of the most popular WordPress LMS plugins. Its deep functionality makes it a great option for creating truly custom courses. The only downside is that casual users might struggle to figure out all of that deep functionality.

$159
Rating
Rated 4.5 stars

Colin Newcomer

Colin Newcomer is a freelance writer for hire with a background in SEO and affiliate marketing. He helps clients grow their web visibility by writing primarily about digital marketing and WordPress. You can hire him to write for your website.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on one of the links and purchase an item, we may receive a commission. All opinions however are our own and we do not accept payments for positive reviews.

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