eLearning on WordPress: Comparing WP Courseware and LearnDash

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elearning-on-wordpress

Comparing your options for eLearning on WordPress

There are a lot of different options emerging in the WordPress space for eLearning. I’ve regularly looked at WP Courseware and compared it to Premise by StudioPress and Sensei by Woothemes. If you don’t feel like searching, you can find them here:

But with all that already written, people still write comments and send email asking about one other product in the eLearning space: LearnDash.

So this past week I purchased a copy (which I always do before doing comparisons or evaluations), installed it and took it for a spin. I also read everything they put on their web site. And from that assessment, I thought I’d give you my take.

Different backgrounds and priorities

Probably one of the first things I noticed about LearnDash was that it was coming at the space from a different trajectory than others.

Let me explain what I mean.

If you read everything WooThemes has written about Sensei, you will come away with the sense that they are WordPress guys first, Plugin guys second, and eLearning guys last. Nothing wrong with that. The benefits are a tight integration between the plugin and all the rest of WordPress.

If you read dig into everything over at WP Courseware, you see a slightly different dynamic. They’re plugin guys first, eLearning second, and WordPress guys third. It’s a slight nuance, but it’s the only way I can explain my take on LearnDash.

Moving about their site, I come away with a distinctly different impression – that they’re eLearning first, plugin second, and WordPress third. And that will have an impact on how you see, experience and value what they’ve done.

Learning Management Systems

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of these approaches – we all come from somewhere and have default inclinations. But it has an impact on messaging and product development. Check out their differentiation.

experience-elearning

Now, back when I was doing eLearning systems for Berkeley Lab (1995-1997), I was hip-deep in industry publications, standards, and the like. Back then I was involved with something getting started called SCORM – a standard for educational content that would allow the content to be portable.

Today’s replacement is called the Tin-Can API. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t stress. A lot of people have never heard of it. But it shouldn’t surprise you that LearnDash not only knows about it, but has built their plugin to support it.

Different Target Audiences

This gives us an immediate glimpse into how LearnDash is different from the other eLearning plugins for WordPress. Because the others don’t think about Tin-Can at all.

That’s how you know if you’re in their target market. If your focus is really on Learning Management Systems (LMS) and integration with the Tin-Can API, then LearnDash is for you.

That’s why they count many universities as their clients. Those folks are square in their sights. It also explains the integrations they’ve worked on – WaxLRS and GrassBlade. I briefly checked them out, and again, it was valuable for more Tin-Can integration, and alternative course-launching.

Comparing Features & Integrations

Just because LearnDash has LMS industry integrations doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them for my non-academic e-course. It’s a plus if you need it and neutral if you don’t.

Feature-wise, the two are really very comparable. Some things are easier to do in one and other things easier in the other. Such that when you look at the list below, you’ll see that feature for feature, it’s pretty much a wash.

This is, however, where you see what I was saying about priorities. Your default inclination impacts how you see the world, and that impacts what you code. For better or worse. Look at this table and you can see what I’m talking about (on the last two rows).

FeatureLearnDashWP Courseware
Unlimited CourseYesYes
Unlimited LessonsYesYes
Multimedia LessonsYesYes
Lesson QuizesYesYes
Completion CertificatesYesYes
Track Course ProgressYesYes
Student NotificationsYesYes
Grade TrackingYesYes
Tin-Can APIYesNo
Integrations w/ key WordPress membership pluginsNoYes

All in One Solutions

I told you that if you looked at the table above, you’d understand what I was talking about. Let me be super clear about the difference between these two.

A while ago, in an email conversation with the guys at WP Courseware, I asked about their strategy for membership plugin integration. At the time, they hadn’t done many integrations, which drove my earlier tutorial.

In the discussion, they mentioned the potential that they would do their own payment processing and their own membership solution. I didn’t love the idea, but hey, it’s their company. I can’t tell you how glad I am that they haven’t done that.

But that’s what LearnDash has done a bit. They provide their own content protection approach – which is good if you love all-in-one solutions. They provide their own payment processing (via Paypal integration) too. And they add 2CheckOut – not the first one I’d pick for integration.

Now, to be fair, they also integrate with JigoShop (and all it’s gateways), but then you’ve radically shifted how you’re delivering your site – using an eCommerce solution to process stuff. And if you’re going to do that, you should really look at Sensei.

In the end, I don’t value all-in-one solutions. Too many times people show up with differing requirements. Why should an eLearning course have to manage every membership site nuance? That’s why I prefer the way WP Courseware has done it. They integrate with the most well known membership plugins. And that’s where we see that priority popping up. Because they’re WP guys, they integrate with WP membership plugins, whereas LearnDash integrated with 2CheckOut. Enough said.

Pricing and Sustainability

You can purchase either product, for a single site, for under $100. Now I’ll mention this – both offer promises of unlimited license, unlimited customer support and unlimited updates. Both have no idea what that would mean if they actually ended up with 500,000 customers – many who needed a lot of support.

So what I’d tell you right now is to go quickly and buy both of them. Yup. I’ll end this review with recommendations, but before I do, heed this one. For under $200, you can have access to unlimited everything (even though that’s not sustainable in the slightest). There’s a chance they’ll grandfather you in, and that will be worth it.

Final Recommendations

If you’re a WordPress person, who builds a lot of WordPress sites, and are looking to help someone create a simple online course to show off video and similar things, maybe even with a few quizzes and want the easiest solution – I’d still go with WP Courseware.

If you’re building a serious online learning system for a major site, and want access to the professional experience and deep understanding on learning management systems, then access to that kind of email support and guidance is likely better from LearnDash.

If you’re going to need integration with the Tin Can API, there’s no question, use LearnDash.

If you want to wrap your courses with a a great membership plugin, go with WP Courseware.

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48 comments

  1. David says:

    Thanks for the article. I’m working on the content for my online course and I’ve been researching all the options.
    Small tip/suggestion. When you use TablePress to create a table look in the “Features of the DataTables JavaScript library” section on the Edit Table page and click the checkbox beside “Horizontal Scrolling” It’ll let users on mobile phones swipe left and right to view the entire table. Currently it’s partially cutting off the third column on my iPhone.

  2. Grant Swaim says:

    Chris,

    WP Coueseware offers more “granularity” with Course > Lesson > Module Vs LearnDash with Course > Lesson.

    I am converting a printed textbook for online delivery via WordPress and I need this extra level (Book = Course, Chapters = Lessons, Chapter Topics = Modules).

    I will also control access to the WP Courseware course with the MemberPress plugin which is supplied by WP Courseware.

    Thanks for the article!

      • Grant Swaim says:

        Jeremy,

        I haven’t had time to implement this yet. I own both WP Courseware and LearnDash; however, I just recently committed to use WP Courseware. LearnDash has added the three tier option, but I am going to use WP Courseware because of their MemberPress integration.

        I decided to create a couple of smaller courses before trying to do an entire book. I should have something up in a month at http://digitalliteracyprohect.com

        • Jeremy says:

          Grant,
          Thanks for the reply! Anxious to see how things turn out for ya.

          I am not familiar with MemberPress, how does it compare to Wish List Member?

          I just want something that would allow me to charge via paypal for access to my online course (which looks like will be in WPC).

          Thoughts?

          • tommylinsley says:

            Just a personal opinion, but I cringe every time I see the word “WishListMember”. I tried developing with that solution, admittedly a few years ago, and it was terrible for me at the time. More importantly, every time I sign up (as a customer) on a site that obviously uses WishList, I want to puke. It’s just an ugly, clunky experience from a customer perspective. I know I’ve used some emphatic verbiage, but like I said it’s just my personal opinion. I wouldn’t recommend using WishList for the reason that it’s just not very attractive from a customer perspective. And, the customer perspective should be what guides development when all things are considered.

  3. Wilco says:

    I bought both months ago. Like them both. However the guys of Learndash have an update with great new functions almost every two weeks. And they write several (good) blogarticles about elearning every week which shows they have lots of expierience in the elearning field.
    They have great quizfunctionality, but Wp Courseware updated their quizes last week and havend checked the news things there yet.

    WP courseware has still has a better structure with the etra level (course-lessons-modules).

    To wrap this together. I’v been looking to Moodle for a few years to build an elearningssytem, but that would be really expensive to modele it the way I want it. And it would have cost me very very very much time, because it has a lot of possabilities but it’s complicated. Now there are two easy systems (compared to Moodle) and they are incredable cheap. So now you can buy a system for less then 100 dollar, witch would have costed you thousands of dollars before.

    Offcourse both of them have less options then Moodle has. But most people don’t need more options then Learndash and WP Coursere have.

    One thing before ending this.Both Learndash and WP Coursware are good for elearning, and make it easy to set up elearning, but don’t forget elearning is a profession! Iff you don’t know much about it, dive into it first, study study study elearning before you built your elearningsite!
    And even with those easy elearningsystems making content ready for elearning still is lot of work! And making money with it seems to be easy, but it is not! Building your elearningsite is the first big step, promotion it another big one.

  4. knowlengr says:

    Chris,
    Nice writeup. I’m running with LearnDash for now, and the difference is support for Tin Can. If you want to play in the federal research space, you need the Experience API. But it’s good to have more than one option as the offerings in the affordable range for SMBs are dangerously few.

  5. Jim Mc says:

    Chris-Thank you for a very timely blog posting. It was your review and tutorial on WP Courseware that brought this product to my attention. I’ve purchased both products and, as updates are released, try to put together example learning sites so that I can become more familiar with the respective products and with WordPress. I’ve suffered through more of a learning curve with LearnDash than WP Courseware, but am new to WordPress so am attributing my difficulties to that.

  6. Hi Chris-

    First, thank you for your feedback and for your review of LearnDash. I really appreciate your opinions as LearnDash continues to grow. Elearning, learning management systems, and the like are very much a passion of mine. It’s exciting to be bringing these two worlds together.

    Your point with membership integration is well taken. We do not have specific tight integration with membership plugins (yet), but we have ensured that one can use the popular membership plugins along with LearnDash without any hiccups.

    We take suggestions from the WordPress & Elearning community very seriously as we continue to refine our offering – so thank you again Chris.

    Kindly,
    Justin Ferriman
    Founder, LearnDash

    • Razak says:

      Hi Justin,

      Does this mean we can seamlessly integrate learning dash with MemberMouse?

      I also have 2 more questions for you:

      1. Is it easy to stylise the learn dash system to suit our own needs?

      2. What is the point of utilising this Tin Can API? What benefit does it bring to the training provider, or the student?

      Thanks in advance for your time and help!

      Razak

      • Hi Razak-

        I saw your note come into our help desk as well, but for the benefit of others:

        1. Any membership plugin that can protect custom post types can be used to protect LearnDash related items. We also have a beta integration with PaidMembershipsPro.

        2. LearnDash styling is primarily dependent on your theme, so you can style your theme accordingly to impact how courses/lessons/quizzes are displayed.

        3. TinCan API (xAPI) is ideal if you are using programs like Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate 7, iSpring, etc. to deliver your content. If you aren’t using these, then the native LearnDash reporting will likely meet your needs.

        For specific questions regarding your project, please feel free to contact us from the LearnDash site.

        Kindly,
        Justin

        • Bryan Nelson says:

          Hi Justin,

          I read this article after I read another article on membership plugins by Chris which I am again thankful to him.

          I posted the same question on that article and I am glad I found you here and I am going to ask the same question to you.

          I want to allow the users to rate the course material after they watch it / read it (videos, books (pdf) etc.) within their courses similar to GD star rating. I mean if i install gd star rating will that work with course material ? or does learndash have built-in functionality to rate the lessons?

          Thanks
          Bryan

          • Hi Bryan-

            I believe I responded to your inquiry from the LearnDash site, but will include the answer here as well. I did a quick test and “yes” you can use GD star rating on LearnDash course items – very good idea, it’s a pretty cool way to allow for a rating system from your users on the course content.

            -Justin

  7. Trishan says:

    Great comparison! I have both on my site and feel WP Courseware provides better external structure in terms of membership integration, course and module ordering and an excellent sidebar widget. LearnDash on the other hand provides the ability to create flexible quizzes and integrate with Tin-Can-API to deliver dynamic reports/results. Both are quite useful.

    Both can improve and move closer to each other. WPC needs to upgrade their quiz creation module whereas LD needs to provide better integration with plugins like S2Member and WishList Member.

      • Trishan says:

        Hi Rio,

        WPC provides better structure in terms of courses-modules-units. Also their widget showing course progress is fantastic. Finally arranging units within modules is so easy using WPC.

        On the other hand their quizzes are really simple and lack advanced options that I require. LD shines here since it uses WP-Pro-Quiz for this purpose. Also the ability to integrate with TinCan API is useful. Also their leaderboard feature for quizzes, apart from categorizing questions feature is wonderful.

        So I prefer using WPC for the external structure of courses and lessons. Within that I embed quizzes created using LD. Makes sense?

        • Wilco says:

          Your not up to date, Learndash has 3 levels to since october 9: ‘Until this point, LearnDash has included two official levels (Courses and Lessons), but starting today you can now create a third layer, called “Lesson Topics” (found under the Lessons menu).’ They also have courseprogress.

        • Herman says:

          Hi, Trishan, I’m Herman. Will you be so kind as to explain to me in details how you managed to embed Learndash into WP Courseware? I am just about to purchase WP courseware plugin for my new membership site. I really like their interface and layout but I have to admit, the quiz types are below what I expect. Learndash seems better in that sense as you yourself explained, but I had never thought about integrating it into WP Courseware. Do you mind leaving an explanation here or even getting contacting me about this at rael.elohimson*gmail.com [I changed @ into * for spam reasons :-) I will be very grateful for your explanations. And if you’re also a professional in the LMS field (and I know your time is valued), please do let me know if you do require any fees (as I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your kindness). I am new in this and any bit of practical information will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for your technical assistance!
          Best,
          H

  8. Ansel Taft says:

    Chris,

    I feel it’s a disservice to urge readers to, “go quickly and buy both [plugins]” when:

    1. “There’s a chance they’ll grandfather you in.” We’re to make business decisions on a chance? We’ve seen how it plays out in WordPress world… both ways.

    2. You’re urging WordPress companies to dissolve their unlimited/forever models (which is fine) with no complementary language to honor prior commitments?

    Regarding the latter – what happened to business ethics? Doing the right thing? Treating the community as you would like to be treated?

    I was a bit disheartened when you accepted WooThemes’ move without a much needed discussion on the ethics of their play. Perhaps another article for another day? :)

    • chrislema says:

      My encouragement to buy both is not incongruous with my encouragement that those companies price better.

      My suggestion to companies to do analysis before grandfathering has nothing to do with my sense that they might grandfather current clients.

      Lastly, I’m sorry you didn’t agree with my take on Woo’s decision. I don’t think that it’s an ethical issue to admit a mistake and make a change. As such, there won’t be a future article on it.

  9. Wick says:

    Chris,
    Thanks for the helpful post. Based on your articles, I’m leaning toward WP Courseware. BUT, I need to drip content sequentially over 28-days, one lesson per day. How do you recommend I do that w/WP Courseware?
    Thanks

  10. Marlaba says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for the post.
    With WpCourseware
    Can I add a different module on different page, for example an English module on a page and a spanish module on another page? Sorry if my question is silly.
    Thanks

      • Marlaba says:

        Thank you for this express response.
        I would like to create language courses, as I would use several languages​​, I want to separate them, which is normal I think.

  11. Another great post Chris. I have been following your blog quite a lot in the past year as I am currently building my online course content and I have yet to make a decision. Although, I am leaning towards WP Courseware (Previously was inclined to Sensei) because of the fact that I believe there are regular updates in WP Courseware and not so many on Sensei.

    For me, one key criteria when comparing is how active is the development of the product/service. After checking both, I can see that WP Courseware is way more active, although I am also a customer of WooThemes.

    One thing that I haven’t tried or heard of is whether WP Courseware and WooCommerce play nice together. Any ideas?

    I am mainly interested in WooCommerce because it has the ability to offer discounts based on social sharing of the customer.

    Thanks!
    Abdo

    • Jeremy says:

      Abdo,
      When you say “I am mainly interested in WooCommerce because it has the ability to offer discounts based on social sharing of the customer” how does that work?

      • A.Hariri says:

        There are a few plugins which aim to offer something that encourages sharing. I think one of them is the rewards plugin available from Woothemes while others are available on Themeforest.

        The idea is that when a customer shares a product (course), he would either get credit or a coupon discount applied automatically on his current cart or next purchase.

        While I have some of these plugin, I didn’t try them yet as I am at the moment offering a free course only and have WooCommerce disabled. In the future, I plan to take advantage of this to encourage more social sharing.

  12. shvekiasaf22 says:

    Hey there,

    Thanks for your post, really helps!

    I would like to know if do you know of a product that supports the security feature of letting the members to login only from one physical computer? (or even 2) I see this as a problem since one user have the password for its membership area.

    Thanks
    Asaf.

  13. joshfreedman says:

    Urgh. This turns out to be quite a complex learning curve! I went ahead and bought both. I thought LearnDash would be better b/c I like their student registration process and the way they display the course progress — much cleaner.

    BUT, I found in LearnDash I couldn’t have a lesson with multiple assignments for student to upload, nor could I figure out how to make a quiz with a simple open-text (unscored) text entry. LD is very focused on scores, which makes the advanced quiz function very complex… but very powerful.

    So, switched over to wpc — quite easy to create a course. The registration process is kinda rocky tho… basically either you have to:
    a) have all new users get the course
    b) manually add users to each course
    c) use a membership plugin

    If one were to have a lot of courses, and you want people to register specifically for the course — well, it’s going to get messy. Even a button saying, “Join” would be a good step up for wpc.

    Thanks for the advice!

  14. Benny says:

    Hi Chris ,
    Thanks for an inspiring post ! I am looking for a WP theme that supports the management of many different study groups. In Sweden there is a long tradition of training the public in so-called ” study circles “. A study circle is a study group with at least one leader and 8 participants. There are a number of study associations in Sweden who is organizing “study circles”. Once a study circle is set up, it becomes (partly) funded by the state. This is why “study circles” has been very popular in Sweden the last 50 years … Anyway, so there are no good online sites for that. I ‘m about to put up a solution and need to find efficient framework to work with.

    This is the big picture use case :
    1. Administrator sets up a study group (Study Circle)
    2. Pic Study Subject
    3. Creating study material
    4. Sets up lessons
    5. Invite study circle members
    6. Conduct lessons (normally a 10 week study course)
    7. Gathering members’ knowledge and experience
    8. Compiles a single final document for all to share together

    There are no requirements on individual performance criteria (no degree or grade), but it is the group’s shared learning that is the end goal and the point.

    Is there an e-learning theme for WP that can be used for this?

    Thanks in advance from a freeezing cold northen Sweden! ;-)

    /Benny

    • Bridie says:

      Hi Benny have you found a solution for this? I ask because it sounds very similar I am in the planning stages for, and at the moment it seems the best solution is to use Buddypress for group admin with different user levels. I am aware learn dash has so e groups functionality but have not yet fully looked into it. Any feedback fro. Others also greatly appreciated

      • bb says:

        Yep, I’ve been tinkering about your request Benny however, you can setup buddypress and get your groups into the course module using either wpcourseware or learndash. I’m on the runway to integrate one of these plugins into my medical community website.

  15. Jo says:

    Hi and thank you for the article! I´m about to produce an elearning course and I am searching for a plug in for members to keep their own private diary (journal) along with the course modules. I have not found any information whether Sensai, LD or WP Courseware supports such plug-in (or if it exists…). Do you know?

    Best regards
    Masuzma

  16. Hi Chris,

    Thx for a really great article. I am researching the best LMS option for a private training company. Do the Academy and WPLMS themes offer a full stand-alone LMS option like Learndash or WPCourseware? If so, how would they rank in the criteria listed in your comparison table?

  17. Thanks Chris. I knew of Sensei, decided to do some research and saw your article. I have been introduced to your work, funnily enough, by Troy Dean, of whom I am a student — a member of the membership site he was asking you about! On your recommendation I have bought WP Courseware, as I am setting up an eLearning platform for our company.

  18. lifterLMS says:

    We are one of those emerging tools in the WordPress elearning space. Our WordPress LMS plugin is called lifterLMS http://lifterlms.com

    Chris, you are absolutely correct that elearning site owners show up with a wide variety of requirements. That’s my experience too as a WordPress LMS consultant and developer. We’ve built lifterLMS with this in mind, but also made it all-in-one that can work for most LMS projects AND can be easily customized and integrated further.

    For example we built our own “non-bloated” online course specific shopping cart, but you can tie into WooCommerce if you want to.

  19. Gareth says:

    Here’s another plugin to add to the list of WordPress LMSs out there now: LearnPress. It’s a plugin, not a theme, so you can maintain your data whatever theme you’re using though there’s also a free theme to complement it, in case you’re looking for the complete solution.

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