What is an LMS?
Learning Management System is a fancy name for online course software. WordPress LMS plugins are specialized software add-ons to your WordPress website that create classes (course content), enroll students, set up tests, handle subscriptions, quizzes, accepting payments, etc. In general, the tools allow you to create classes, share coursework, enroll students, and evaluate the students with quizzes.
WordPress is the most commonly used Content Management System (CMS) on the internet today. What makes “learning management” different from “content management?” Although the core of your course is the content that you want to share with your students, running an online course requires more than just content. A LMS does more than just a typical membership site. With a WordPress LMS plugin, you can create an immersive learning experience for your students through various gamification methods rather than just persuading them to take up a membership and start learning.
Gamification makes learning fun and easy. Plus, it entices students to take new lessons and, ultimately, increases engagement. It also increases the likelihood of retaining students on the platform longer.
What are the Main Components or Features of a(n) LMS?
Before looking at the different systems that are available, it’s good to list out the specific features you are going to be needing for your course. Many teachers will be well served by a basic course builder and not even need a complete LMS such as those listed here. But if you require a way to manage enrollement, include testing, map your students’ progress through the course, issue certificates, etc., then you’re going to be in the market for a full-featured LMS. Here’s a list of the main features or functions of most LMS plugins. Features can be sorted under four main categories including courses, monetization, administration and tech.
The main components are the core course builder, different monetization structures, enrollment and registration modules, payment gateway, and ways to communicate with students by email or online discussion. Additional features include quizzes, certificates, upsells, marketing tools, gamification and certificates, and the possibility to set up a course marketplace. This is a huge menu!!!
- Course builder, with tools for uploading different file types like videos, PDFs, links and other content. It’s important to have a solid course page builder. This way, you plug in your course content to a template and hit the Publish button.
- Course progress information to display to your students how well they are doing. This is important to keep users motivated and to act as a bit of a reward. You likely need this feature. All of you. Because who wants to create an online course that doesn’t give the student feedback on where they’re at. But what you want to know is how easy is it to determine where it goes, and how easy is it to style it? That’s what I would be asking about.
- Student enrollment and management for seeing how many people are in your courses and to collect payments based on memberships.
- One-time fee
- Membership: Sell site-wide membership that provides access to every course.
- Bundle: Sell course bundles to boost your revenue.
- Members-only pricing: Allow users to make individual course purchase. You can also set members-only pricing to make paid memberships so valuable.
- Content dripping for slowly revealing some of the course materials as students progress. This feature lets you release your course material over time. This can be determines by a number of days since enrollment days between lessons or sometimes the actual dates you want a particular lesson to become available.
- Instant feedback: A good platform provides instant feedback so learners can identify what they know.
- Quizzes and tests for students to evaluate how much they’ve absorbed the material. Many schools use quizzes as a way to determine who is qualified for a class, but it’s also a great way to establish benchmarks for when the next portion of content is dripped into the course.
- BuddyPress and bbPress integrations for users to generate student profiles and interact with other students and teachers through chats and forums.
- Financial marketing tools – These come in the form of affiliate programs, commission systems, and coupons. The goal is to convince more people to sign up for your courses by giving out incentives and building word of mouth.
- Automated email or “drip” features – for enhancing the incentives by giving students a more tangible way to see that they’re progressing.
- Payment gateway – a way to take online payments when your students register for the course.
- Gamification and certificates – These are incentives that pop up whenever a certain activity is completed or when a course is finished. Badges and certificates are often much better than email confirmations, since people can print them out or simply feel good about themselves when something is unlocked. Gamification refers to using gaming elements and mechanics in non-game scenarios. It enhances knowledge retention and learning speed amongst learners. The learning sector has taken to this trend in a big way. We might see an enhanced integration of the gamification concept in the LMS.
- Homework options that make the submission and grading process easy. It’s not that hard to send out assignments on most platforms, but are students able to send back assignments without any problems?
- Setup Wizard to get you up and running quickly
Quizzes – You need this feature if you want to ensure that a student has some level of new knowledge before moving on to the next lesson. That uses the passing of a quiz as a pre-req for progress. But you can also use quizzes to help you grade students. And you can use pre-quiz strategies for assessments, so that instructors know where students are, in terms of existing knowledge, at the start of a course. Others use quizzes to manage course completion. There are several things about quizzes you may or may not care about:
- Question types – does the plugin support the kinds of questions you plan to ask?
- Question timers – does the plugin support a clock that counts down as the student is answering a question?
- Question banks – instead of the same questions each time, can you create a quiz from a set of questions, pulled randomly?
- Quiz passing scores / retakes – does the plugin allow you to specific what score passes, and if they fail, can they retake it?
Certificates – You need this feature if you’re creating a site where students who complete a course get something to take away. This certificate likely has the student’s name and info, the course info, and some cool background. Can you upload your own background? Can it be delivered as a PDF? Can you have different layouts / styles for different courses? These are the questions you’ll want to know.
Course Attachments – You need this feature if your online course isn’t just a bunch of text or videos. Are you offering PDFs? How is that getting integrated in? Just files that get pushed into WordPress like images? If you do that, people may be able to find them via Google and download them for free.
Assignments – You need this feature if you plan to create “homework” for your students. You not only need a simple way to assign the homework, but also to manage it and grade it. Is it easy for people to upload / deliver their assignments? Or will you be getting your email inbox filled with attachments? Figuring this out will help you narrow down which plugin is right for you.
Badgets / Gamification – Several months ago I wrote much more about the need for gamification in online learning. I won’t go into all that detail right here, but if you plan to have points, leaderboards, and/or badges of completion as students move through your material, then this will be a requirement for the plugin you use.
Pre-Requisites – You need this feature if you want to limit who can take a course or when someone can proceed to the next lesson. The big deal here, as you look at the various plugins, is to determine what counts as a pre-requisite passing. Is it just a lesson or a course completion? Is it tied to taking and passing a quiz? What about earning a badge tied to some behavior (like two posts in the forum in the last week)? Knowing what you need will help you determine who can provide it.
Payment Gateways – I mentioned it before as one of the questions you’ll want to be ready to answer. But you will likely also have your own questions. Which payment gateways do you need and which ones do they integrate with. In reality, it’s often one of the first things I dig into because normally my clients can’t change their payment gateways.
Coupons – Now you may not need this feature if you’re using a different eCommerce engine to support your site like WooCommerce. But if you’re using the LMS plugin with a payment gateway like Stripe, you may want to have the feature integrated with your plugin. So determine if they support it, and then what kinds of features they support – fixed discount, percentage discount, date expirations, etc.
BuddyPress / bbPress integrations – Some folks that build online ed sites on WordPress also use BuddyPress for student profiles and social networking. Others may roll in bbPress as a forum for the course or entire site. If you plan to use these, then you need to know which plugins integrate with these other plugins.
Progress Emails – You need this. Not just because you want to be able to send students updates on when they reach key milestones, but also because you want to know who hasn’t logged in for a few weeks and use email to invite them back into the course. While the email itself shouldn’t be delivered from your site (for the most part), the plugin should allow you to use transactional email services (mailgun) or your marketing automation services (ConvertKit).
Commissions / Affiliate Programs – Most plugins don’t do much in this space, but for online learning, you have to know this is critical. Your existing students are the best evangelists for your course, and that means you should be able to provide proper incentives to make their recommendations. So ask if your LMS plugin supports an integration or has an internal commissions program.
- Offered as part of WPMU membership – $49 per month gets you access to hundreds of other plugins and themes
- Course pages, paywalls, and social sharing pages so you can help connect more students.
- Media and interactive learning, including video, audio files, and image so you can appeal to multiple learning styles.
- You could use this to become the next Udemy – course marketplace
Good LMS is sold through the CodeCanyon marketplace, making it a little more challenging to find and install than those automated through the plugin tab of your WordPress admin panel. As with most good WordPress LMS plugins, Good LMS has features for creating courses, selling them, and implementing quizzes and certificates. The CodeCanyon page includes several demos (student backend, instructor backend, transaction backend) for a full taste of what to expect. At $31 for support and updates for one year, this is the least expensive paid LMS plugin out there.
- Payment by Paypal, Stripe, Paymill or Authorized.net directly integrated. Bank transfer also possible.
- Certificates and badges
- Progress line
- Re-takeable quizzes
- Course ratings and Instructor commissions – so you could create your own course marketplace
- Works through the WordPress interface, so will be familiar to WP users
- Most used by: Fortune 500 companies, universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs.
- Probably the easiest to use LMS plugin
- Drip feed course content
- Set prerequisites – require students to finish one lesson before moving on the next
- Subscriptions and memberships
- Multiple payment gateways – PayPal, Stripe, 2Checkout, etc.
- Very easy to use
- Drip-fed content
- Prerequisite courses
- Course discussion forums
- Course points and gamification badges
- Monetization: basic option for one-time payments or recurring subscriptions. Integrates with Woo for fancier options.
- Three payment options:
- Basic – 1 site – $159
- Plus – propanel for tracking student progress & emailing directly from WordPress
- Here’s an example of a LearnDash course in action
- Initial setup not as easy as other plugins that have setup wizard.
- With LearnPress, you build your courses and lessons using regular WordPress custom post types, as well as a helpful curriculum section that lets you organize sections and lessons with drag and drop
- Once set up, the interface is easy to use
- Styling: the developer of LearnPress makes money selling dedicated LearnPress themes, so you won’t get a ton of detailed styling options with the plugin by itself. You get some basic color controls, but that’s about it:
- Create lessons and quizzes
- Integrated with BuddyPress for communication with students
- Free plugin; no dedicated support for free version. Paying customers have access to support forum. But it’s the only LMS plugin that lets you sell courses for free (through Paypal).
- Lessons, quizzes, and questions can be created in the plugin, transferred from one course to another on the same site and exported to other WordPress sites.
- Free core plugin that you can extend with both free and paid extensions.
- Free add-ons available for these features (which is cool – you only add them if you need the feature)
- Wishlist: Students can add courses to a wishlist.
- Course review: Add social proof by publishing user-generated reviews for your courses on your site.
- Prerequisite courses: Require users to pass certain courses to enroll other courses.
- User-friendly interface for course creator as well as for students
- Well-known and popular
- Accept payments with PayPal, Stripe, or manually via check
- Content dripping, course pre-requisites, and group memberships
- Automated emails, gamification with badges, and even certificates
- Intuitive interface
- Include multimedia content
- Drip course content over time
- Require prerequisites to take a course
- Add discussion forums
- Include lesson downloads
- Quiz timers
- Offer course certificates and gamification badges
- Business model -free core plugin with a variety of paid add-ons.
- Three levels:
Love the name! In Namaste! LMS, your courses are actually a custom post type in WordPress, so working with this plugin is like working within WordPress itself and will be familiar to most who do their own website posting and basic maintenance. The basic version of this plugin is open source software and offered for free. However it is very basic and will require integrating with many third party (not necesarily free) plugins for much of the LMS functionality, such as payments (Woo Commerce), quizzes, tests and exams(Watu)
- Certificates: Students can earn certificates after completing a course
- Grade system: Analyze students’ performance using the grade system.
- Badges: Award badges that can be showcased on any website.
- Progress bar: The premium version of the plugin lets you enable a progress bar that shows students how they do in each course.
- Extension of WooCommerce
- Quick user registration
- Create courses, write lessons, and add quizzes
- Offer badges and certificates to students
- Not as powerful as some of the other options. It handles the creation and publishing of online courses, but in order to sell access, you will need to use it in conjunction with membership or eCommerce plugins. And there are not that many third party integrations – you can add a separate membership plugin but it is not an add-on to Sensei.
- Might be harder for beginners to setup
- Good if you already have a WooCommerce shop on your site
- Not built specifically for WordPress, but works with it well
- [Not] Many extensions
- One site – $129;
- Two to five sites – $179
- Five to 25 sites – $279
- Major companies and universities
- Content restriction and drip
- Course certificates
- Question bank for easy construction of quizzes and tests
- Does not include a built in way to accept payments. Requires an additional membership or eCommerce plugin for that. Works with many payment gateway plugins.
- Easy Setup
- Advanced automation tools that send personalized emails triggered by student activities
- Teacher – one to two sites – $99
- Professor – three to 10 site – $125
- Guru, 11 to 25 sites – $175.
LearnDash, Lifter LMS, and WP Courseware are the full-featured (and full-priced) options. CoursePress Pro and LearnPress less full-featured and have lower prices to get you started.
you should likely have anywhere from $100 – $300 ready for just the LMS plugin part of your project.
- LearnDash – $129 (using coupon)
- WP Courseware – $99
- LifterLMS – Free (but more likely $299)
- Sensei – $129 (plus maybe $19 and/or $29)
- LearnPress – Free (but likely $249 with their bundle of add-ons)