Best WordPress LMS, Course Building and eLearning Plugins

More and more small businesses, professionals and experts are starting to realize that they can make a good living from selling access to their expertise online. And while this area used to be dominated by ebooks and downloadable pdfs, these days the way to get your customers through the door is by offering courses, often including interactive discussion forums, video and other assessment tools. And be they called eLearning, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or plain old course builders, WordPress is an awesome platform on which you can build your profitable online course. So, to help you make the decision of which course building plugin for Wordpress to choose, we’ve done a roundup and review of the top contenders, rated them and chosen our winner.
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More and more small businesses, professionals and experts are starting to realize that they can make a good living from selling access to their expertise online. And while this area used to be dominated by ebooks and downloadable pdfs, these days the way to get your customers through the door is by offering courses, often including interactive discussion forums, video and other assessment tools.

And be they called eLearning, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or plain old course builders, WordPress is an awesome platform on which you can build your profitable online course.

So, to help you make the decision of which course building plugin for WordPress to choose, we’ve done a roundup and review of the top contenders, rated them and chosen our winner (at the end of this post).

CoursePress (WPMU DEV, Free & Paid ($19) – unlimited sites)

lms-course-elearning-1

CoursePress comes from the folks at WPMU DEV (and also, interestingly, the people behind Edublogs, so they clearly know a thing or two about online learning). There are two versions of the plugin; the free one, and a paid version currently retailing for $19 (which allows more payment gateways).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXzOBRYVjDw&w=640&h=360]

The plugin comes with all of the tools you need to create a course (Multiple choice, videos, student uploads and downloads, drip feeds etc.) and also, perhaps more interestingly, you can include live chat sessions (using their very popular chat plugin) as well as integrated discussions. That’s also available for purchase for $19, or you can get a full WPMU DEV membership and get their entire collection of plugins and themes for (currently) less than $40.

And even more impressively you can use the plugin on as many sites as you like and easily sell courses through the free plugin.

If there was an area that could be improved it would be for the plugin to come with more ‘out of the box’ themes for a broader design experience, but apparently they are working on that right now (and the plugin already works just fine with 99% of existing WP themes) so expect more from that soon.

Our rating: 9.5 / 10

Namaste LMS (Free & Paid ($87) – 1 site)

lms-course-elearning-2

Namaste LMS is a plugin designed to specifically turn WordPress into an LMS, and it’s got a lot of different features.

Assignments are dealt with as custom post types, and as such are fully customizable.

The plugin is set up with a number of different modules, and the pro version includes a range of other different features:

  • Create classes and limit access to courses based on them
  • Assign teachers to the classes to have your team members manage content
  • Delayed access to course material.
  • Reorder courses and classes.
  • Shortcodes to let users sign-up for classes.
  • Progress bar shows users how they do in each course.
  • Premium support.

However, it is worth noting that unfortunately the pro version is only allowed to be used on one site, and can quickly get expensive with extra themes costing more, and extra modules… it can quickly add up.

Overall while the pro version looks like a fully featured plugin, the free version is pretty poor and the limitations (and extra expenses) of the pro plugin make it a pretty pricey choice.

Our rating: 6.5 / 10

LearnDash (Paid – $99)

lms-course-elearning-3

LearnDash have had a real go at providing a fully functional and featured LMS for WordPress, not only allowing users to create lessons, set assignments and generally create and manage courses, but also really going to town on the extension and integration side of things.

They’ve integrated with the vast majority of WordPress plugins out there (although this only seems to take the form of allowing a course to be sold, for example, as a link… so whether it’s a real integration or not is another thing), but it’s an impressive list.

lms-course-elearning-4Importantly though, all of their extensions are free, so there are none of the nasty costs involved that you might get with some other products – and LearnDash also offer customizations, which might be pretty useful if you get stuck.

It’s a shame though that there isn’t a free version to play with, although you can take a tour here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCBvAWYGRWc&w=640&h=360]

Our rating: 8 / 10

Sensei (Paid $129 – $279)

lms-course-elearning-5

Sensei is one of the more established course building plugins and brought to market by the team behind Woothemes and Woocommerce, so it’s obviously got a bit of heft.

The plugin itself  allows you to relatively easily put together a course (it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience; we had quiet a few moments of confusion putting things together) and comes with all of the required modules you’d like to create a decent course (quizzes, charging (with Woocommerce) and grading) – although there’s little to no focus on communication and discussion.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtaYUn2tehE&w=640&h=360]

Probably the most frustrating thing about Sensei though is it’s price; the $129 (plus extensions) price seems extravagant when compared to competitors in the space and that’s for only a single site license… want more sites and you’ll have to cough up the full $279… which is a crazy price for a piece of fairly simple software such as this.

Also there’s the precedent with Woocommerce, while most of their extensions are free (currently BadgeOS is the only one with a charge), surely it won’t be long before you end up being dragged into paying $$$$s for a setup you could have got for free with other sites.

Also, unfortunately, development seems to have slowed as Woo has focused more on commerce.

Our rating: 7 / 10

The winner!

To be honest this wasn’t a very hard decision, with their experience and other range of successful plugin releases, WPMU DEV’s CoursePress very much takes out the competition.

Not only does the plugin have all the features you’re going to need to set up a course, it’s also a delight to use, and the free version is basically entirely fully featured – only being limited by a few payment gateways and for those wanting to run 3 or more courses.

There are no extra costs (unless you want to pay $39 and pick up their ridiculously large catalogue of premium plugins) and as the most recent addition to the WordPress LMS space you can expect some serious additions and extra features over the next year.

Pick up a pro version of the plugin here. Or the free version here.

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Mark Zahra
Mark Zahra
CEO at RebelCode, the team behind WP Mayor, Spotlight, WP RSS Aggregator, and the Mastermind.fm podcast. Follow me on Twitter @markzahra.

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15 Responses

  1. Mark, it seems you missed one very important contender in this class of plugins. WP Courseware by Fly Plugins. It’s been around for a few years with a ton of features above the rest.

    1. Justin, I’m having trouble embedding that video. Any chance you’ve got a YouTube version I can add instead?

  2. I’m very surprised at the high (9.5 / 10) rating given to CoursePress. Can you give more detail as to how you got that.

    I’ve tried CoursePress and to be honest, found it difficult to use. Cumbersome may be the best word to describe it. It’s works well with other WPMU plugins so that’s is a bonus, but on it’s own is not a strong contender (IMHO) for LMS.

    I’m now looking at WP Courseware which seems to be a much option.

    I’ve also looked at LearnDash and would definitely rate it much higher than CoursePress, though it has it’s limitations in terms of integration with other plugins etc.

  3. It should be noted that CoursePress Pro is not just $19. It’s $19 per month. Big difference. Haven’t looked at the other plugins yet, but if they’re a monthly subscription service, that should be specified in the article…

    Otherwise, great info. Thanks!

    1. Wendy, thats to get the updates, once you pay once, you can theoretically use it indefinitely till you want to get the update for it. I have been using WPMUDEV they are great.

    2. I have been using Coursepress Pro since 2014. I really like it when it works, and to be fair it hasn’t broken in many months, which is good, because I am no longer paying their annual membership fee of $599. I don’t need 140+ plugins and they stopped the monthly membership for one plugin over a year ago. If it breaks again, and there were many times it did, check their site forum history, they would get out fixes to us,, until they did another upgrade to the plugin. It doesn’t work with some of their own plugins and doesn’t work at all with any of the Drag & Drop themes. A lot of designer/developers who bought the plugin for clients were unhappy enough to ultimately look elsewhere for LMS software. It has some features that are spot on for multi teacher organizations, but their reliability is a bit lacking in some cases. Whenever the WordPress core instal did a major update, it would create multiple problems across their system.

  4. Great article Mark! We recommend LearnDash to our clients because it caters to larger audience and is quite easy to use.It easily integrates with various wordpress plugins and themes and like you mentioned the free extensions are like a boon to customers. I personally like the drip-feeding and E-mail notification features.

  5. Been using LearnDash for some time now. I have been impressed both by the software and the support team.

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