In-depth LearnDash LMS Review

06 Sep 2018

Installation and Setup

Being a WordPress plugin, LearnDash has the same requirements as WordPress, which are generally pretty relaxed. Both LearnDash and WordPress claim to require PHP 7.2 or later, however I found LearnDash worked fine in PHP 7.1 and even PHP 5.6, although I’d recommend sticking with PHP 7.2 or later if you can. WordPress is a little limited in its database support, only working with MySQL and MariaDB, but on the plus side, neither WordPress or LearnDash require any unusual extensions to be compiled into PHP.

Installation is a breeze, if you don’t already have WordPress installed doing so is very straight forward, and its interactive installer guides you through the process. It’s worth noting you can’t find LearnDash in the WordPress plugin directory, you simply download the plugin from the LearnDash website, and then upload it into your WordPress site.

Once you’ve installed the LearnDash plugin, a new “LearnDash LMS” menu option will be added to your WordPress admin area. This menu neatly contains everything you’ll need to setup your LearnDash based site.

Features

LearnDash is one of the newer Learning Management Systems, launched in 2013. In those short years it has become hugely popular, and is a worthy competitor to the older, more well known options. LearnDash ships with all the features you’d expect from an LMS, including:

Drag-and-drop course builder

LearnDash’s drag-and-drop course builder is second to none, and a revelation when compared to some other offerings. This is a great selling point, as you’ll likely be spending a lot of time in the course builder area of what ever LMS you choose.

Monetization

If you’re building an e-Learning business, LearnDash is an excellent choice due to its monetization options. With LearnDash you can set up subscriptions, one-time purchases and course bundles. LearnDash also supports a variety of payment and shopping cart options, including PayPal, Stripe, WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.

Supports open standards

LearnDash supports modern open learning resource standards, including Tin-Can API and SCORM.

Multimedia

LearnDash supports a huge variety of different media for your courses, including videos, Articulate & Adobe Captivate files, images, audio, Google Docs, HTML5 and more.

Huge range of plugins

With LearnDash itself being a plugin for WordPress, it of course also works along side all other WordPress plugins, eg: if you want to install the Saber Course Feedback Tool on your LearnDash site, you can use the WordPress Plugin. Of course not all WordPress plugins will be of any use to a LearnDash site.

A pleasant surprise is that LearnDash also has it’s own Add-on directory, allowing you to browse and install LearnDash specific add-ons from within the LearnDash admin area. There is a wide range of plugins and add-ons available, both third-party and offical LearnDash ones.

Using LearnDash as a student

If you just install LearnDash to a vanilla WordPress installation, you may find the student interface a bit lacking. The reason for this is that WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform, so the default theme doesn’t lend itself very well to an e-Learning environment.

Luckily WordPress is very easy to customize, and it doesn’t take much work to improve the appearance of the student interface. The main thing is just to remove all the unnecessary blog related elements, such as Recent Posts, Comments, Meta, etc. In fact, the simple act of removing the default sidebar entirely will vastly improves the student interface.

LearnDash will work with any existing WordPress theme, and there’s also a number of LearnDash specific themes available. And of course, there’s a plethora of skilled WordPress developers who can build you a custom theme, to make sure your e-Learning site stands out.

The interface itself is excellent, guiding students swiftly though each section of a course, giving clear, concise messages when necessary. Eg: Informing them that they must complete a previous lesson before moving on to the next. LearnDash also makes it instantly clear which sections of a course have been completed.

Using LearnDash as a course creator

LearnDash’s admin interface is easily one of the best. If you’re already familiar with WordPress, you’ll feel instantly at home with LearnDash, and even if you’ve never used WordPress before, LearnDash is very easy to get grips with. Additionally, the LearnDash website has a wealth of articles and videos guiding you through creating courses, as well as tips and best practices.

LearnDash includes a fantastically intuitive drag-and-drop course builder, that allows you to quickly and easily create and organize lessons, topics, and quizzes, all on the same screen. Courses in LearnDash are structured in a very logical hierarchy - a course has one or more lessons, and each lesson can have one or more topics. What’s really cool is that quizzes can be part of a course, lesson, or topic, so no matter what type of course you’re creating, you’ll be able to do it in LearnDash.

All LearnDash specific options include inline help, so if you’re ever unsure what an option does, you just have to click on the corresponding question mark to find out. Although, while the vast majority of the help text is really useful, I found a couple that didn’t offer much explanation. For example, the help text for the “Lesson Materials” field is just “Options for Lesson materials”, so there’s definitely some room for improvement there.

While on the surface LearnDash’s admin area is very simple and easy to use, it also provides a surprising amount of customization. A great example of this is how you can make specific lessons within a course become available on a certain date, while leaving other courses always available. Many other learning management systems have this setting for the entire course, so either all or none of the lessons are date restricted.

Conclusion

LearnDash is easily one of the best Learning Management Systems available today. Building it as a WordPress plugin rather than a stand alone application was a great choice by the developers, as it makes it a breeze to install, setup and use. It also means you have access to the massive WordPress plugin directory, and can make use of the multitude of WordPress hosing providers.

As I’ve already mentioned, LearnDash’s drag-and-drop course builder is amazing, and is enough to recommend LearnDash on its own. Of course there’s much more to LearnDash than just the course builder, and it has all the features you’d expect from an LMS.

If you’re on a very tight budget, LearnDash may not be for you, as although it’s by no means expensive, you’ll likely end up spending $200 - $400 / year depending on which package and add ons you choose. If that is beyond your budget you may want to look into a free LMS like Moodle, however, LearnDash is as fantastic option, and is definitely worth the price.

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