Why We Made Dashing Memberships: a Membership Plugin for LearnDash – P1

We’ve been using LearnDash for our business for the past 3 years. Before we started with LearnDash, we had a mess of an e-learning membership website. Our site was built on Wishlist Member, a popular old membership plugin, which handled checkouts and protected all of our course content and videos.

learndash membership plugin

But the user experience was crummy. We knew we needed a solution to make courses more effective for teaching our curriculum. We checked out third party hosted e-learning platforms, such as Udemy and a few other similar platforms. Yet that was out of the question for us:  We didn’t want to be just one or two courses amidst a gazillion of other courses, we wanted our course to feel very special and unique, something you could only gain access to by going through our website.

I also knew there were other hosted learning platforms, such as Teachable, that would allow you to brand your course anyway you like, but we were heavily invested in WordPress. Most importantly, as a developer myself, the ability to customize the design and user experience, as well as some vital custom functionality we required, was a must for me, which is why WordPress was the best choice for our courses.

Now the time, there were a number of new eLearning plugins for WordPress that were entering the scene. Your had WP CourseWare, Zippy Courses, and LifterLMS. As I begin to evaluate each one, I saw that just as I was about to fall in love with one, it had one particular drawback that while I might have been able to live with, I wasn’t thrilled about.

Yet when I finally got to LearnDash, it was clear that this plug-in had nearly the best of everything, without too much compromise. What I like the most in about it though, if I can be honest, was that as a developer it was one of the lightest, and least intrusive WordPress LMS plugins but I tried out. Unlike other e-learning plugins, it did not hijack my dashboard and force me to pay attention to it, with pop ups and notifications jumping out at you, the way too many plugins do these days. The settings were minimal yet important, and the course options were powerful and allowed for various configurations.

What’s great about LearnDash is that you can set up a course so that a user has to go through each module in succession, or you can leave it open-ended so that they can pick and choose the topics that matter most to them. One thing I also appreciate about LearnDash is the number of hierarchical levels you can choose to build into your course. Such that within one course you can have a lesson, and underneath that, a number of subtopics.

LearnDash’s Easy and Elegant Checkout System

Finally one of the main things that attracted me to LearnDash was its simple and beautiful course display grid, which, with one short code, can display a beautiful array of courses in an attractive manner for purchase. After selecting the course one is interested in, the checkout system is lean and elegant, without a big hassle to set up

The Course Grid and Checkout system were the real winners for me. If you’ve ever been to a large eLearning platform, such as Udemy, you’ll see that it is composed of a number of various courses offered by various teachers. It hit me immediately, that LearnDash was a system that could be used to create your own mini Udemy system, perhaps focusing on the particular niche. Alternatively, LearnDash’s course grid, allows you, the course creator, to elegantly showcase the various topics that you teach, and allow a way for a student to choose the courses that matter most to them, for purchase.

All in all, LearnDash has served us well over the years, and I’m so grateful that we chose it that fateful day over 3 years ago as our main learning management system.

So why did I build a membership plugin specifically for LearnDash, you may still be asking?

The thing is, LearnDash was excellent at protecting its own custom content types (course, lesson, topic), thereby protecting unique course content from anyone who’s not enrolled in the course, but we immediately found that there were certain non-course content pages and posts that we also wanted to offer students instead of allowing those pages and posts to be displayed to the public. There were some pages, posts, and other content types from add-on plugins that we wanted to make available only to members of a particular course.

Let me give you an example:

In our e-learning site, we had three main courses, all serving the needs of different types of students. For each of these courses, we wanted to have a consistent and regular blog which would provide additional information outside of the course lessons and topics and allow us to provide news and updates to our students. With WordPress, there’s only one area of your site for your blog, and that’s the posts menu. We asked ourselves how could we effectively silo the blog into 3 separate topic areas to serve information to each of our 3 courses?

What if we had one blog category for each of our courses, so that when a student went to the blog they would see all of the blog posts that were related to their course, but not see the ones for the other courses. As we started to see how we could do this, we realized it was going to be a lot harder than we thought with LearnDash as it is.

Another problem was that we used a knowledge base plugin for our courses, so that students could go in and easily search for a FAQs together tutorials they need right away to solve their problems. Again, we ran into the issue of finding no easy way to separate out knowledge-base articles between different courses.

So, for the time being, we were stuck with our “Frankenstein” solution: mixing a big and bloated, complex membership plugin for WordPress with the light sleek and efficient LearnDash plugin.

In part 2, I’ll go into more details about how our Frankenstein system worked, and some of the drawbacks and problems that it caused for myself and my staff in terms of user management, ugly registration forms, and sluggish performance.

If you’re interested in hearing some of that story, click to read part two of the series!

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