LifterLMS is a plugin which turns WordPress into a fully-fledged Learning Management System, allowing you to publish course content, conduct tests, track progress and award certificates when the user attains certain goals, set by you.
There are a huge number of LMS options in the WordPress universe and for good reason: online education and managed learning is set to be the next break-out boom, with implications for anyone providing any form of online content.
This extensive review includes a video section, showing LifterLMS in use, which you can find further down this page.
Why Online Education is a Trend you Cannot Ignore
If you already use WordPress to share information, adding learning functionality to your blog posts could turn out to be an inspired move. With so many blogs competing for attention, even in the most unusual niches, giving your users a fun way to measure their progress could be what your website needs to stand out from the crowd.
For example, if you run a blog that discusses baking, sticking a short quiz onto the end of a post about making bagels would enable users to double-check that they have absorbed the most important points. A lot of people enjoy testing themselves and, remember, any increase in user engagement, any increase in the time that people spend on a particular page, sends the right signals to Google and could increase your site’s overall search ranking.
If the general user response to your experiment is positive, you could then try something more ambitious, such as re-purposing some of your existing content into a short course that users can follow to pick up a specific set of skills. The content can be text, images, videos or anything else you can embed into a WordPress post, followed by a set of questions based upon that content.
Giving users a realistically achievable goal, perhaps taking just 30 minutes or an hour of their time, is likely to be popular and, again, Google loves to find sites that keep users engaged for that long. My hunch is that, for websites trying to get to the top of their niche, adding some sort of learning functionality could provide a vital competitive edge and differentiation.
You might also discover that, by fashioning the information and skills you want to share into a series of courses, you are in a position to create real value for your users. You can provide those courses for free, for money or for a mixture of the two.
More enterprising souls could make serious money by helping companies to put their existing training online. Most companies blow significant amounts on travel, hotel costs and senior staff time when employees have to visit the headquarters to receive in-person training. Not all training is suited to an online version, but when you consider the wide variety of media we can now so easily create and integrate into WordPress, and when you consider the built-in tracking features of a good LMS, there is a strong argument that companies can be more efficient, reduce their environmental footprint and save a lot of money by moving at least some of their training online.
What You Get, and How it Compares
With so many LMS plugins for WordPress, some free and some paid, it is worth spending the time to work out the features that each offers and whether those features will actually be important for you. Among the paid LMS plugins, you certainly need to think carefully about how many sites you might eventually want to use them on, and whether functionality you might need comes in the form of an extension that you must pay for every year.
Again, LifterLMS costs $149 per year for one site and $399 per year for up to 5 sites. The standard plugin includes the following features:
- Lessons, like regular WordPress posts, can contain pretty much any form of media.
- Quizzes (multiple choice only, but more types are under development)
- Lessons can be organized into courses.
- Gamify your lessons by awarding badges along the way.
- Drip content – control the speed at which each course is taken.
- Reward success with impressive, downloadable certificates.
- Reward yourself by charging for courses with integrated PayPal payments.
- BuddyPress integration – create a community of learners
- bbPress integration – creating a learning form
- Woocommerce integration
- Promote your courses with built-in coupon and affiliate functionality.
LifterLMS comes with PayPal payments as standard but many people find Stripe a lot better, so, they provide a Stripe extension for $99 per year for one site and $299 per year for up to 5 sites. They also offer an Infusionsoft extension for $299 per year for one site and $999 per year for up to 5 sites. I have no idea what Infusionsoft is but, personally, I would rather spend that sort of money on malt whisky and Colombian hookers.
The LearnDash WordPress LMS plugin costs between $99 and $129 for an unlimited number of sites. It appears to be a very fully-featured offering, including Tin-Can API integration which allows your users to export their achievements between different LMSes, something I believe will become extremely important in the coming years.
Sensei by Woothemes (now owned by Automattic) costs $129 per year for one site, $179 per year for up to 5 sites and $279 per year for up to 25 sites. Sensei charges for content dripping functionality, which is already included as standard in LifterLMS: the Sensei Drip Content extension costs $29 per year for one site, $79 per year for up to 5 sites and $129 per year for up to 25 sites.
Sensei also charges for BadgeOS integration, but LifterLMS does not have this functionality. The Sensei BadgeOS extension costs $19 per year for one site, $49 per year for up to 5 sites and $79 per year for up to 25 sites. Sensei has no integration with Infusionsoft.
CoursePress by WPMU dev costs $19 per month for an unlimited number of sites but, in my experience, the quality of both their code and support is horrific because their freelancers are so thinly spread over hundreds of different plugins. I would never use their products for anything I needed to rely upon.
WP Courseware, the most established LMS plugin, costs $99 per year for 2 sites, $125 per year for up to 10 sites and $175 for up to 25 sites. Again, it is important to take the time to consider the differences. LifterLMS may be better in some regards, WP Courseware may be better in others, it all depends upon what features will be most important to the type of learning experience you hope to offer.
You can use LifterLMS with pretty much any WordPress theme, which gives you a lot of freedom in how you present your material but, also, makes it easy to integrate within an existing WordPress site.
In a Crowded Market, Why LifterLMS?
How can LifterLMS, as a relatively young LMS plugin, justify being, by far, the most expensive at $149 per year for one site and $399 per year for up to 5 sites, and having similarly expensive per-site pricing for extensions?
Their website is undoubtedly slicker than their established competitors and features a highly aspirational promo video reminiscent of Apple, possibly a bit of an overreach in this case. Their pitch focuses on the empowering nature of online education in general but they do also state that their plugin’s advantage is that its competitors are cumbersome, disjointed, difficult to use and “actually put a wall between you and your students”, whereas LifterLMS will allow you to “engage your students in a way that you’ve never done before”.
In actual use, I am not persuaded that LifterLMS is significantly different from its cheaper, longer-established and often more fully-featured competitors. Looking at the LifterLMS roadmap it is clear that they have ambitious plans, and the changelogs on that same page show that they have been very active over the past half year or so, but they are not there yet. Also, it is not clear how many of the upcoming improvements will, like the Stripe and Infusion extensions, cost more money.
I found the user interface somewhat rough, especially compared to their polished marketing. I also found that my activated installation mysteriously became “Not Activated” while making the video portion of this review – when a plugin is pitched as something people can base a business upon, licensing weirdness is a worrying glitch.
Much to my own surprise, however, I have come to the conclusion that, for many users, there may be sufficient added-value in their marketing-intensive approach to justify the higher prices.
For example, they appear determined to establish, by sheer force of personality, a thriving community of online educators around their product. The first good sign is that they have an active, publicly accessible forum where questions are actually getting answered. At a time when most commercial plugin providers seem convinced that it is more “professional” to hide behind a support ticket system, it is refreshing that the LifterLMS guys understand that there is far more value in interacting openly.
Secondly, and more impressively, they have an excellent podcast, called LMScast with 42 episodes already in the can. They range in length between 5 and 20 minutes, mostly around 10, and each focuses on a different aspect of being an “edupreneur”: an entrepreneur who produces educational online material. Their style is straightforward, knowledgeable and focused, reminding me of Doug Yen and David Hehenberger on WPcast, or Mike Taber and Rob Walling on Startups for the Rest of Us.
No time is wasted with intro music or other fluff, and their speak clearly, allowing you to listen at double-speed without losing any meaning. I blasted through all 42 episodes during a few sessions in the gym and it certainly broadened my understanding of what is possible. In a field evolving as quickly as online learning, a sharp and informed source of information is valuable.
If they maintain the podcast’s momentum, it will turbocharge their forum community and that, too, will become a source of inspiration and encouragement. Of course, you can read the forum and listen to the podcast even if you are already committed to another LMS, but I think that, for a lot of “edupreneurs”, the sense of actually belonging to the community will be important enough to justify the product’s high price, particularly if they only have a few sites.