WordPress Learning Management System Theme vs. LMS Plugin

Organic Life Guru 2013-10-06 14-45-17I love it when a solution comes along and does a lot more with less complexity like with the Academy WordPress LMS (Learning Management System) theme. You can see the website I built with the Academy theme here. It’s a website that delivers paid online organic gardening classes.

WordpPress LMS theme vs. LMS plugin

LMS Plugins are great, but a really focused theme developer can actually create a theme that includes a lot of the functionality required for something like a LMS system. The developer of Academy executed this concept beautifully by including the membership aspects, LMS custom post types (courses and lessons), and the shopping cart payment gateway elements (which does require a basic set up and integration of the free WooCommerce plugin). For security and compatibility reasons I like to take a minimalist approach when it comes to WordPress plugins.

The Academy theme is also a responsive WordPress LMS theme so that’s great too. Making your online course content display well on smart phones and especially tablets is key.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to not have to use LMS plugins (like Woo Sensei or Learn Dash), membership plugins (like WishList Member), and built out a payment gateway from scratch. These plugins are all great in their own right, but add a lot of extra steps, complexity, and possible compatibility issues to building a website.

In my opinion WordPress theme developers should try and build more complete solutions like the Academy LMS theme does instead of more generic multi-purpose WordPress themes. There’s a place in the market for general themes, but there’s a lot of opportunity out there for more niche focused WordPress themes from a design and functionality perspective.

What is a WordPress LMS theme?

If you’re still trying to figure out what a LMS theme does, just think of it as an online education platform where you can deliver online courses for free or for profit. Online course content can be multimedia including video, audio, text, and other downloadables. You can still blog with the theme and build pages as usual, but there are also courses and lessons as their own “custom post type.”

Take a look at this course on Improving Soil for Organic Gardening:

Organic Gardening Course

* Zoom in to see the notes on the image.

Here’s an image of what a lesson looks like for a subscribed or paying user:

Soil Horizons | Organic Life Guru 2013-10-06 15-03-55 Soil Horizons | Organic Life Guru 2013-10-06 15-03-55

Notice how the main course content is a video lesson followed by a short course description. There is a downloadable supplemental PDF. You can navigate to a new lesson from the sidebar. And a student can ask a question below the lesson content (This theme uses the WordPress commenting system beautifully to allow this question-answer functionality).

Build your Own WordPress LMS Website or Publish your Online Course to a 3rd Party Platform?

In my opinion: Both! You’ll notice I also published this organic gardening course on Udemy. The simple reason for this is that Udemy has a massive audience … 1,000,000 visitors a month as of this writing. But I don’t own Udemy and there’s a lot of competition there, so I created my own LMS platform with WordPress which gives me control and security. I will say I’m more than happy to give Udemy 30% of my profit when they bring a customer to my course. They also have a built in affiliate program which is great for getting visitors and incentivizing others to share my course.

Online education is on the rise. Check out this article about that in the New York Times.

Udemy and WordPress LMS solutions aren’t just about income. Teaching online is also about impact. When you create online courses for free, you can give a gift to your audience, build your authority, and even get new customers for your other offerings by demonstrating your knowledge (content marketing).

I got over 1,500 students enrolled in my Build a WordPress Website in a Weekend course on Udemy in under 2 weeks.

How to Build a WordPress LMS website

Option 1: Purchase the Academy theme and build it! I give this WordPress LMS theme my highest recommendation.

Option 2: Contact me and we can see if we’re a good fit, and I can build it out for you or offer the guidance you need.

Special WordPress LMS Update to this Post …

Since originally writing this post for you, I’ve taken everything I’ve learned from working on my own WordPress LMS projects and countless others and have created what I believe to be the best WordPress learning management system solution on the market. I did not do this alone. I’ve partnered with the talented team at codeBOX.

We’ve created a WordPress LMS plugin that will work with any theme. The lifterLMS plugin includes:

  • Complete eLearning functionality (Courses, Modules, Lessons, Quizzes, Assignments Certificates, etc.)
  • Stand alone eCommerce solution so you can sell your courses and lessons online. (Works out of the box with these payment gateways: Paypal, Infusionsoft, and can be integrated with WooCommerce if you want. Recurring subscription payments option included if you want recurring revenue from your courses).
  • Built in membership site functionality so you don’t have to install third party membership site plugins.
  • Advanced engagement functionality (gamification, infusionsoft style event triggered automated campaign functionality, and much much more).

Click here to watch the video and explore the full feature set: http://lifterlms.com

WordPress LMS plugin for themes lifter LMS

We Also Started a Video Podcast Specifically for People Looking to Build, Profit, and Create Impact with a WordPress LMS website

Introducing LMScast

Download on itunes | stitcher | YouTube

* If you liked these videos, you’re going to love the lifterLMS WordPress learning management system plugin! We built it for you.

If enough people want me to create a detailed online video course about how to build a WordPress LMS site from scratch I will …

Update: Thank you for all the interest! Click here to view the course on how to create a WordPress LMS site from scratch.

Chris Badgett of Badgett Web Design

Good luck with your course creation and WordPress LMS web business! To see if I’m available to help with your LMS project, you can contact me here. Sometimes you need a guide like me through the jungle of web business development.

P.S. Want to add an affiliate program to your WordPress LMS web business? I have. I wrote about how to do it here.

P.P.S. I’ve got more free WordPress LMS articles for you here.

A Free Gift for You …

medium_Chris_Badgett_drinking_a_coconutIf you made it this far in this post, it’s obvious you’re committed to creating impact in the lives of others with your material and income for your business as an entrepreneur. Creating a successful WordPress LMS and online course can be difficult to start and get that initial momentum going. Click this link to get instant accessto a powerful one-page course planner to uncover your blindspots and make sure you have all the right questions answered. When you spend a few minutes with this download, my goal is to increase the odds of your success as an education entrepreneur exponentially.


  1. Mike

    Hi, I’ve been investigating using LearnDash but recently came across the Academy theme so am doing a bit of research into this. One of my concerns about Academy is the quiz functionality. Compared to LearnDash there are fewer question types available, and I wondered if you found this a hindrance?



    • SF Alex

      I really wanna know if you find out anything about the quiz function. Do they have a way to integrate quizes and then after you complete a quiz do you receive a certificate or anything?
      I need to be able to generate a certificate upon the course completion. If you guy’s manage to find a theme that dose that please let me know.

      • Chris Badgett

        Hey Alex,

        Academy does have a nice customizable certificate functionality. That being said, I’m currently building a new WordPress LMS plugin that will provide even better functionality and work with any WordPress LMS theme.

        Currently I’m merging my web design/development company with codeBOX who I’ve worked with for a couple years. We’re combining talents to focus on the needs of the innovators in the WordPress LMS community.

        It’s not public yet, but we’re currently building a WordPress LMS plugin to solve the common needs of WordPress LMS websites and the entrepreneurs behind them. The plugin will make it possible to build a full featured LMS, handle custom membership requirements, integrate with ecommerce, and offer engagement options to automate user interactions in new and innovative ways.

  2. Chris Badgett

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for dropping by. I personally don’t use the quiz functionality for my online courses, so I couldn’t say either way.

    I will say the theme developer of Academy, Themex, is very open to feature requests and helping offer advice to make the theme fit your needs.

    Send me a link to your site if you want to. I love checking out other Online Course websites. Let me know if I can be of any further help.

  3. Justin Ferriman

    Hi Chris-

    Thanks for this thorough review. It is always great to hear the feedback from those who have an interest in learning on WordPress.

    Naturally, we feel that the LearnDash LMS plugin has an added advantage in that users can take the learning they create and transfer to any theme they wish – that said, it’s great to see learning initiatives occurring on the world’s most versatile open-source software, be it theme or plugin.

    Thanks again for providing your perspective. We are certainly interested to see how people use WordPress to deliver learning.

    Justin Ferriman
    Founder, LearnDash

  4. Chris Badgett

    Hey Justin,

    Thanks for the comment! I’m aware of LearnDash, but haven’t used it yet.

    I do love how the LearnDash plugin can integrate with any theme and plan on trying it out at some point.

    Online Learning + WordPress is a key focus of my web design business and online course publishing business.

    What I love most about the Academy Theme is how easy it is to set up courses for sale with a simple woo commerce/Paypal integration.

    Do you have a tutorial video or detailed instructions I could look at to see how I would set up premium courses with LearnDash and Paypal? This would be important to me to see in advance as a prospective customer. I’d also be interested in seeing a video walkthrough of the JigoShop integration.

    Keep up the great work with your plugin! I have no doubt it will be of use to a lot of people, businesses, and educators.


    • Justin Ferriman

      Hi Chris-
      Thanks for the note and kind words – happy to answer your question. There are generally three ways people sell courses with LearnDash:

      1. Built-in PayPal or 2Checkout feature
      2. JigoShop/WooCommerce
      3. Using a Membership Integration

      The set-up for each is pretty simple (#1 is definitely the easiest). For #2, it involves associating a product to one or more courses, and when that product is purchased, access is granted to the course. For #3, LearnDash currently integrates with PaidMembershipsPro, but we also have our own simple membership integration. Pretty much anything that can protect custom post types can be used to protect LearnDash items.

      Hope that helps!


      • Chris Badgett

        Thanks for the clarification Justin! I look forward to giving it a try on a future LMS project. I’ll write up a review from my experience with it too when I do.

  5. Jon

    What about using Academy with the LearnDash plugin? Also, if someone develops something in Captivate or Articulate, how does that work with Academy Theme and also LearnDash?

    Muchas gracias in advance!

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Jon, You don’t need the LearnDash plugin with Academy because it has it’s own custom built in custom LMS functionality (the ability to create courses/lessons, quizes, free/paid enrollment process, etc). LearnDash brings all this stuff to websites with WordPress themes that don’t have the LMS functionality built in.

      I personally don’t have experience with Articulate or Captivate, so I couldn’t comment on those. I did check out their websites, but couldn’t tell how these softwares could relate to a WordPress LMS site powered by Academy or another theme plus LearnDash. If Justin Ferriman of LearnDash sees this thread, perhaps he could chime in of how Articulate or Captivate relate to LearnDash.

    • Justin Ferriman

      Hi Jon-

      In LearnDash, you can launch an Adobe Captivate file or Articulate course using our GrassBlade integration. You will need to publish to Tin Can API in order for it to be launched and tracked against a learning record store (LRS). If you have some specific questions regarding your project, I would be happy to help. Feel free to reach out at http://www.learndash.com/contact

      • Chris Badgett

        Thanks for weighing in on this Justin!

  6. Jon

    Thank you gentlemen. You’ve both been extremely helpful. Love what you guys are doing with WP and education. Here’s to making education a little less boring 😀


    As you see, I have the Academy theme which has a built-in LMS, but what you offer seems much more robust and better suited to my needs. I’ll be contacting you in the very near future to discuss this further.

  7. Armin

    Hey Chris great article,

    do you know if it´s possible to have membership levels within the academy theme?
    Means that you charge a monthly fee and the customer has the opportunity to get all courses at ones, as long he´s a member?

    Thanks for answering.

    Best Regards


    • Chris Badgett

      Thanks Armin!

      If your looking for monthly recurring membership billing within the Academy theme, I recommend you start with this thread on the theme developer’s forum



  8. Rick

    I’ve been looking a WordPress theme with LMS functions for the past one month for a client.

    I have researched upon academy but what i don’t like is it doesn’t offer you BuddyPress & BbPress functionality and Drip-feed function ( lessons to be available based on dates).
    I have requested the author but it seems he won’t be coming out with this functionality.

    Whereas, the other theme WPMS Learning Management System on Themeforest is providing me with all the features i want. I just wanted to know if you have given it a try or researched on this.


    Thanks in advance

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Rick,

      I have not used the WPLMS WordPress theme yet. It looks promising and does have a bigger feature set than Academy.

      Personally I would wait a month or two for a couple new versions to come out so there are less bugs in the system which happens with all new WP themes. If time is of the essence then you could go ahead and start with it, just be on top of the upgrades and be a part of the debugging conversation with the theme developer.

      Also with all these extra features, in my opinion it’s important to keep the user experience of the student in mind while you make all these development decisions. For example in some cases it may be simpler for the user to have a separate buddypress site (with the same branding) from the LMS site.

      Good luck with your project! I’d love to see what you come up with when it goes live. Feel free to hit me up with other questions/ brainstorming.

  9. Fuad

    I really wish I’d found this earlier. I went ahead and purchased WpCourseware. I don’t regret buying it, it’s a great plugin. It’s the complex integration with Paidmemberships pro and woo commerce that’s causing me a headache. I know how to connect pmpro with courseware but not really sure how to integrate the woo commerce part of it, there is a plugin for it but there is no documentation or implementation directions for it. I’m assuming that with the academy theme it’s kind of like a shopping cart for courses where people can buy one or more courses and then have access to all of them in a “student area” or something like that. What I like about this theme is the possibility of creating a Udemy type website with great income potential. What I don’t like is the prospect of having to spend more money after already spending money on themes and plugins to achieve what I’m trying to do, which is sell my own courses online.

    I simply want people to come to my website, add courses to their cart, checkout, and have access to those courses which I built on WPcourseware. Sounds simple, giving me a headache.

    • Chris Badgett

      I feel your frustration. Ecommerce and LMS sounds simple, but the implementation can quickly become a “Frakenstein.” That’s why I love the Academy theme. It just works. The WooCommerce integration is dead simple, and I bought a premium Woo Stripe Extension so I could accept credit cards directly on the site which was also super simple.

  10. Sonja Rooney

    Good day Chris and Justin

    Hope you guys are all well

    I need sum advise.

    I am new to wordpress and have just designed my first wordpress site. http://www.sengweplace.co.za

    I have a new project and i am not to sure how to create what my client wants.

    My client is a professor and want-
    -a site were he can sell his courses
    -a sign in membership for his students were the can submit their essay.
    -make announcements on the site but need the announcement to be send to students as well once.
    -a calendar to show when next exam start

    I am not to sure how to start and what to look for.
    I have been reading a lot on LMS but not to sure if this will work for my client

    Please advise a newbie

    thank you

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Sonja,

      Congratulations on your first WordPress site!

      I’m going to answer your questions on how I would do this with the Academy theme since I’m the most familiar with that WordPress LMS solution.

        You can sell your courses with the Academy theme
        Students could submit essays through a little bit of customization by offering an upload area in a lesson main content area or sidebar
        Announcements could be made publicly in the blog categorized by course or the announcements could be emailed out to students from a sorted user data export or via a MailChimp integration with a tool like this
        There’s a lot of great free WordPress calendar plugins out there. Or the site could link into a google calendar
  11. Fredrik

    Hi, can you please clarify how does this theme work, it does not have any SCORM tracking or user reporting functionality, it is just a theme right? If I buy it, I still need to develop scorm tracking through some plugin or custom programming, correct?

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Fredrik,

      The theme works by extending what’s known in WordPress as custom post types to allow learning related types of content like courses, lessons and quizes. It uses Woo Commerce to allow someone to easily sell courses. And it extends some of the other WordPress core elements like profiles (creating more elaborate student profiles).

      I’m not familiar with scorm tracking, but I think what you’re asking is “Can a student pick up where they left off?” The answer to that is yes. Students mark lessons as complete as they go and they can take quizes along the way if you use that feature. You can also set up the system to reward the student with a custom certificate on completion.

  12. Sonja Rooney

    Hey Chris

    Thank you so much for the info i will have a look at the Academy theme and the MailChimp integration. Can i please have your email address if i have more questions?


    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Sonja you can contact me any time through the contact form here: http://www.badgettwebdesign.com/contact/

      If you have a question that you feel like other WordPress LMS website builders might benefit from, you could also post your question in the comments here. Good luck with your project!

  13. simon

    Go with learn dash. It’s infinitely more powerful and by separating backend (plugin/payment processing/membership) and front end (the theme) you have a cleaner and better long term solution. Imo

    • Chris Badgett

      Thanks for the feedback Simon. learndash is a great LMS plugin. I like what you’re saying about separating the backend from the front end. I’m currently taking everything I’ve learned from working on many WordPress LMS sites and building the next generation WordPress LMS solution as a WordPress theme agnostic plugin with a team of talented developers and education pros. It will go live here: http://lifterLMS.com

      A WordPress LMS theme is perfect for some, and a WordPress LMS plugin is better for others in my experience. You’re right in how it’s sort of about the classic friction between form and function, both being important to a WordPress LMS site.

  14. Chris Badgett

    After everything I’ve learned about the WordPress LMS themes and WordPress plugins, I’ve decided to try and build the best WordPress LMS plugin possible (works with any WordPress theme) with the talented team at codeBOX.

    It’s called lifterLMS

    Click here: http://lifterlms.com/

  15. Chris Badgett

    I’ve also started a podcast for people looking create and sell online courses with WordPress. It’s called LMScast: http://lmscast.com . Joshua Millage from codeBOX (another brilliant mind behind lifterLMS http://lifterlms.com) is the cohost.

  16. Joshua Millage

    Thanks for putting this post together. It really helps give me a good landscape of what’s available in the WordPress LMS space.

  17. Jeff

    Chris, Thanks for the info!
    I’m wondering if the Academy theme is a good solution for registering and selling live classes. In the next year I’ll be adding online video courses (which Academy obviously does well). Right now I teach live, locally and am looking for an online registration/payment option that will work for my current live set up as well as the online option next year


    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Jeff,

      I know we connected via email … I just want to share my perspective for the benefit of others looking at this article for a WordPress LMS solution.

      Yes you can use an online WordPress LMS to sell and allow registration of live courses. Essentially the online component would be empty or you could simply publish information about the live event and perhaps list out the syllabus.

      It gets real interesting when you do both live and online as a form of blended learning. We’re adding features currently to Lifter LMS to allow for this.

      We also discussed WordPress plugins like events calander pro by Modern Tribe if you simply want to sell and allow registration for live events and don’t need an online learning management system component.

      Best of luck with your project and keep in touch!

  18. Mischelle

    Hi Chris,

    I am currently doing a review of all the WordPress LMS themes and plugins to decide which one to use.

    I have used a lot of large Learning Management Systems, and I have developed one as a web application which is used by many large clients in Australia, and I was about to re-develop the application but decided to look at WordPress and custom LMS’s for each client instead.

    I develop the training material for my clients in e-Learning authoring software (I use Captivate, iSpring and Articulate depending on the needs of the course) and I export it as SCORM or TinCan compliant…….

    Do you know the best WordPress LMS for importing TinCan or SCORM courses or at the very least uploading a HTML5 formatted course? These are world wide eLearning industry standards and any LMS should have this function, but I can’t seem to find anything about them except LearnDash which has TinCan API. But I was looking for a theme with LMS, rather than a heap of plugins.

    I really hope this makes sense :-) I have spent so much time reviewing these LMS’s that I am getting very confused by them all.

    Thanks in advance

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Mischelle,

      Thanks for stopping by! You know the thing I’ve realized with WordPress LMS solutions and learning management systems in general is that the requirements of the architect tend to get pretty custom pretty quickly.

      I totally agree with the desire for simplicity. I’ve created http://lifterlms.com to work out of the box without a bunch of third party plugins required. It will create a WordPress learning management system without dependencies on third party plugins.

      We also recently recorded a podcast about Tin Can Api Integration: http://lmscast.com/what-is-the-tin-can-api/ We plan on integrating it very soon with LifterLMS.

      In my view WordPress themes are for design and plugins are for functionality. We made a video about that too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LT5bmXUyRkM

      Perhaps get a nice looking theme and a WordPress LMS plugin like http://lifterLMS.com and you’re good to go.

      Let me know if you have further q’s, and thank you for joining the conversation!

      • Mischelle

        Hi Chris,

        I am looking forward to LifterLMS, I have already told a client about it and I told her I would wait until the release and review it for her, I understand the functions of a theme and plugin, and I have already bought both, but the LMS is very confusing to set up and it would be too hard for some of my clients for I am looking for another LMS,

        So once again I can not wait to see LifterLMS. I don’t believe TinCan and SCROM are the bees knees but my bigger clients make this a mandatory requirement for me, so I will have a listen to your podcast.

        Thanks for the reply Chris and I am on the notification list for LifterLMS.


        • Chris Badgett

          Hey Mischelle,

          Thank you for the comment. I know what you mean and agree that TinCan and SCORM are not the bees knees are not necessary for many use cases. Thank you for your interest and support of LifterLMS!

  19. Jessey

    SUPER excited for LIFTER LMS Plugin.

    I’m thinking about building a course learning marketplace site similar to Udemy.

    Plan on using a theme like ‘Marketify’ for the marketplace, and then install Lifter LMS as a plugin. Do you think Lifter LMS will be able to integrate with something like ‘Front-End Submission’ – http://docs.easydigitaldownloads.com/article/336-frontend-submissions-overview-for-the-marketify-theme

    I want to make it so our instructors can create and submit their own content and organize with Lifter LMS

    Thank you!

    • Chris Badgett

      Hey Jessy, At LifterLMS we’re planning on building our own front end submission and expanding on the multi teacher functionality down the road. Thank you for your support! we hope to hear more about your ideal feature requests in our customer forums: https://lifterlms.com/forums/forum/feature-requests/ and on our live customer webinars.

  20. 86Irvin

    I see you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic,
    you can earn additional cash every month because you’ve got hi quality content.
    If you want to know how to make extra money, search for: best adsense
    alternative Wrastain’s tools

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