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6 Best Membership Plugins for Creating Courses on WordPress

Our Top Pick: MemberPress

MemberPress is probably the best-known WordPress membership plugin, for good reason. It's a highly robust offering that does just about anything you could ask. The one drawback is that it has a bit of a learning curve, especially for non-technical users.

Runners-Up

Best for Thrive Themes Users

Best for Highly Technical Courses

Best Free Option

Courses can be a great way to make money and make a difference.

They can also help bring new customers into your small business. But how do you provide those courses online and keep them exclusive to subscribers? Well, if you’ve built a site on WordPress…

WordPress membership plugins can help.

In this post, we’ll be breaking down the top options for creating courses with WordPress plugins. Details coming soon, but for now, here’s our list of the top six:

  1. MemberPress
  2. Thrive Apprentice
  3. Ultimate Member
  4. Members
  5. LearnDash
  6. MemberMouse

Ready to learn more? We’ll go over these six options in more detail below.

First, what are membership plugins?

If you’re a small business, chances are your website is hosted on WordPress. Not only is it the most popular CMS platform, but WordPress is also an affordable, flexible tool.

But WordPress isn’t just for advertising your services or providing contact information. Using plugins, you can extend your website, offering everything from a retail store to real-time appointment booking.

Membership plugins allow you to set aside an exclusive area of your website, available only to those who have a username and password.

Your membership plugin can provide a variety of course-related services, including:

  • Setting up membership tiers
  • Securely collecting payments
  • Managing certifications and course completion feedback
  • Providing customer support
  • Integrating with other services

With a membership plugin, you’ll want to make sure you can easily manage access. If, for instance, you need to revoke someone’s membership, you should have a console that allows you, as admin, to do so with the click of a button.

Some plugins let you set up membership tiers, which means access is controlled based on a member’s payment level. If a member pays more to access advanced courses, for instance, the plugin will automatically open up access to those areas of your site.

With that overview in mind, it’s time to look at some of the best WordPress membership plugins.

1. MemberPress

Entry-Level Price$179.50/year
Free TrialNo
Rating4.75/5

MemberPress is probably the best-known WordPress plugin for creating courses. It’s powerful; you’ll get all the features you need to start selling and managing memberships, as well. You can accept all the most popular payment types, including Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and credit cards. Automated billing lets you set up monthly subscriptions that automatically withdraw the funds after customers opt in.

What I really like, though, is the dashboard that lets you control everything in one place. You can even set up drip content to time your new course release and grant access as you release things to only those who’ve paid for it.

Pros of MemberPress

  • Dashboard makes it easy to set up and manage your paywall
  • The quiz feature lets you easily test students
  • Built-in progress tracking keeps students engaged
  • Students have multiple payment options
  • Customizable coupons can boost your course marketing efforts

Cons of MemberPress

  • Kind of complicated to set up if you aren’t a developer
  • No free trial option
  • No lifetime option
  • Integrations required for some basic features
  • No customization for signups and forms

Check out MemberPress here.

2. Thrive Apprentice

Entry-Level Price$299/year or $149/quarter
Free TrialNo (30-day money-back guarantee)
Rating4.25/5

Some small businesses use courses as a supplement to their offerings or as a marketing tool. For others, courses are a large part of their business model. Thrive Apprentice is for the latter of those two.

With Thrive Apprentice, you can build a brand connected to your courses. A built-in visual editor lets you create a look for your learning section, letting you market it as its own entity, rather than as part of your larger business offerings.

But what I find most useful about Thrive Apprentice is that your membership gives you access to the entire Thrive Themes suite of tools. These include solutions that can help you build and grow your courses, including a quiz builder and a comments plugin.

Pros of Thrive Apprentice

  • Access to other Thrive Themes tools
  • Dedicated visual editor makes branding easy
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Quarterly payment option available

Cons of Thrive Apprentice

  • No free trial offered
  • Payment processing requires separate Thrive theme
  • Setup can be complicated
  • Slow customer service response

Check out Thrive Apprentice here.

3. Ultimate Member

Entry-Level Price$249
Free TrialYes
Rating4.25/5

For more advanced users, Ultimate Member might be a great choice. You’ll get a full suite of features, but the interface can be overwhelming for some.

Ultimate Member makes it easy to create profiles for each student, and those students can manage their profiles themselves. This includes adding personal information that can help you build a community.

If you’re looking to create a learning community on your WordPress site, Ultimate Member is definitely worth considering.

Pros of Ultimate Member

  • Free option comes packed with plenty of features
  • Students have control over their profiles
  • Community-building tools help engage students
  • Role-based menus let you manage access
  • Paid integration with WooCommerce

Cons of Ultimate Member

  • Learning curve for those newer to WordPress setup
  • Emphasis is on building community, not restricting access
  • Payment gateways aren’t available in the free version

Check out Ultimate Member here.

4. Members

Entry-Level PriceFree
Free TrialN/A
Rating3.5/5 (but it’s free!)

You can’t beat the price with this tool, which is available for free. But there’s a catch. You can use Members to control access to your content, but you’ll need to purchase other plugins to fully set up and manage your courses.

Members is designed to supercharge WordPress’s roles and capabilities, something you previously needed a developer to manage. You can assign access rights to your users and protect your course content to make it available only to those who have paid.

Members is great if your goal is to manage access, but you’ll need to use other plugins to get all the features you’ll need. The good news is, it easily integrates with all the apps necessary to fully set up WordPress courses. 

Pros of Members

  • No cost
  • Easy to install and use
  • Full suite of access management features
  • Integrates with many popular membership tools
  • Can hide your site from public view

Cons of Members

  • Lacking many of the features for course management
  • No reporting tools
  • Can’t easily import member lists
  • Constant pop-ups, requesting that you rate the tool

Check out Members here.

5. LearnDash

Entry-Level Price$24/month
Free TrialNo
Rating4.25/5

If you’re searching for a full-fledged learning management system, take a look at LearnDash. Designed with the help of e-learning experts, LearnDash has all the tools you need to launch your courses.

What I love about LearnDash is how easy it is to embed videos in your course content. You can combine this with text-based content to create engaging coursework. LearnDash offers a variety of templates to help you create visually appealing course pages, even if you have no design expertise.

LearnDash integrates with a wide range of WordPress plugins to help you process payments, schedule meetings, and sell courses. You can also use the tool to set prerequisites, allowing only those who have met those requirements to move forward.

Pros of LearnDash

  • Drag-and-drop interface makes course development easy
  • Monthly subscription option
  • Robust course development offerings
  • Templates help you create professional-looking pages
  • Drip-feed content option available

Cons of LearnDash

  • Third-party apps required for payment acceptance
  • Integration necessary for some advanced features
  • No 30-day trial offered
  • Marginal customer support

Check out LearnDash here.

6. MemberMouse

Entry-Level Price$29/month
Free TrialYes
Rating4.25/5

MemberMouse specializes in monetization. Businesses of all sizes can use it to add product sales, subscriptions, and services to a WordPress site.

Payments are where MemberMouse really shines. You can offer a range of options to your members, including flexible payment options and coupon codes. The interface makes it easy to customize your checkout to cover all of your unique offerings.

For course creators, though, the ability to create dynamic pages is a huge bonus. You can drill all the way down to the individual student level, ensuring that each user has a different experience based on the access you’ve granted.

Pros of MemberMouse

  • Monthly subscription option
  • Free trial available
  • Quick and easy installation
  • Easily import existing membership lists
  • Easy checkout process for customers
  • Variety of payment integrations available
  • Comprehensive reporting tools

Cons of MemberMouse

  • Customer support only available to premium members
  • Can have a steep learning curve
  • Tough for developers to customize

Check out MemberMouse here.

Do I need membership plugins for my WordPress courses?

Creating a course has never been easier, thanks to the many tools now available. But even the most comprehensive course-building software won’t help if you don’t have a way to control access.

With membership plugins, you restrict access to only those who are authorized. That allows you to “drip-feed” content to users as needed. Often, this technique is used to give students access to the next module in a series. As they complete Module 1, for instance, students are moved to Module 2. You can also tier access so that students see content specific to their skill and knowledge levels.

Best of all, with membership plugins, you can monetize your content. Users will need to register before they can access courses, and you can set it up that registration requires payment. Some membership plugins include payment processing tools, while others integrate with separate plugins that offer that functionality.

What is the difference between WordPress membership plugins and LMS plugins?

If you’re looking for an all-in-one course creation tool, a learning management system (LMS) can be tempting. The problem with an LMS is that courses and access are built into the system itself. You may be given a dashboard to manage things, but you won’t have the same level of control you’d get with a membership plugin.

Membership plugins are, first and foremost, designed to let you manage access to your content. Whether yours comes with other features or simply integrates with popular coursework and payment plugins, a membership plugin puts you in control.

With membership plugins, you not only control member access, but you choose how your content is organized. Once a member has signed up, you determine access and adjust it as needed. If you decide to go with an LMS for your small business, make sure you have the membership management features you want.

How do I install my WordPress course membership plugin?

If you’re like me, the thought of messing with plugins can feel a little overwhelming. At one time, the process was fairly involved.

These days, though, it’s fairly easy. You’ll simply go to your WordPress dashboard, choose Plugins, and select Add new. You can search by plugin name or type and browse the results until you see what you want. Then simply click Install now to add it to your website. Once it’s installed, you’ll have to activate it.

The toughest part is knowing which plugins you need. There are so many now available, you’ll have to do research to make sure you’re getting the best one to fit your needs.

Final thoughts on WordPress membership plugins for course creation

Whether you’re building a new site or adding courses to an existing site, WordPress plugins make things easy. You just find the plugin you want and follow the instructions to add it to your WordPress dashboard.

It all can get a little overwhelming, so for me, it’s easier to take things one step at a time. That means first installing the membership plugin, then building the course and setting up payment. The best thing about this process is that you can wait until everything’s in place and even test payments before you start inviting students.

When looking for a membership plugin, first outline your needs. You’ll probably want a plugin that’s easy to use while also providing all the features necessary to deliver your courses and manage access. Once everything’s set up, then you can shift your focus to promoting your courses and bringing more members your way.

Ready to get started? Happy teaching!

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