The Dummies Guide to LMS vs. Membership vs. E-Commerce Plugins

LMS vs Membership vs eCommerce

I’ve heard one question coming up again and again recently from prospective customers contacting us about WP Courseware.

Want to know what it is?

“Help! Do I need an LMS plugin or a membership plugin or an e-commerce plugin or all off the above?”

And this is really a tough question to answer because it’s your business and there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer.

Typically, I’ll begin my response by asking a couple of thought-provoking questions. A lot of WordPress users like to dive right in and just play with new plugins without really making a determination as to which solution fits a specific need. If you’re that person, by all means grab a copy of WP Courseware (15% OFF) and a membership plugin like Paid Memberships Pro (Free) and go to town. But if you’d rather dig a little deeper and really figure out which solutions work best for your site, then continue reading.

My first question I’d start with is this…

Aside from courses, are you selling anything else on your site?

If you put the courses aside, are you still going to charge for the content you’re delivering? If so, you’re probably going to be creating premium memberships.

If the goal of your site is to create a community of people and provide them with premium content that will be updated frequently, then it would make sense to use a membership plugin like MemberPress or WishList Member. These plugins allow you to protect content based on membership levels. You can decide if you’re going to have multiple levels (ie. Silver, Gold, Platinum, Uranium, etc.) and charge more for higher value content.

Just keep in mind that not all membership plugins are created equal. For example, there are some membership plugins that will allow your users to be members of multiple levels while some membership plugins will only allow for one level per customer. Be sure you know what features the membership plugin includes before purchasing. Here’s the key…if you want to protect premium content behind a membership wall, you’ll need a membership plugin. Plain and simple.

This is a bit off topic, but did you notice that mentioned “community of people”?

Membership sites are truly a community of people and if you can provide a method for your community to interact, you’ll add a ton of value to your membership site and potentially reduce the churn rate which is notoriously associated with monthly membership sites. Simply adding a forum plugin like bbPress or even a social plugin like BuddyPress will give your membership site a community feel. And speaking of BuddyPress, WP Courseware now has integration with BuddyPress so you can create a social network around each of your courses.

And you can even venture outside of WordPress to create community within your membership site. I’ve seen some really awesome membership sites like Michael Hyatt’s Platform University which has excellent premium content, however, the forum is not a WordPress plugin. He uses IP Board which is a forum software that can be self-hosted or cloud-hosted, but in this case the forum matches the WordPress website color scheme so it almost looks like it’s part of the website. Facebook groups are another great option.

Of course, there are some instances in which you’ll want to have protected content but also sell digital products like ebooks, videos, or downloads. In these instances, you can use a membership plugin like iThemes Exchange Pro Pack or MemberMouse which allow you to have a membership level but also sell products/bundles. This type of solution is pretty flexible because now you have a platform in which  you can sell digital products AND your premium content.

Lastly, there will be businesses that want to sell digital products only, so e-commerce plugins are a better fit. There are several really awesome free e-commerce plugins that can help you sell digital products. Easy Digital Downloads, iThemes Exchange, or WooCommerce can give you the ability to get up and running with a digital store quickly.

Moving on to the second question I ask site owners…

Are you serious about putting a focus on selling courses?

There is lots of money to be made in online courses (no matter how “niche”) and if your answer is yes, then you’ll need a full-featured LMS solution. Distance education has evolved from a way for universities to keep students from having to travel to a campus to an efficient way for anyone to teach anything.

There are several reasons for this “learning revolution”. Technology has evolved and now the cost of running a website is inexpensive and building one is easy. And with internet speeds on the rise around the world, almost anyone can view high-quality media content.

This makes for a powerful combination because now you can teach your course to students on the other side of the world and it doesn’t require a real time presence nor does it require that you have a 4 year degree or certificate to teach. You just need a skills which people want to learn and a website.

Then, of course, there’s WordPress. In my humble (but biased) opinion, one of the reasons courses are so easy to deliver is because we have a powerful, yet simple CMS to work with and lots of plugins (like WP Courseware) to deliver content.

An LMS like WP Courseware protects content only within the course, so if you need your pages/posts protected you may want to consider using both a membership plugin and WP Courseware. WP Courseware allows you to set up your courses, modules, units and quizzes and organize them via drag and drop user interface making it super easy to get started with a course.

Another feature that comes with WP Courseware that you won’t see in a membership plugin is a grade book. The grade book gives you insight to your students grades and progress. Then with some bells and whistles like automatic notifications and automatic grading on certain quiz questions, your course can really be set on autopilot. To sum it up, WP Courseware provides the ability to protect and organize courses, create quizzes, track student grades, evaluate progress, and drip course content.

WP Courseware can be used for teaching just about anything, but the really cool thing is that you can sell your courses. With the rising cost of school tuition, you can tailor your course to a specific trade or talent, and teach people for a fraction of what they would pay at a university or even a local community college. People who have the desire to teach can now enter the entrepreneurial realm with a platform like WP Courseware because now they can get paid to teach their talent on the internet. To top it off, you can set up a course alongside a membership or eCommerce plugin and fully automate your course program from sales, to enrollment, to quiz grading, to certificate distribution.

WP Courseware can integrate with several membership and eCommerce plugins which already have built in payment gateways. This allows you to sell your courses, membership levels, and/or digital products with ease. As previously mentioned, you can also add a forum plugin like bbPress or a social plugin like BuddyPress to create a community for your students which will also add value to your course.

So which solution is best?

It’s pretty simple actually…

  • If you just need to protect your pages/posts, go with a membership plugin.
  • If you want to protect content and sell digital downloads, then you may want to find a membership plugin that allows you to sell digital products.
  • If you just need to sell digital downloads, then you simply need an e-commerce solution.
  • If you want to create and publish courses, the you’ll want an LMS solution like WP Courseware. Just keep in mind that WP Courseware integrates with several membership plugins and eCommerce plugins.

What do you use?

Let us know in the comments which membership/ecommerce solution(s) you’re using for your WordPress site. We hope you are using WP Courseware, and if not, we invite you to get it today because we know you will love it! In fact, click here to get your copy of  WP Courseware with 15% off.


  1. Wolfram on June 13, 2016 at 8:10 am

    On one site i work with woocommerce, WP Courseware and UserPro. But i think it is not the best solution. So i search for a simple frontend user profile system. I need only profile settings and a view to woocommerce products and the courses. Thanks for the post.

  2. Cang Nguyen on November 18, 2016 at 11:01 pm


  3. Jessica Abenduchi on May 28, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Interesting ideas! A nice summary that I will share with my team. Thank you! – Jessica

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