LearnDash vs LifterLMS vs Thrive Apprentice: Find the Best One For You

Author 
Chipo   0

Updated on November 13, 2023

Are you trying to decide which is the best WordPress LMS plugin to start your online course business: LearnDash vs LifterLMS vs Thrive Apprentice?

Whether you’re looking for a new learning management system (LMS) plugin to revamp your online course business, or you’re a business owner who wants to start selling online courses, this is a guide you need to read.

The journey to running a successful online course business begins with selecting the right WordPress LMS plugin.

In this article, we’ll compare three major players in the market: LearnDash, LifterLMS and Thrive Apprentice. 

Let’s dive in!



The Importance of Choosing the Right Course-Creating Plugin

If you want to run a successful online course business, you need to provide your students with an amazing e-learning experience.

To do that, you need to make sure that you create your online course platform with the right WordPress LMS plugin. There are a lot of WordPress LMS plugins to choose from – and many of them say they’re the best.

But if you aren’t careful with your selection, you’ll end up with a janky plugin that doesn’t offer you the right features and functionality you need to create a seamless learning experience for your students.

Your students’ experience with your online courses matter because this will influence their decision to:

  • Purchase more of your courses after completing the first one

  • Refer your courses to their friends, family, and colleagues

  • Leave a glowing testimonial about your courses and their experience with your platform

  • …and more.

In turn, this determines whether your online course business will grow…or not.

With the right WordPress LMS plugin, you can deliver high-value courses to your students and make them return for more. 

And you can do all this without having to learn complex code or hiring a team of designers and developers.

Choosing the right WordPress LMS plugin could be the key to growing a thriving online course business; and the wrong one could lead to costly losses.

That’s why we’ve created this in-depth review to help you make the right choice.

LearnDash vs LifterLMS vs Thrive Apprentice: Which Should You Choose?

To help you decide, we'll be examining three WordPress drag and drop course builder plugins – LearnDash, LifterLMS and Thrive Apprentice – and drawing comparisons in the following categories:

  • Ease of Setup

  • Ease of Use

  • Templates and Design Options

  • Drip Function, Cohort-Based Course Capability, and Access Restrictions

  • Integration and Compatibility

  • Built-In Reporting and Analytics

  • Quizzes and Assessments

  • Certificates

  • Customer Support and Documentation

  • Pricing

At the end of our analysis, we’ll tally up the scores and make our final recommendation. 

Ready to take a deep dive into these top LMS plugins? Let’s go!

Ease of Setup

A course-building plugin helps you get started quickly, smoothly, and without hassle. 

If a tool is too complicated to set up, then there’s a high chance you won’t have a pleasant experience with the rest of it.

Let’s see how our contenders fare.

LearnDash Ease of Setup

LearnDash is a popular, standalone WordPress LMS plugin that’s been in the game for a while. 

A fan-favorite, this plugin is designed to help you build a professional, online course platform & sell your first course in minutes (or hours).

To get started with LearnDash, you’ll need to purchase a license, install the plugin on WordPress, and activate it.

LearnDash has an Onboarding Wizard that helps you, a new user,  set up your courses, lessons, and payments with ease.

LearnDash Onboarding Wizard

LearnDash Onboarding Wizard


There are a series of steps that include validating your license & activating your subscription, defining the types of courses you want to create and sell, and selecting a payment method.

LearnDash Onboarding Wizard

Defining your course types in the LearnDash Onboarding Wizard


Next, you’ll be taken to the LearnDash Design Wizard to create your online course platform’s look. Some of the steps in this process include selecting a starter template, a font, and a color scheme for your course platform.

LearnDash offers a few free pre-designed templates that are made by third-party companies like Astra and KadenceWP.


In their documentation, LearnDash also warns that setting up your template design in the Wizard could overwrite your current WordPress theme and affect your site settings. So, if you have an existing WordPress website, this could create a few issues for you.


There isn’t any clear guidance on how to resolve this issue, so it looks like you’ll need to figure it out on your own. Which could be stressful for new users with limited technical knowledge.

LearnDash Ease of Setup: 7.5/10

LifterLMS Ease of Setup

LifterLMS is another popular WordPress LMS plugin designed to help you create and sell your online courses fast.

Compared to LearnDash and Thrive Apprentice, LifterLMS is a simpler, but less intuitive LMS tool – and you’ll see this as we go through this review.

To get started with LifterLMS, you can download and install the free version, or purchase one of their paid plans through their website.

Once you’ve installed and activated LifterLMS, you’ll be taken through a quick Setup Wizard

Screenshot of LifterLMS Setup Wizard

LifterLMS Setup Wizard


The first thing the Setup Wizard guides you through is creating several core pages for your online courses — a Course Catalog, a Membership Catalog, a Checkout page, and a Student Dashboard.

Other steps in the Setup Wizard also include configuring payment processing for your courses. Once you’ve completed the Wizard, LifterLMS gives you two options: Import Your Courses from another platform or build a new course from scratch.

If you select “Start from Scratch”, you’ll be redirected to the WordPress Editor. Now, LifterLMS doesn’t do well with guiding you on what to do. You kind of have to guess.

You can fill in the information that’s already in front of you, in the Editor, or click “Launch Course Builder” to start building your first course.

Compared to LearnDash and Thrive Apprentice’s Setup Wizards, we found LifterLMS’ setup process to be a little lacking.

LifterLMS Ease of Setup: 5/10

Thrive Apprentice Ease of Setup

Thrive Apprentice, a product from Thrive Themes, is a powerful WordPress LMS plugin that’s designed to help you quickly set up an impressive, branded online school.

Nothing screams “professional” like a fully-branded online course platform, tailored to your students’ experience – and that’s what you get when you choose Thrive Apprentice.

Once you’ve purchased Thrive Apprentice as a standalone plugin, or with our conversion-focused toolkit Thrive Suite, you’ll need to install it on your WordPress website.

Setting up Thrive Apprentice on your website is straightforward and will take you less than 15 minutes to get done. After you’ve activated Thrive Apprentice, things get easier (and much more exciting) from there.

With its powerful School Setup Wizard, you can get started with building your first online course fast. Thrive Apprentice also includes a straightforward dashboard for choosing your logo, brand colors, header, footer, lessons templates, sidebar, and more.



And if you aren’t 100% sure of how you want your school to look, you can always come back to (fully) customize it later.

That way, you can set up your online course platform without getting bunkered down by the long, often complex setup that comes with setting up a new WordPress LMS plugin.

Creating your first course is also simple. Once you’ve set up your online school, click “Create your first course” in the Thrive Apprentice dashboard and get started.


You’ll be taken to a dashboard for your online course where you can:

  • Give it a title

  • Choose the type of lesson (text, video, audio, etc.)

  • Add a short summary and cover photo for your course

  • Upload a teacher biography and photo

  • Configure comment settings to allow or prevent your learners from taking courses

  • …and so much more

If you want to add a video or audio lesson, you can simply add your video or audio URL (e.g. YouTube, Bunny.net, Vimeo, etc.).

This is also where you’ll add your lesson text content and any other additional learning resources to help your students progress through the course.

You can watch this video for more details on the process:


When you compare Thrive Apprentice vs LifterLMS, or Thrive Apprentice vs LearnDash, you'll see that Thrive Apprentice’s setup process is far more straightforward and easier for new users to understand.

Thrive Apprentice Ease of Setup: 9/10

Ease of Setup Winner: Thrive Apprentice

LearnDash

LifterLMS

Thrive Apprentice

Thrive Apprentice is miles ahead of its competition when it comes to ease of setup. It’s straightforward, user-friendly, and includes a detailed Setup Wizard that helps you configure your online school and get started with building your first course fast.

By the end of the Setup Wizard, you’ll have an online course platform that has your logo, brand colors, and everything else you need to start building your high-value courses.

Ease of Use

You can’t create a great online course platform if your LMS plugin is hard to use. This next section breaks down what to expect after you’ve set up each of these plugins.

LearnDash Ease of Use

When you use LearnDash, most of your course creation and management will take place from the WordPress Dashboard. If you have other plugins that take up space in your WordPress Dashboard’s sidebar, it might look a little clunky after you install LearnDash.

A good thing LearnDash has done, however, is to dedicate separate tabs to each part of building your online course. But some of these sections are a bit…confusing


When creating your online course, you need to work with the hierarchy LearnDash has provided: Courses -> Lessons -> Topics.

The difference between Lessons and Topics is fuzzy. According to LearnDash, Lessons come before Topics in the course hierarchy. You can create a course that only has lessons, but you can’t have a course with only topics. Topics can only be added beneath lessons.

Another issue we encountered with LearnDash is how they store Lessons, Quizzes, and other assets in the WordPress Dashboard.

They’re stored in a similar way to how WordPress stores your Posts and Pages – which seems fine at first glance. But the more courses, lessons, and quizzes you create, the harder it will be to sort through them and keep track.


When creating or editing your online courses, lessons, topics, etc. you’ll use the WordPress Editor to do so. This can become tedious with time if you’re creating a long course – or need a lot of media assets for your course.


LearnDash’s course builder requires some time to get used to, but every element you need to build your online course is easy to find. 

LearnDash Ease of Use: 7/10

LifterLMS Ease of Use

LifterLMS is not as intuitive as LearnDash or Thrive Apprentice when it comes to ease of use.

Like LearnDash, LifterLMS’ settings are found in the WordPress Dashboard – but they aren’t as detailed.

When you create a new course, you’re taken straight to the WordPress Editor. Here, you’ll need to figure out things on your own. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot to decipher. Click “Course Builder” to work on your course’s lessons and sections.


The Course Builder, from our perspective, is not beginner-friendly. You have to work with a lot of icons that don’t have a lot of instructional text – making it much harder to understand what needs to be done.

LifterLMS does include a tutorial video in its right sidebar, but the platform should still be straightforward enough for you to find your way without getting lost.

LifterLMS Ease of Use: 5/10

Thrive Apprentice Ease of Use

Using Thrive Apprentice is just as straightforward as setting it up. 

The left sidebar in your Thrive Apprentice dashboard helps you switch between the different parts of your online school, making it super easy to manage your courses, students, and digital products.


Let’s break it down:

Courses: Create, edit, or remove your online courses

Members: View information on your students enrolled in your courses

Reports: Study your online course analytics to monitor enrollment numbers, identify areas where your students are getting stuck, pinpoint lessons where your students are dropping off, and more

Design: Customize your course platform’s brand color, course templates, typography, etc.

Products: Create and sell additional digital products like ebooks, PDF guides, forums, and articles

Protected Files: Protect the files you upload to your course platform and prevent students from sharing them with people who aren’t taking your course

Settings: Configure your course platform’s general settings, login & access restrictions, email templates, and more

There’s also a “Preview” function you can use to view your course list page after you’ve made any changes. 

With Thrive Apprentice, you don’t need to switch between your course platform dashboard and the WordPress dashboard to manage your online courses. Everything is managed from one place.

Thrive Apprentice Ease of Use: 9 out of 10

Ease of Use Winner: Thrive Apprentice

LearnDash

LifterLMS

Thrive Apprentice

Thrive Apprentice wins this one again.

This plugin has a clean, user-friendly interface and combined with its easy-to-understand functionality, makes it the best choice for those who want to build their online course platform with ease.

Templates and Design Options

It’s important that your WordPress LMS plugin has a good selection of templates and design options available. 

Having pre-designed layouts available in just a few clicks can be a real game-changer, saving you heaps of time and effort. 

Let’s find out which of our contenders offers the best templates and designs

LearnDash Templates and Design Options

As we mentioned earlier, LearnDash offers a set of templates for you to build your online course platform, but there aren’t specific templates for important pages – e.g. course overview, course lessons, etc.

Most of the templates offered by LearnDash were created by Astra and KadenceWP, two popular third-party WordPress themes.


You can also find LearnDash templates on ThemeForest and similar sites that sell WordPress themes and templates.

If you have an existing WordPress website, though, you may encounter clashes when creating your LearnDash course platform – so keep this in mind.

But the templates they do offer are good enough to create a decent course platform.

In terms of visual editing, LearnDash does not have a dedicated editor for their online courses. 

You can edit the content of these pages using the WordPress Editor, but any changes to the actual page templates require custom theme development.

Their features aren’t exceptional, but they do enough to help you get a good job done.

LearnDash Templates and Design Options: 7/10

LifterLMS Templates and Design Options

LifterLMS is quite lacking in terms of design and template customization.

LifterLMS does not come with ready-made design school, course or lesson templates. Instead, it relies on your existing WordPress theme. This poses a risk of incompatibility issues, like the one below:


LifterLMS also only works with a select list of WordPress themes and page builders. So, be sure to review their documentation before installing the plugin on your Website.

There are some other 3rd party themes that work well with LifterLMS, but this still greatly limits your choices and requires a full site migration if you already have an existing website using an unsupported WordPress theme.

LifterLMS Templates and Design Options: 4/10

Thrive Apprentice Templates and Design Options

When it comes to design, Thrive Apprentice is miles ahead of the competition.

First, templates.

Thrive Apprentice comes with professionally designed templates for all the important pages of your online course:

  • School homepage

  • Course Overview

  • Module overview

  • Lessons (text, video, and audio)

  • Sidebars

  • Login and registration pages

  • Course completion page

Each of these templates is ready to use from the start – just add your course content and you’ll already have a professional and branded online school. And if you want to get creative, you’re free to customize them in any way you want to match your audience, content, and brand.


These templates are independent of the rest of your WordPress website, meaning you can add a professional online school to your existing WordPress theme and customize it the way you want.

Next, let’s discuss visual editing.

Thrive Apprentice includes the Thrive Visual Editor, a powerful drag-and-drop editing tool that lets you build the exact layout and content designs your course needs.

Columns, interactive toggles, and tabs, buttons, content boxes, icons... they’re all easy to add to your course templates or lesson content without any coding or design skills. This means you can quickly add rich media on specific lessons, or embed a video on your module pages.


Last, but certainly not least: Conditional Display.

This is a feature that really makes Thrive Apprentice stand apart from other LMS plugins… 

Conditional Display lets you display different content on the same page to different people, simply based on their status as a visitor, logged-in subscriber, or paying customer. This is the perfect way to give your students a personalized user experience.

Thrive Apprentice also allows you to show different labels on your courses depending on their status... so customers will see a ‘Not Started Yet’ or ‘In Progress’ button that takes them to the start or most recent uncompleted lesson in a course, while people without access with see a ‘Members Only’ or ‘Buy Now’ button that takes them to a sales page.

Thrive Apprentice includes many other conditional and dynamic design elements, such as buttons that only allow confirmed graduates to access their course completion page or download their completion certificates.

Thrive Apprentice Templates and Design Options: 10/10

Templates and Design Options Winner: Thrive Apprentice

LearnDash

LifterLMS

Thrive Apprentice