Finding the best LMS learning management theme for WordPress is almost impossible and very time-consuming. The reason for this is mostly based on the fact that those who program and design the themes focus on the “candy” instead of the actual features which are:
- Course creation
- Course quizzes
- Course certificates
- Course achievements
Instead, most WordPress themes begin to list their features with all the amazing plugins they include to make the theme look pretty but not practical.
How to find the right LMS theme for your website
A quick google search is all that’s needed to get the links for the major marketplaces who specialize in selling WordPress themes, plugins and more. I’ve spent countless hours reading the descriptions and realized early on that the pattern is a well-written write-up that lists the “pretty” features and somewhere towards the bottom of the list the actual LMS features get sort of mentioned. Many times, they point to a 3rd party plugin and even worse, upon closer inspection, additional upgrades would have to be purchased in order to get all the features.
I can’t name any specific themes because I don’t want to put the publishers at a disadvantage but then again, I am in need of a product and so far, the end result is very different from the description. I’ve even wasted money on an LMS them which was pulled from the catalog a few days after I purchased.
So in order to find out if a learning management theme is right for your project, you need to start reading comments.
Read the comments before you buy
The marketplace I use to find my WordPress theme features the usual theme preview, then a support tab which has some contact information for the author and lastly, the comment section. It is the comment section where you’ll find out fast if the theme is worth your time. After all, that is what it’s all about. Time. We have very little of it and creating an online eLearning site takes countless hours. Sadly, if the wrong theme was chosen, 100’s of hours are wasted and the journey starts again. This is not what anyone wants to do.
If the comments section doesn’t raise any flags, then it’s time to test the theme. Most theme authors have temporary admin accounts implemented and if that’s not the case, then you must ask to get a one-time access to the backend. Do not buy a theme by just looking at the description and trying the demo. The demo and the site you are actually creating are probably two very different things.
Don’t buy cheap
Some marketplaces have price tags that are somewhat unrealistic and it plays to browse the top links in order to find the theme you want to research at the best price. I buy almost all of my themes from a website that features LMS-ready templates from $29 to $63 plus a processing fee and tax. I regret the cheaper purchases because they lack something which might not be obvious at the time of purchase. For example, the certificate preview picture looked good at first but upon creating and printing a real certificate, the formatting is way off and after many tries to fix the shortcomings with custom CSS, one simply has to realize that the quality of the certificate is not suitable for the products. Been there, done that.
So what is the solution?
Although there are not many actual eLearning sites out there which have successfully been created with WordPress, there are some and those who look good, seem to have been made with a 3rd party plugin or custom programming. Realizing this, I too am looking into developing our own LMS WordPress theme for the Little Composers Online School of Music and Composition website. If you are a perfectionist like me, then starting from scratch is perhaps the best option. There are open-source frameworks which look promising but in the end, only a competent PHP programmer will be able to fine-tune a template so that it truly delivers the ultimate user experience.
What to do until you find that perfect theme
Yes, I’d love to have online classes and certification in place yesterday but in reality, I am months away from delivering a robust setup. Right now, I am using a well-written WordPress plugin called WP Pro Quiz which gives me a head-start. The plugin hasn’t had an update for a while but it still works perfectly on the latest 4.7 WP version. I know that the quizzes I create now will have to be redone once an actual theme is found. I am OK with that because providing online classes is not only a learning process for the students, it is also a learning experience for me.
My first quiz “Notes have names” is now available for testing and over the next few weeks I will publish a few more quizzes. For now, I’ll issue the certificates manually. It’s too early to tell how long this can be maintained but … where there is a will, there is a way.
I haven’t found the perfect LMS WordPress theme yet but succeeding means to never give up. I know that somewhere out there someone is coding something that might just be worth rethinking my strategy. Therefore, I comb the new submissions section often because there is always hope for something new and good.
If you have questions or additional insight then I’d be happy to read your comment regarding online learning solutions, especially if they help me to implement this feature and move on to the next challenge.
Update: March 3, 2017
The Little Composers Online School of Music and Composition now uses a new LMS theme which, after a lot of additional configurations, looks promising. I’ll post updates on the theme as it matures.