This is Part 2 of my LMS series, designed to help you decide which LMS solution is best for you: plugins, themes, or standalone platforms. In Part 1, you read about my top choices for LMS plugins. If you didn't read Part 1, click here to check it out. In this part, I’ll talk about LMS themes. You’ll learn what they are, when you should consider them and the pros and cons. Ready?
Why Is This Worth Your Time?
If you’re using Wordpress and want to create an online course, you may be feeling confused about how to actually get your course out into the world. There are so many options out there. On top of that, just figuring out when one solution is best can be a job in itself. This article will help you understand the difference between an LMS plugin and a theme and how they work together.
How Plugins and Themes Work Together
In Part 1, you learned that LMS plugins are great if you’re using Wordpress and want to publish your course on your existing site. For example, say you have a site called coursegenius.com, with a blog and other content. After building your audience, you decide to create a course and want to use a plugin to do so.
To do that you’ll need to do a new, clean install of Wordpress so your course content can have its own home, separate from your regular content. So you setup a subdomain. Maybe learn.coursegenius.com where you install your theme and plugin.
Now, you might use the same theme as your parent site, for a consistent branding experience, but what if that theme doesn't "work" for online courses? That’s where LMS themes come into play.
What is an LMS Theme?
An LMS theme is a paid premier Wordpress theme designed specifically for creating, marketing and selling online courses. Themes usually integrate with LMS plugins. Think of it this way: your LMS theme controls the look and feel, while the plugin controls the functionality.
Is an LMS Theme Right For You?
Possibly. An LMS theme would be right for you if:
You use Wordpress
You want to keep your content on your hosted server and domain
You want to custom code the template style (or pay someone to) to make it your own
You want to create an online school and offer multiple courses
You want to pay one price instead of paying for a monthly SAAS platform
Where to Find LMS Themes
So, if any of those points sound like you, you’re probably wondering: “But Janelle, where would I find an LMS theme?” Lucky for you, I’ve narrowed it down to two places. There’s no “best” here. It all comes down to which theme functions the way you want it to. Here are your options:
Themes to check out on ThemeForest
ThemeForest is a huge repository of Wordpress themes made by developers. There’s lots of good stuff there, but it can be overwhelming to sort through. I’ve made it easy by listing the top 5 LMS themes on ThemeForest.
eLearning WP from ThimPress
LMS by designthemes
WPLMS by vibethemes
Academy by themex
Guru by designthemes
A Word About CourseCats
I’m hesitant to put CourseCats here because, even though it’s a Wordpress theme, the pricing model and design is very much like an LMS platform, which I’ll cover in Part 3. Also, I haven’t used CourseCats yet (review coming up soon). I have heard good things from a handful of users, though, so I thought it was worth including.
LMS themes work best if you have a lot of courses you want to create and sell and want to create your own school. Even so, there are only three reasons I think it makes sense to consider LMS themes. I'll call these the "pros":
You want to keep costs low - Most themes on ThemeForest are only $59. Paying one price for a theme (and plugin) is much cheaper than paying a monthly fee for access to a LMS platform. The exception is CourseCats. David Garland’s pricing model is a monthly or annual fee. Honestly, if I were going to pay a recurring cost, I’d just choose a platform like Fedora or Teachery for ease of use and bundle the cost into my course price.
Customization is very important to you - If you’re a coder, a theme will let you customize just about anything so you can align your course site with your brand.
Having your content on your server is very important to you - If you aren’t comfortable having your content hosted by a third-party platform and want to have it on Wordpress so you can back it up and sleep better at night, this is the way to go.
Oh, but there are cons...
More Time and Effort. Creating an online course is overwhelming enough. You don’t want to have to worry about technology. With an LMS theme and plugin, you may find yourself spending a lot of time tweaking things to be just right. Especially if you're not a coder.
Support May Not be up to Par. When you buy a third party theme, you run the risk of not getting the support you need. That’s why SAAS platforms are so popular—there’s a support staff. If the folks who designed a theme decide to stop supporting it or disappear, well there’s that.
Limited Plugin Compatibility - Many of the themes I explored only worked with WooThemes plugins—Sensei and WooCommerce, specifically--or a limited number of options. So if you use a different LMS plugin, there’s a chance the theme wouldn’t work for you.
Overall, I’m not a huge fan of LMS themes. Unless you fall into one of the 3 reasons I mention above. In general, I think the hassle of customizing them to work the way you want is just too much. Zen Courses is all about simplicity. Finally, when it comes to CourseCats, you can get more for your money by using an LMS platform like Teachable, Teachery or Ruzuku.