Let’s start with a fun fact…
If you had to guess, how many theme downloads do you think the WordPress theme repository receives per year?
Yep…over 123 million theme downloads across tens of thousands of themes in a single year. It’s a staggering number. But since WordPress now powers over 16 million websites around the globe, it’s not surprising.
And we all love WordPress for one primary reason…extendability. As a novice, you can build out a full website in a matter of hours using standard themes and plugins. As your website, brand, or business grow, your site can grow as well…allowing you to add a theme or plugin to accomplish almost any functionality required without having to learn code or hire a developer.
And that’s great…but where the heck do you start?
It’s All About You!
Well, it’s really all about your visitor.
We’re contacted by dozens of folks each week who are seeking a recommendation on the best theme to use along with our WP Courseware learning management system plugin. At the end of the day, the answer is simple but not very helpful…
Any of them!
WP Courseware will allow you to deliver your online courses with any WordPress theme. In the five and a half years since WP Courseware was launched, we’ve encountered very, very few cases where a theme caused a conflict with any of our plugins.
The most important consideration when choosing a theme for an e-learning site is how it will most effectively deliver your content to your student. That’s of paramount importance.
So your hunt for a theme should start with your student in mind. But as you dig deeper into your search, there are some things to be aware of. Today, I wanted to outline four of the most common mistakes we’ve seen our customers make when choosing a theme to deliver online courses with WordPress in hopes that you can avoid them.
Mistake 1: Don’t restrict your search to free themes.
I’ve interacted with countless customers who are set on not paying a dime for a theme. Their reasoning is obvious…there are tens of thousands of free themes available. Why pay for one?
The answer…because it’s your business! If you were opening a coffee shop, you wouldn’t choose a location in a bad part of town with no traffic just because the rent was low, would you? No! You’d invest in a spot with solid traffic and people willing to spend $4 on coffee because you need to sell coffee to pay the rent.
Every successful business requires a financial investment. While one of the many free themes available may be perfect for your site and your customers, don’t stop your search there. If you find a $50 theme which will save you tons of time configuring the styling of your website and allow you to make changes efficiently, think of it as an investment in your business.
Mistake 2: Don’t begin your search without a list of your “must have” requirements.
It’s easy to just begin browsing and to be honest, when I’m going into a web design project I very often browse through theme marketplaces for inspiration. We use the amazing Beaver Builder page builder plugin which gives you a blank slate to work with, but sometimes it’s helpful for me to have some ideas to begin with.
But with so many themes available, it’s easy to get sucked into previewing demos and reading feature lists and before you know it you’ve wasted hours just “browsing”. You can make the selection process much more efficient by writing out a list of the things you can’t live without…color schemes, navigation elements, etc.
Mistake 3: Don’t rely on your theme for functionality.
I just wrote about this recently, but the best practice within the WordPress community has been and continues to be to use a theme for designing your site and plugins for executing functionality.
I can’t tell you how many people have come to us evaluating WP Courseware after becoming incredibly frustrated that they chose an “LMS theme” and now that they want to change their theme they have no way to continue delivering their course without that theme. So they’re then saddled with the task of completely recreating their course(s) using a plugin after learning this lesson the hard way.
There are hundreds of themes out there now which promise an “all in one” solution by packing functionality into themes. It’s easy to be tempted to save a few bucks by killing two birds with one stone, but in the long run you’ll end up with severe limitations and frustration.
Mistake #4: Don’t forget about responsiveness.
Over 70% of students who have enrolled in an online course report that they have accessed that course at least once from a mobile device. Interestingly enough, almost 50% report that they’ve also accessed an online course on a mobile device while in bed, but that’s another story.
If you’re evaluating themes to use alongside your WordPress LMS plugin, you must, must, must test prospective themes for mobile responsiveness. Most themes have sites dedicated to live previews, so there’s no excuse for not gathering up your phone and tablet and taking those previews for a test drive.
Do you have any other “hard knock lessons” you’ve learned by making mistakes when implementing a theme to deliver your online courses with WordPress? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!