Choosing a Moodle theme

While you may simply choose a theme based on the way it looks, smart people know that themes are more than skin deep. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a Moodle theme:

  • Make sure that the theme is compatible with the version of Moodle you want to implement. If it is not, contact the developer/vendor to find out if that was an oversight, or if they are imminently planning on releasing an update in the near future.
  • Choose a layout that you like. Changing the layout usually means changing the theme source code which makes it hard to upgrade down the road without always having to re-apply your customizations each time. For example, although Essential is a nice theme with lots of options, it is really a 3 column design (content + 2 columns of menus) which severely limits the space available for your course content.
  • Make sure that the theme is highly customizable (lots of options -- like Adaptable) -- unless the theme is perfect as is.
  • Make sure the theme has no HTML errors.
  • Keep in mind that colours can be customized through CSS. Be weary of nice looking themes like Enlightlite that have "Predefined color schemes" unless you absolutely love one of them.
  • Is RTL (right to left text direction) important? Keep it in mind.
  • Are Moodle custom menus supported? It is always surprising to me when one doesn't.
  • Make sure the theme is responsive -- works on Mobile and Desktop devices without having to zoom in.
  • Make sure the theme is as compliant with WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines as possible. Note that I have yet to find a free or commercial theme that meets accessibility guidelines.
  • Make sure the theme includes multilingual support -- important if you have a multilingual or non-English website.
  • Can make the theme look like your organizations main website -- branding is important and it will help students feel like Moodle is an extension of the corporate website instead of a completely different and potentially unrelated website.
  • Support -- If it is a commercial theme, is the developer responsive to your inquiries? If they don't respond to your pre-sales inquiries, don't assume it will get any better after you give them your money. For free themes, where do you go in order to get support? Don't get me wrong, there is a healthy Moodle community out there willing to help out. Some free themes. like Adaptable, do have a paid support options.
  • Is the theme currently actively being developed? If it hasn't been updated in a while, that could be a bad sign. Check with the developer though, he/she might be working on a new release.
  • Does the theme try to change how Moodle works? While a noble cause, this can also easily create compatibility issues in the future.
  • Does the theme slow down your Moodle site? Moodle is already pretty resource intensive and the last thing you need is something more slowing it down.
  • Is the theme student oriented? I've used some themes that were definitely created by developers for developers.
  • Is the theme within your budget? Keep in mind that, although it is nice to get things like Moodle, plugins and themes like Academi¬†for free, considering the overall cost of setting up your website, the price commercial theme developers like RemUI and Lambda charge or the support fee some free theme developers charge, it is a relative minor cost… and the money you pay will go towards supporting and encouraging further development so that your theme doesn't end up deprecated. Don't let the price of a theme be a determining factor unless it absolutely needs to be.
  • Does it look professional and clean?

Personally, I have had a lot of success with Adaptable. It is super configurable which is great because it doesn't look so hot out of the box (IMHO). However, tweak the settings and it can look amazing. And if you have multiple sites -- such as for development, staging, etc -- it has the option of exporting settings and importing them into another Moodle site.

Where can you find Moodle themes?

Hope this helps. Best regards,

Michael Milette


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