Remember a little while ago WordPress.com put out it’s education initiative that looked a lot like just a WordPress theme called “chalkboard” which looks a lot like a classroom chalkboard. Automattic obviously read the education studies that show Chalkboards magically help people learn information.
Some people have come out as very critical of this move into education by just putting out a theme without any new enhanced functions to assist online learning but what about some of the other premium themes out there?
Are there other educational themes that are better for using in your classroom?
Two types of Educational Themes
There are two needs within Educational themes. Themes for an Institution and Themes for a classroom or subject (as well as a few that fall in between). Both of these groups have a different function to fulfill and thus they appear differently.
This is the main market place at the moment (presumably because this is where all the money is). An institutional theme is a theme to promote an educational institution.
They are supposed to give a good impression of the school or college and promote the brand. As such they don’t focus on enhancing the features of WordPress for educational purposes but instead focus on providing information about the company and organization.
Generally a good theme is:
- shows contact details
- is visually stimulating with large photos of the institution via sliders
- has different page formats, such as calenders, blog posts, news items, maps etc.
Basically it provides all the information any prospective student may need to contact and decided to choose this institution but not to actually teach the student. Here are some of my favorites:
Academica pro is a fairly standard higher educational theme. If you’ve seen a college or universities website, it probably looks fairly similar to this site.
It look professional and provides plenty of customization options to adapt it for your institution, including, custom logo, sliders, drag and drop design options, different post formats, responsive, and SEO options built in, thus ticking off most of the essential boxes.
Unlike some other educational themes, Dreamy is targeted at younger students, a rare move for the educational theme market. It includes the essential features for a good educational theme such as, a customizable homepage, different post formats, Google maps integration and custom forms.
It’s great for helping people find and contact your institution. Of course, the problem here is that you don’t really need to appeal to the children, you need to appeal to the parents and suggesting a more childish appearance might harm the image you want to project to your audience; the choice is obviously yours.
Education (Genesis Framework)
It would be wrong to mention a theme round up without mentioning Genesis. The Genesis framework has a reputation that will get it far and the sharp design of the education theme does a lot to back up it’s good looking reputation.
However, there are a few features missing from my list, such as contact details, maps, calendars and so on but you can always add these on using plugins.
This is a much neglected area of WordPress because presumably people are targeting institutions with themes and for teaching purposes they are focusing on plugin development instead. However, as the criticisms of Chalkboard serve to show, a specific educational theme with enhanced features would be popular (especially amongst teachers with limited/no WordPress knowledge).
Another factor is the popularity of services like Moodle and Blackboard for classroom learning, these are more suitable for Higher educational groups and not for younger learners where a more child specific would be better.
From my experience, when making a blog for a classrooms teachers choose a default theme such as WordPress.com or Edublogs and use the general themes on offer to create a generic blog that students can show of their work or the teach can pass over notes from or for the last/next class.
Not many teachers (or institutions) bother to host their own blogs for classrooms due to the cost and technical know how required.
An Institutional and a Classroom theme?
There are a few themes that not only provide a great front to interest people in the company but also provide details of the course hidden underneath a student login. These are definitely growing in popularity and use.
Without doubt Academy is the most comprehensive online course theme I have seen so far. It is based on WooCommerce and includes options to set multiple courses, give ratings for work, test students knowledge with quizzes, monitor students progress, and let students give feedback about the course.
Whilst some of these features may not be essential for a traditional educational establishment it is a great option for a business looking to provide a training course online.
This theme is very much targeted at older and online-only learning (though there is no reason it couldn’t be used with blended learning) and so it isn’t a perfect solution for a teacher of 10 year olds looking for a solution for teaching their children.
There are many more educational themes out there but a lot fewer push the boundaries and bring in great new features to assist students learning. I hope to see many more this coming year!