A real challenge in online course design is achieving balance between an attractive theme and the learning core. People often get caught up in all of the exciting visual elements available to them with WordPress themes, but too many design elements, or a lack of visual continuity, can distract users from course content and make your course modules hard to use.
Because of this potential for user distraction and confusion, a minimalist approach is generally the best way to design your online course offerings. Future episodes of LMScast will cover design subjects like flip classrooms and blended learning for WordPress based LMS in depth. Right now let’s start with the basics of choosing the best WordPress theme to support and enhance your online learning environment.
The reason minimalism works well for elearning is because the focus of your course is the course content. Content includes audio, video, images and text. Content is what people really want to buy from you, so design should be clean and professional with the focus on learning.
Creating simple design that works sounds easy, but it’s actually more challenging to make fewer design elements deliver more impact while making your content both attractive and accessible. You also want to make sure your design promotes your branding, makes navigation intuitive, and creates a cohesive look to your course offerings. Some of the ways this can be accomplished include:
- Choosing fonts and typography that are complimentary and easy to read
- Using a simple yet visually attractive color scheme
- Designing for multiple viewing platforms, including mobile devices
- Keeping your design visually engaging without being distracting
The visual design of your online courses is crucial to how your customers and users will perceive the quality of your elearning products. Your users need to experience easy access to content in an online environment that keeps them engaged and helps them learn. Lifter LMS will offer you exceptional choices in minimalistic, focused theme options to make users want to interact with your courses.
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Joshua: Hello, everyone. We’re back with another episode of LMSCast. I am Joshua Millage and I’m joined today with my good friend Christopher Badgette. Today, we’re talking about something really, really, really important and it’s all about design. We’re going to give you some WordPress based LMS theme design ideas and I want to start it off because I think a lot of us think we have to add a lot of elements to our design to make it really, really important and flashy, and to get people interested. That’s just not the case.
Actually, as Chris, you’re going to recommend. You suggest doing completely the opposite being a minimalist. What do you mean by that? How do you be a minimalist with your course, the visual design of your course?
Christopher: Well, for a WordPress based LMS, we talk about design a lot. We’re going to do more episodes in the future about instructional design and this designing learning, and these things like flip classrooms, and all these other ways of looking at learning, and blended learning online. That’s not what we’re talking about today.
What we’re talking about, which is also a rabbit hole we’ve seen people go down not just in LMS, but in the WordPress base in general is like, “Oh, my God. Which theme am I going to use for my WordPress website?” People spent a lot of time looking and shopping around for WordPress themes. In this episode, we’re going to talk specifically about a WordPress LMS theme and what you want to look for if you’re into minimalism.
Let me start off by saying, the reason minimalism is really important in eLearning is because when you get somebody into your site either before they buy the course or sign-up and subscribe, or while they’re inside the course itself, minimalism is great because you’re not distracting people with bright colors and fancy images around the content. You want the focus to be on your actual course content which may include video, audio, and text. That’s why minimalism is so powerful just to keep the focus on the learning and not on the design.
Joshua: Right. I think it’s huge. I think there’s a couple plugins that have recently been released that do a really good job of keeping the minimalist focus. My hat’s off to actually to a competitor of ours which is Derek Halpern in Zippy Courses because that theme that comes with that plugin is really, really beautiful in my mind. I think they did an incredible job of just making that really clean-cut and making the courses stand out on their own two feet which is huge, so hats off to those guys.
I know that we have plans in the progression for a lifter to create a really minimalistic focused theme that people can use or choose not to. They can integrate it into their own sites, but I think the huge part about it is just keeping the focus on the course content and not distracting the course content. That’s why people buy. That’s why people are with you. That’s why they’re students is they want your content. They don’t want the crazy.
If you’re thinking about the late 1990s, early 2000s, the arrow is here and the highlighted stuff. It’s like we don’t need that anymore. We just need the course content. What are some other ideas, Chris, that you would suggest for listeners?
Christopher: Well, if you’re getting a minimalist design, it’s actually really challenging. It sounds like, “oh, I just put less on there,” but it’s really an art to what to take away. But let me back into how you can do that and say that just because you’re a minimalist in taking things away or not putting some things there, you still have a huge opportunity for branding and injecting design into the user experience. A couple of key areas of that, I can just give two really great examples.
One is typography which includes your font selection. That can be huge in the general vibe of your site. I never recommend using more than two, three maximum fonts on your site. Even in most cases, one font for everything is great. If you want to do two fonts in web design, and this comes through in learning management systems when you have a headline and then the actual body text or the paragraph text below that. You can have a different font for the headings they’re called and then a complimentary font for the actual body, but focus on making it readable. Don’t get too creative on it so that it’s hard to read. Think about the fact that someone may be experiencing your course on a smartphone, so that font needs to be really readable.
If you want to look at some great Google web font combinations which Google web fonts are free to use, you can just Google that, Google web font combinations and you can find some great examples of complimentary fonts that go well together. Within fonts it’s also like the size you select. If you have an older audience, maybe you want to go to a bigger font like 16 or even 18 pixels … Go ahead.
Joshua: I just want to jump in here, Chris. I just read an article about conversion which is not, I don’t think, the primary focus of people who are learning management systems, but one thing that we talk a lot about is engagement. Readability is a big part of that. It was suggesting that you should use a Sans Serif font for the headline and a Serif font for the body text, and create that variation between the two just for readability. The I sees the differentiation in the two fonts styles and it allows you to see the sections and the headers, and things a little bit easier.
I do think that that’s important though to consider when you’re putting together the visual design because you want the I to be able to track through the content. You don’t want it to be fatigued. You don’t want it to look like a wall of text. You don’t want people to be like, “Ah! I get so …” You know? This is one of my biggest frustrations actually with a big player in the market, Blackboard, is they lock down these styles. It’s really frustrating because you can’t modify the look and feel.
If you take a course from Phoenix, well, I think the University of Phoenix is on some other system now, but I’ve taken a lot of online courses in my day and they all look the same. Then your eye, you just get tired of it, man. You’re just like, “I want to do something else.” I think it’s important to have some slight variation, but take into consideration that it is important to make things beautiful. You know?
Christopher: Absolutely. That’s a great point about avoiding the wall of text. Another thing you can do is just focus on the spacing between the letters in addition to font size. Also, like Joshua is saying, to avoid a wall of text consider just using bullet points more and more headlines and sub-headlines to break it up because the reality is, online, even in WordPress based LMS online courses is people scan. If you want to capture them while they’re scanning and not intimidate them with walls of text, use those other things in your actual content and that comes through as a form of design and branding.
The other big one I just want to bring to light is if you were only going to focus on two things for a minimalist design, I would say typography which we just discussed and then color. Really, when it comes down to color, keep your color palette simple. I like the idea of the action color for links and buttons. If somebody can click on something, make that just one color so that they know, OK, here is something that’s bright blue or here is something that’s green or pink, or whatever it is, but just use only that color for links and buttons, and things of that nature.
Then the actual text content itself, go with something pretty plain like a gray. That’s, in minimalist design, a big mistake people make is they think in terms of black and white. But if you really open up your mind to the full spectrum of grays, you can create incredible design especially for just body fonts by using different shades of gray that look great and elegant, and high-end, and polished.
Joshua: I love that. Well, I think we’ve given a lot of great design tips today. I hope people take this into consideration because I think the LMS community as a whole could use a little bit of a design upgrade, so I think there is some definite key takeaways here. Do you have any final thoughts for the audience, Chris?
Christopher: That’s it. If you want to explore fonts, just go ahead and type in Google web fonts and there is a collection of 650 fonts there that you can play around with and start brainstorming ideas. That’s a great place to start.
Joshua: That’s fantastic. Well, if you haven’t already, head over to lmscast.com and subscribe to our email newsletter so that we can update you every time there’s a new episode as well as some of the cool new developments that we’re seeing in the LMS space. I hope you have a great day and we’ll talk to you soon.