It was a wild, ultimately positive year for Moodle theme designers, developers, and enthusiasts. While for many 2016 might be a year to forget, let’s remember the advances that Moodle made before we sweep this year under the rug.
Below you’ll find our latest installment highlighting our favorite themes of the year. Note that some remain from years past (as they’ve been continuously updated and maintained by the very excellent developer volunteers that the community has).
#1. Biggest out-of-the-box impact: ‘Boost‘
The Moodle 3.2 exclusive and default theme went down like other 2016 happenings. Readers keeping scores knew that we could be facing an upset. But on that fateful day, just weeks ago, the people began to realize how stunning it ended up being. “Boost” is poised to redefine expectations about what Moodle does, but also what it means as educational technology. We will have to wait until it’s officially inaugurated across the Moodle states to see “Boost” ripples around the globe. From Moodle user sentiment to the Learning Management System (LMS) market whole.
#2. Today’s name in professionalism: ‘Essential‘
The undisputed leader by installations and user volume. The “Essential” theme is a lesson in visual design and under-the-hood mastery. It is perhaps the most balanced approach to aesthetics, usability, speed and ease of customization macros. Clean and lightning-fast, “Essential” will remain influential in 2017 and beyond.
If you are planning on “Essential” for Moodle 3.2, we recommend you stay tuned until a compatible build is confirmed.
#3. Best new theme on the block: Fordson
Chris Kenniburg is at it again with this K12 focused theme. Fordson was created in collaboration with K12 teachers, and with them specifically in mind. There are a few minor but important changes which provide added ease of use of Moodle so that teachers can get straight to teaching (add a course button front and center, responsive, stylish, and student friendly). Check out the great theme video below and read more here.
#4. Practicality above all: ‘Decaf‘
While sufficiently appealing and customizable, what “Decaf” lovers hold fondly about this theme is the “awesome bar”, a practical, is perhaps clunky top menu that gives you quick access to any and every Moodle page. The “awesome bar” is completely customizable. “Decaf” is ideal for no-nonsense teachers with a tenured workflow, a prominent niche that will only ripen in 2017.
#5. Customizations galore: ‘Adaptable‘
The “Adaptable” theme and its predecessor, the “BCU” theme, are popular for its ‘toggleability’, of blocks and sections. But a hidden layer is the themes favorite feature among designers: The ‘layout builders’, which allow to quickly replicate attributes and settings across new and existing courses. “Adaptable” was one of the only themes awarded an ‘early bird badge’, meaning it already ensures Moodle 3.2 compatibility.
#6. Corporate Training ‘Snap‘ (with a CASS Business School P.S.)
Most of our readers know that Moodlerooms and Snap go together like coffee and chocolate. Or bread and garlic butter. It is, after all, the Moodle Partner flagship theme, which they have made available to anyone. Snap is just about the best experience LMS-based corporate training can offer. The unique level of support it enjoys guarantees it is always improving. An announcement suggests Snap will continue to evolve around “clear [user] workflows” next year.
Deserving a footnote here is the still-experimental Snap branch developed by CASS Business School. The main reason is its above-average focus on intuitiveness and prominence on white space. The CASS’ take on “Snap” trades redundancy for decluttering, and it is only available via a GitHub repository.
As promised, here is the video of our Cass Business School version of Snap! https://t.co/8RgUW1HyfP mootus16
— Leonard Houx (@leonardhoux) June 23, 2016
#7. For a sample of what a theme can do for your branding: ‘Brand It!’ and custom Partner offerings
For organizations where learning is an active component of its mission statement, the ability to customize a Moodle site in alignment with their brand sounds like a no-brainer. And while nothing stops developers to fit any theme to their corporate image, when it comes to guaranteeing a seamless transition, the devil is in the details.
Just like the bespoke ‘Brand It!’ theme is an exclusive product of UK-based HowToMoodle, other Moodle Partners also offer their own time-tested takes on a Moodle theme. If your organization can afford it, the result of a team dedicated to elevating your brand through a Moodle site can be as satisfying as rewarding. Most Partners provide full-cycle support and consulting. Want an e-shop that doubles as LMS? Multitenancy? Third party services integration? The sky is the limit.
Not free from controversy was the decision to no longer bring these iconic themes to Moodle 3.2. But it was important, if at the very least symbolic, to trace a new path in the hearts and minds of Moodlers everywhere by leaving them behind.
Nevertheless, Moodle is about options. To make the transition to a new Moodle less traumatic for some, and to ensure the dozens of child themes based on these ‘hall of fame’ themes, “Canvas” and “Base” will have a place in the Moodle Directory ―and the heart of ill-fated Moodle themes martyr Mary Evans― for yet another year.
#9. The cutting edge: ‘Boost Waxed‘
It took less than 24 hours for the achievement that is “Boost” to be online, when proactive elements in the Moodleverse had already begun to tweak and push the theme further. In fairness, this was within expectations at Moodle HQ, well aware of the restless spirits that abound in the community. “Boost” alone offers plenty of customization and flexibility options, mainly with the inclusion of ‘logic-less’ templates. But for bells and whistles, and everything else, there is “Waxed”, a “Boost” child theme that adds social media icons and images on headers and footers, among other improvements.
Developers are welcome to contribute to “Waxed”, as “Boost” will likely adopt popular refinements throughout 2017.
Similarly, there is a Joomdle equivalent for sites that mix Moodle and Joomla, aptly named “Joomdle Bootstrap“.
There is a handful of themes sorely missing here. Among them, these two themes finish 2016 with the not-so-shabby honor of sporting, simultaneously, thousands of installs, over 5,000 downloads and hundreds of ‘favorite’ hearts clicked on.
The contest among themes is getting harder than ever. Distinctive features, such as responsiveness or CSS customization, are now elementary to all. Only “Aardvark” has been proven as compatible with Moodle 3.2, and both follow the trend of a peak in downloads before December, month in which they showed dire declines. Without the support other themes enjoy, next year will be challenging. But not all hope is lost, if their historic favorability numbers have a say in the matter.
Web or (as fellow kids call’em these days) ‘front end’ developers would find how “Bootstrap” theme tries to translate the Bootstrap framework to Moodle as faithfully as possible. The motivation was to create a ‘base’ for designers to try building their own theme or to sharpen their skills. If your 2017 goals include learning web design, why not practicing on a Moodle site?
How to Install a Theme in Moodle?
Theme installation goes like any other Moodle plugin. Which means the user tasked to needs administration permissions on the Moodle site.
Visit the theme page at the Moodle plugin directory. Verify the compatibility of the last build with your Moodle version, indicated above the “Install now” and “Download” buttons. If you don’t see your version of Moodle, click on the “Versions” tab to see the history of releases.
If none of the versions is compatible with your Moodle, you are out of luck. Time to upgrade, perhaps?
If you do find a compatible version, you have two choices:
- Click the “Install now” button from a browser where you are an authenticated admin for your Moodle site. From the list of sites that appears, click on the “Install now” link of your site. (This requires a free account in moodle.org.)
- Click the “Download” button. This will open your browser download prompt for a compressed (ZIP) file. Extract the file contents on the /theme folder in your Moodle file structure.
Now, activate the theme by going to
Course administration > Edit Settings > Appearance > Force Theme.
If the theme does not have an official page, you may be able to find instruction in its GitHub repository.
Read more on theme settings here at docs.moodle.org.
Find the most popular plugins of 2016 at moodle.org/plugins.
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