A theme can be defined as a pre-designed package of graphics, which is used to customize the look of certain software. This can be applied to anything, from operating systems (eg Windows) to blogging interfaces (eg WordPress). With the change of theme usually comes a wide range of changes; but there are some themes which allow the customization of certain parts only. For example, in WordPress, you can choose a theme which has a customizable headline, meaning that you can use an image of your choice instead of a standard one. The same goes for Windows 98, where you can use the background and screensaver of a theme, while leaving the icons and sounds unaltered. It is noticeable that, overall, the theme does not affect the way the program functions, only the way it looks.
Customization is one of the main requests and needs of the web 2.0. The same goes for learning platforms: students tend to feel more comfortable using a personal, customized site rather than a standard, boring one. Correspondingly, Moodle, as a popular learning management system, comes with a large number of themes. The free library contains at least 20 pages, with 8-9 themes each. The themes come with a demo site, a download option, the name of the creator and the system requirements.
In Moodle, you can select the theme at various levels: for the entire website, for the course or solely for a user; but the Moodle site needs to be configured to allow changes to those levels. The pages are addressable individually, meaning that you can select precise items, through CSS. New modules can be automatically included in a certain style sheet, by telling Moodle which style they need. There is also an option to base a theme on another, by creating variations of the original.
Moodle has explicit tutorials on how you can create your own theme, and it specifics that it's best to base the new theme on one of the standard Moodle themes. Otherwise, if modifying someone else's theme, the two will overlap during the following update. In order to distribute a new theme, one must zip it and submit it to the themes database.
Installing a theme requires unzipping the theme file in an empty local directory and uploading the resulting folder to the web server, at / moodle / theme / [Theme Name]. Afterwards, the theme needs to be selected from the Administration panel, under Appearance -> Themes.
One of the more interesting Moodle themes is Chameleon. This is highly interactive and allows control over most styling elements in Moodle. It is recommended to designers and it's based on Ajax technology. You can use Chameleon either to start a new theme or to make changes to an existing one.
Examples of sites created with Chameleon
The importance of customization in an e-learning site should not be minimized. Productivity increases when the students are comfortable with the platform. Of course, a usable interface is the best kind, but it should also have a theme that appeals to the target audience.