Is LMS a new market for WordPress themes?

I occasionally peruse Themeforest to see what new offerings they had available and I’ve been surprised by the number of education offerings, in particular LMS imitator themes, have popped up over the last year. In fact, they’ve gone ahead and created an entire Education category for all the WordPress themes that are now available. To be the point a bit, two new LMS themes have become available just since August. One that went live at the beginning of September is titled “LMS | Responsive Learning Management System” and is designed by an incredibly popular author on Themeforest, designthemes.

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LMS | Responsive Learning Management System. themeforest.com

The second recent theme is one called Clever Course and launched on August 21.

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Clever Course. themeforest.com

Both themes seem to be focused on companies who want to offer suites of courses that end-users can purchase, but I’m interested to know how and if they are being used by instructors in higher ed and if anyone is using them in conjunction/as a replacement to the tool the institution is providing. Particularly Clever Course seems to be more focused on the instructor AND student experience. You can looks at screenshots of both the instructor and student backends here and here. The other integrates Sensei, a WooThemes plugin, which I’ve seen integrated in other themes as well. Sensei has been on the market for almost two years now and I still have yet to hear too much chatter about it.

But the majority of LMS theme sales seemed to be tied to two specific products: WPLMS (which Clever Course’s UX seems to be stealing a trick or two from) and Academy, which I’ve actually used before (more on that below). These two have nearly 7,000 purchases combined. Total, there are five WordPress themes of ThemesForest that are focused on mimicking an LMS and have 7,931 purchases combined. Is online for-profit education really that lucrative of a market that end-users have spent nearly $500K purchasing these themes? I have serious doubts. I can’t imagine that it’s anywhere close to 100%, and one would have to think a significant portion of those sales are direct to instructor.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that the open web is becoming incredibly easier for anybody control. WordPress, specifically, has made some incredible strides in the last couple years and the more developers focus on drag-and-drop tools, the easier it becomes to create an entirely customized experience in mere minutes (particularly if you are using web hosting similar to OU Create or Reclaim Hosting which has lightning fast one-click application installs). So that being said, its theoretically possible, now more than ever, for instructors to build and take ownership of their own custom LMS space as long assuming you’re willing to give up some of the benefits of the institution supported system such as single sign on and dedicated tech support. For instance, in Spring 2013, I worked with a professor who wanted to offer a MOOC version of his Introduction to Management course. We used the Academy theme. With all open tools, we were able to replicate the majority of the functionality edX had at the time (you can still play with the site which has now been shut down on my subdomain http://management.adamcroom.com).

OU introduction to Management MOOC. Summer 2013.

OU introduction to Management MOOC. Summer 2013.

I need to be explicit that I’m not advocating for every instructor to take this approach, rather just that it seems easier to do and web developers are taking notice of the growing market and building low-cost products to sell directly to instructors. I should also note that for security purposes, students who took Intro to Management for college credit still used the institutional LMS for quizzes and assignment submissions, so it’s doesn’t have to be an “either-or” deal BUT the theme did give us enough tools to do some basic assessment and the ability to customize to the functionality we needed, such as the bbPress WordPress plugin, to create a forum space. While the open course design wasn’t anything to necessarily write home about, the platform did meet the needs of the instructor and aesthetically exceeded his expectations. So this all leads me to a few questions:

  1. Are any instructors using themes that are geared towards mirroring LMS functionality as a supplement or replacement to the institutional LMS?
  2. If not, why? Access to web space? Security? Time constraints?
  3. Has any institution adopted any process that discourages the use of these tools?
  4. Does anyone else have experience with these kind of themes? I would love opinions on theme or access to see what you have created with them. What’s an instructors or students point of view of the tradeoffs to moving to a WordPress LMS imitator?
  5. These themes seem to be doing pretty well on Themeforest. Seriously…Who are these 7,000 people and how we can start chatting?

Top image is a creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by lecercle: http://flickr.com/photos/lecercle/466799202