Theming and design

8 April 2021 by Catalyst IT Europe

Design has the power to influence the behaviour of all LMS users. Theming that design is the passport to teacher and student engagement. Clear and uncomplicated menus maximise the reach to the widest of audiences. Bad design, however, is culpable of adding confusion into the digital mix. The net result can be disuasion for students and teachers to interact with the most important tools of their educational experience.

By white labelling your LMS with your brand from a visual perspective, it makes it a more personal experience for your users and leads to higher levels of engagement.

Consistent theming and design is the key to an efficient learning management system. All of its constituent parts working together to enhance the learners experience. Poorly conceived user interfaces that are lifeless, monochrome and awkward to navigate are barriers to learning. Moreover to have educational material that interacts with the user by optimising multimedia only serves to increase student engagement. These videos, images, charts and activities breathe life into otherwise dreary online courses and allow for online learning to achieve the maximum impact. Failing to make this material accessible to all is to fall at the first hurdle.  Alternatively, a well thought out theme can inspire many simple changes that have a dramatic effect on the users experience. 

‘When designing the theme it’s always important to keep your e-learning goals top of mind’

Paul Walker, Head of Design, Catalyst IT EU.

The ultimate goal is to stimulate stakeholder engagement by creating a positive learning environment. There is no detail too small that it should not be carefully considered: Fonts, headings, footers, logos and sub menus should all facilitate confident navigation for users of all technological abilities.

Through remodelling its interface, Moodle has exemplified this by showing a 58% increase in engagement due to the alterations of its theme and layout. 

Highly engaging content hidden behind complicated menus reduces the potential for it to reach its widest audience. Course materials go under utilised and evaluation goes unnoticed. A clear, easy-to-update grading interface can chart student progress effortlessly, allowing the teacher to know at a glance who has assignments outstanding, who is progressing and who requires extra attention.

The key to maximising all the elements of an LMS is to design a recognisable environment that delivers all functionality to the end users of each unique institution. 
The most important aspects to consider when theming and designing your LMS are branding, navigation, design layout and responsiveness. Each aspect can be tailored to each different institution’s unique needs.

Thematic design can run through all levels of the learning environment from home pages to different departments and their courses and course content. These can then also be optimised for different learning technological platforms, for instance mobile phones or tablets.


Branding is integral to the identity of your institution. Your LMS branding can be as simple as incorporating your company colours and logos into a template theme of your choice to a completely bespoke overhaul allowing for your brand identity to be the focal point of every element.

Catalyst has skills to create an instantly recognisable and memorable identity. We have many years and award winning experience in creating branding and theming for global institutions or organisations giving you the most professional digital profile for high user engagement. 
Catalyst is highly proficient in theming and designing a clean and clear learning environment which is fully inclusive and accessible.


Navigation is often an afterthought in the design process and yet, it’s one of the most important aspects of any learning platform. A clear and clean navigation helps your users find what they’re looking for in the most straightforward way. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s one of the fundamentals of good LMS design and it’s very easy to get wrong.

A straightforward logical navigation bar can make using the platform an effortless experience. If users are not using the platform in the way you intended then reviewing your navigation can be a relatively straightforward task that can have a big impact.

Once revised the navigation becomes intuitive and user-friendly allowing users of all abilities and expertise easy access. Every layout is optimised to make it easy for users to work with. The goal is to achieve speedy navigation for maximum student engagement and retention.

Layout and design

Your courses must inspire your students to learn. The content should be easy to access and clear to read and digest. Again all design aspects from the font choice to the layout should put the user at ease, facilitating the free flow of concepts and ideas.

The student will stay engaged for prolonged periods without fatigue or frustration. Clean layouts and easy to read content allow for control of their learning environment.

At the heart of every LMS are the courses. Visually, making your content easy to read, navigate and engage with is the key to creating long term engagement. That way, the only thing your users have to focus on is the content itself, rather than becoming distracted or frustrated because of poor layout and design choices.

Reading comfort for your students automatically leads to the next level learning. Clean designs help them view course content to the maximum. Obstructions are eliminated and distractions minimised.

Responsive design

Responsive design is a necessity. Student access by smartphone and tablet usage has seen explosive growth and acceleration and for many this is not a nice to have but an expectation. In addition to this we have to ensure accessibility for all regardless of device and responsive design is at the heart of this.

That means that your platform needs to adapt in an intelligent, well thought out way. Although many platforms now include an out of the box responsive solution, this is often just the tip of the iceberg, and custom design for various screen sizes is highly recommended. Catalyst understands that today’s learning environment exists wherever the student is, anywhere in the world and on any device.

Many of Catalyst clients have key audiences in regions across the world where mobile devices are the only method of connecting to the internet. Delivering mobile first thinking from the LMS to the content within is a very big part of what we do for many of our largest partners.

Imagery and video content

Imagery and video content bring the LMS to life and is crucial to its overall success. Well thought out copy is essential, but it’s important to consider that the attention span of the user is getting shorter and shorter. A “picture speaks a thousand words” is highly relevant here, and by consciously choosing your imagery with intent, you can deliver your message more effectively than through the copy alone.

Catalyst offers a wide range of interesting customisation alternatives to personalise the overall learning/teaching experience. We help display information better by making optimum use of screen space, removing all distractions and creating a more learner-centric environment.

Out of the box or fully bespoke

Catalyst offer an out of the box solution or a fully bespoke design package.

Catawesome is a fully configurable, out of the box, design theme. Examples of this are visible in the LMS we maintain for our partners, including UCL eXtend, Limerick IT, Athlone Institute of Technology and the National Open University of Nigeria.

Catawesome gives the client a clean, modern, and customisable theme which allows for easy client branding via the theme settings interface. It gives the client the ability to not only add their own logos and brand colours, but also to choose fonts, add background images, include a carousel on the login page, tailor custom alerts, and make changes to moodle UX E.g swap logo position, fully configurable footers for navigation and company info, and much more.


Fully bespoke package for your Moodle, Totara or Mahara.
Personalise and customise your theme. Make the most out of all customisations for homepage, course enrolment, options to change colours of various elements, typography, header layouts, button styling, responsiveness support for learner friendly design.

We also look to suggest additional course formats, or plugins that would work well alongside a bespoke UX/UI, which we can tailor to not only enhance the look and feel of the LMS, but further personalize a users learning experience. Similarly, we can extend certain existing core features, that could be used to provide course or content creators with the tools required to create even more exciting content E.g adding tools to the WYSIWYG editors for applying branded headers, bootstrap page layouts, buttons, and other components for 1-click styling of page objects.

The Humanitarian Academy - Kaya
Met Office
The British Dentist Association

Personalised experience.

A personalised learner experience is becoming more relevant for institutions and organisations. Learning on demand and personal development at their own pace. A more personalised learning experience means increased engagement from the student. Learners want to feel empowered for the time and money they spend investing in ongoing education and personal development.

Catalyst can help with a bespoke theming and design service and range of customisation tools to support institutions ever-changing learning and development requirements.