When you’re designing a website for a school, college or university, you’ll probably notice right away that not just any old WordPress theme is going to cut it.
A website for an educational institution is highly specialized, requiring a scale and level of interactivity beyond what most websites handle.
Fortunately, with WordPress and its abundance of themes and plugins, it’s very possible for you to create a highly functional school website without any programming abilities.
Many WordPress themes are designed for the education niche, and might offer (or at least promise) many of the features you need. However, to design a website that also functions as a social network or online learning platform, you’ll probably need something extra.
That’s where these top 8 education plugins come in.
Before we go into them, let’s take a quick look at how school websites are designed and what they can provide to best support their students.
What will your school’s site do?
There are two directions schools could go with their websites.
The first is purely informational, like a brochure. This type of site will provide details about the school, teachers and programs, courses, activities, etc.
The other option is a membership site. Students can log in to view grades, submit homework or take online quizzes. Faculty can post grades and manage courses through the system.
In the past few years, membership sites have become core features of most colleges and universities, and many high schools. They make it easier for students to connect with their teachers, and open up new avenues of learning, such as courses that are taught partly or entirely online.
Whatever type of site you’re working on, it must have at least these basic features:
- Homepage with logo and academic banner image
- About page for the school, including location, accreditation and history
- Course page with summaries and detailed information for every current course
- Faculty bios and contact information
- Department pages, including faculty and course listings
- Contact forms
How to choose the best WordPress education theme
It’s important to start with the right theme. You want one that’s flexible and customizable with clean code, fast loading speed even with many users, high security and elegant, professional style.
It should be very easy to navigate. Keep in mind that parents – not just tech-native students – will also want to use your site!
To win over prospective students and their parents, your site should radiate quality and credibility. It should immediately be clear that your school is a respected, trustworthy institution.
If you’re looking for an education theme, I recommend Education Plus from Ocean Web Themes. It’s a beautiful theme with a clean, modern design, offering all the most important features of a school site and not bloated with unnecessary bells and whistles. you can find important information about choosing and using WordPress education themes in my previous article education-themes-101. Check it out.
Best plugins for education sites
With these plugins, you can bring all the functionality your website might need to any education theme.
WP Courseware is a complete learning management system that can be used with any WordPress theme.
It allows you to create unlimited courses, including multimedia lessons, quizzes and surveys. You can give grades and written feedback to your students. It’s packed with quiz features: timed quizzes, question banks, downloadable results and more.
WP Courseware excels in online course management. Enrollment, grade tracking, course tracking, setting prerequisites and assigning instructors is simple and easy.
From the creators of WooCommerce, the explosively popular e-commerce plugin, comes Sensei, a plugin that turns any WordPress site into a fully functional online course platform.
You can create and set prerequisites for courses, lessons and quizzes, and, as you might expect, it integrates seamlessly with WooCommerce.
Course analytics help you to keep tabs on your students, content and quizzes. Quizzes can be graded automatically or forwarded to teachers for grading.
Sensei works straight out of the box, and if it doesn’t come with a function you need, it probably has an extension to take care of that.
With LearnDash, you can deliver your courses in any media, making it one of the more flexible options.
Materials are organized on three levels: courses, lessons and lesson topics. This structure allows you to manage students’ progress by setting prerequisites on courses and lessons.
You can interact with your students in real time, asking them to upload content and providing feedback, or set a schedule and let it deliver content to your students at given times.
BuddyPress is a popular, flexible plugin for creating online communities. If you’re running multiple courses, you can use it to separate your students into different groups.
It’s highly adaptable, whether you want to create a campus-wide social network or a small niche group to get visitors more involved in your website.
One of the best uses of a school website is to add an extra interactive dimension to students’ education, and BuddyPress is perfect for that.
However, it doesn’t work with most WordPress themes, so you’ll have to use a specifically BuddyPress-integrated theme.
Get a complete package with Commons In a Box, which includes BuddyPress, a beautiful and flexible theme, and a carefully selected set of additional plugins to get your community site up and running right away.
Flashcard for WordPress
When I was in college, I crammed for who-knows-how-many exams using flashcards made from a pack of color-coded index cards.
Today, you can make it easy for your students with the Flashcard plugin. Use it to create sets of animated flashcards and display them on your website. It’s a neat tool for giving students a leg up in their memorization.
Google Drive Embedder
A nifty plugin that allows you to easily embed documents from Google Drive and calendars from your Google Calendar.
Documents can be embedded as read-only, open up as editable files or be downloaded.
Google Drive Embedder is very helpful for giving your students quick access to learning materials.
Event Espresso 4 Decaf
Event Espresso allows you to manage all your events from your WordPress dashboard, cutting down on administrative costs and confusion.
Use it to create events, sell tickets and register participants. You can collect information about attendees, and create reports about events as they happen. While not specifically an educational plugin, it’s an invaluable tool for any active school.
Students (and their parents) will often want to search through your faculty directory. Your WordPress theme might offer some search capacities, but with Campus Directory you get extensive search functions with a responsive search form, support staff and advisee links on faculty pages, and more.
A school’s website is a vital part of students’ life. It offers valuable information, connects them to each other and helps them interact with their teachers.
And with one in four college students enrolled in online courses – and that number growing every year – it’s more important than ever to have a clear, highly functional online learning system for your school.
With a solid WordPress education theme and the right plugins to support it, you can create nearly any website for your school that you can imagine.