How to Build an e-Learning Platform: Features, Steps and Our Experience
19 min read
- 1. E-Learning Platforms Market Overview
- 2. Types of the Online Learning Platforms
- 3. Examples of the Successful e-Learning Websites
- 4. Key Features of an Online Learning Platform
- 5. Advanced Features of an Online Learning Website
- 6. Tech Stack You Need to Build an e-Learning Website
- 7. 8 Steps to Create an Online Learning Platform
- 8. How Much Does It Cost to Start Your Own e-Learning Platform?
- 9. Our Experience in Developing an e-Learning Platform
- 10. Conclusion
E-Learning Platforms Market Overview
2021 is the perfect time to create an elearning website.
Firstly, the active growth of demand for online education in all areas of business. Everyone from universities, schools, and government agencies to commercial enterprises requires ongoing employee training. This creates a promising growth area for companies providing corporate training services.
Globalization, the spread of the Internet, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic played an important role here. It made people look for an alternative to offline communication, education, and work.
Thus, according to Global Market Insights, the e-learning industry in the coming years will develop with a coefficient of about 20%. It’s expected to grow by 100% by 2026.
As for trends, the most promising areas in the near future will be interactive learning. To replace the simple provision of educational material, more engaging applications and sites, with knowledge testing, the use of pedagogical methods, and gamification, will come.
Also, pay attention to cloud-based software. In the USA and Europe, there is a growing trend towards the transition of training services to a cloud-based system.
Online education has long won the position of one of the fastest-growing industries. This is not a temporary solution in the context of quarantine - more and more government organizations are interested in this area and are investing money - especially in the Middle East and Africa. In the United States, more and more prestigious universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and others, are actively involved in the creation and development of large LMS and MOOCs.
As for the regions of Asia, there is a growing demand for software for learning English, as well as educational programs for corporate training.
Types of the Online Learning Platforms
Massive open online courses
These are resources, which are essentially online courses. They can be used to train an almost unlimited number of users and are equipped with progress tracking functions, quizzes, various interactive elements, and gamification. Training can take place according to difficulty levels; also, after completing the course, the user can receive a certificate depending on the qualification level of the knowledge and materials provided.
It’s software that is a platform for hosting courses. These can be both courses source from one supplier, and a large site (according to the b2b model), monetizing thanks to payments from various authors for the placement of courses and training materials.
It’s quite laborious to build an e-learning website of this type since, in addition to the standard functions, you’ll need to develop a more complex admin system, tools for customizing courses, a rating and feedback system, a community within the service, and other features.
These are applications designed to replace offline learning while maintaining the classroom format - where the teacher is in direct contact with the student, and the lessons are held in real-time.
For the convenience of participants, such applications can be equipped with functions for setting up a learning schedule with notifications, a community with chats, and the ability to share materials from third-party sources.
If you choose to create a learning platform, please note that these types of applications can mix and match different types of elements. For example, industry leaders such as Coursera and Udemy are LMS-based MOOCs; and online classes like EnglishDom will include some signs of MOOC - there is also a module with homework, exercises to consolidate the learned material, and quizzes at the end of the course.
Examples of the Successful e-Learning Websites
The project idea originated in 2007, when the founders, Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar, decided to create software, with the help of which they could teach in the form of real-time classes to students all over the world while being in Turkey.
In 2010, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to attract investors, the co-founders were still able to build an online learning platform and launch it under the original name “The Academy of You”.
Within a year, the resource already numbered about 1000 teachers, who created twice as many courses, and the number of users reached 10,000. At the same time, the project received $1M from venture funds and continued its rapid development.
Over the years, Udemy received tens of millions of USD from various foundations and organizations.
Today it is the largest provider of online courses (about 150 thousand courses on a variety of topics available in 65 languages) with a million audience. In addition to venture capital, the application is monetized through certificates provided to students on a paid basis, as well as through payment for the training materials themselves, although a certain part of them is available for free.
This software was founded as a resource with teaching materials and books by Linda Wyman, the co-founder of the School of Digital Arts. The main topics of training centered around the field of web design and mastering such programs as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, UltraDev, Flash, Adobe Acrobat, Dreamweaver, and so on. By the mid-2000s, the number of courses exceeded 100, they were available on a paid subscription. At the same time, the company began to create documentaries about outstanding entrepreneurs and cultural figures.
In 2013, Lynda.com received $103 million in funding from a group of foundations, further boosting its development.
In 2015, the resource was acquired by Linkedin, and within two years it underwent a rebranding. After that, Lynda.com became Linkedin learning as we know it today.
Now this site contains more than 16,000 courses on various topics (business, computer science, creative skills, etc.), well-known experts are involved in teaching, and users can receive a certificate upon graduation.
This platform has its origins in 2012 when a group of enthusiastic scientists from Harvard and MIT, namely Gerry Sussman, Piotr Mitros, Anant Agarwal, and Chris Terman, decided to create an online learning website that would provide students with university-level knowledge.
They also designed and produced the first online course that focused on electronics and circuits, and raised an audience of over 150,000 users in over 160 countries.
In 2013, the project began a successful partnership with Stanford University and enrolled its first million students.
In the following years, edX actively formed partnerships with various universities and companies like Microsoft and General Electric, which made it possible to provide courses with the subsequent obtaining of academic accreditation and employment.
So, today, an edX user can get a bachelor’s and master’s degree, which will be quoted when hiring like any other university education but studying online.
The total number of courses on the resource is 3 thousand, of which 2 thirds are free. Monetization occurs mainly through investments and paid certificates.
Initially, the creator of the resource, Salman Khan, was a private tutor and didn’t think about a large educational project. But the success of his enterprise encouraged him to transform his teaching activities to a more professional level. At first, these were videos on Youtube, then - since 2009, the author quit his job, fully devoting all his efforts to the project.
The resource was funded by donations and an initial range of educational content covered topics related to mathematics. However, the project was developing and in 2017, already, video lessons on financial literacy were officially launched.
To date, a website and application have been developed, where the user can choose from more than 4000 lectures on a variety of topics - from financial to medical, economic, and art history. In addition, students have access to progress tracking functions, homework assignments, an assessment system, and other interactive features.
The main sources of funding for the platform are large companies like Google and foundations (for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), which make millions in contributions to the development of the project, in particular, the development of new materials and their translation into different languages.
Key Features of an Online Learning Platform
The admin dashboard should be optimized, user-friendly, and well-structured. It should provide such functions as creating and modifying courses, managing a user account, setting up and tracking marketing tools, customization and statistics, managing and tracking purchases within the platform, and much more.
If we are talking about how to start an online learning platform as large-scale and complex as Udemy, then you’ll need to create a super admin panel so that the product owner can manage the entire marketplace, grant and restrict rights to authors, promote certain content, etc.
A convenient, intuitive interface provides a better user experience, which means more engaged regular customers for you.
To make students and instructors sign in and use your application on an ongoing basis, make your account useful for them. Add progress tracking functions, an assessment system, provide the opportunity to receive a discount on the in-app purchase trail, receive certificates of graduation, and so on.
If these are online classes, then the student should be able to choose a tutor and communicate with a curator, plan a class schedule with the calendar module, and communicate with a teacher.
Advanced searching tools
If we are talking about LMS and MOOC, then the key will be a comfortable and quick search for the required material. To do this, you can implement the function of searching for courses/materials by filters and categories (for example, search by author, subject, popularity, publication date, price); and develop notifications and pop-ups with suggestions based on a student’s previous choice or course rating. By using these tools, you’ll not only please students, but you’ll also help authors promote their courses, which can serve as a monetization aid for you as well.
Wide range of payment models
If you decide to make an e-learning website this will be an absolute must-have feature. The more convenient it is to pay for your service, the more users you can attract to monetize it. Therefore, it’s better to ensure integration with all popular services and payment systems in your target region, implement the linking of bank cards, and so on.
Feedback and rating system
It has long become a must-have tool for all sites and applications - to give users the opportunity to independently evaluate services and products, and share their experience with other people. Based on this data, automatic suggestions, advanced search by popularity, and ratings are also created.
In addition, feedback is a powerful source of information for the content creator - so authors will know if their content is in demand, what are its weaknesses and strengths, how it can be improved, and attract more students.
So you should develop a grading scale with symbolic points, assessment criteria, and the ability to leave a detailed impression of the course/material.
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Advanced Features of an Online Learning Website
Gamification is a great tool, especially if you’ve decided to create your own e-learning platform for kids. But for adults, it will serve as a powerful motivation for learning, making lessons not only effective but also entertaining.
Mini-games, quizzes, various interactive elements - this will make your application stand out from others, increase the engagement of customers and their loyalty.
Advanced learning software should include a community function. You can develop a module with a feedback system, chat, integration with third-party media sources, and video conferencing function. So, instructors will be able to keep in touch with students, which will further stimulate the learning process, and students will be able to share useful information and impressions, helping to promote content within the application. Plus, as a product owner, you’ll receive regular feedback to help you improve your service.
Social networks integration
It can be confusing and inconvenient - remembering all passwords and logins from each application, so it’ll be cool if users can sign in and enter their personal accounts through linked social media accounts. Plus, you can pull data from their profile to an auto-complete account. This feature will significantly improve the user experience, which means customer loyalty to your platform.
Customization tools for authors
Provide instructors with additional opportunities to create unique content, customize courses using various plugins. For example, for language applications, this may be the ability to connect a quick translation, download video materials with subtitles and translation, and so on. This will help make learning more engaging and give you an advantage over competitive apps and sites.
Tech Stack You Need to Build an e-Learning Website
Building an e-learning platform is possible both on the basis of advanced technologies and in a simplified way - using WordPress, Moodle, and similar solutions.
They allow you to quickly and easily launch the product, without the need to look for a highly professional team - an ordinary freelancer can handle such technologies.
But this approach has its drawbacks. WordPress has its own strict algorithms for building the website. And if you want to make a large-scale project with killing features, expand or modify it, then you’ll face difficulties. You’ll have to deal with the development of custom plugins, which is costly in terms of man-hours and budget. And as a result, the software can turn out with a lot of bugs and incorrect work.
For this reason, we recommend using the following technologies:
Node.Js with NestJs framework - the best solution for the backend part thanks to their perfect speed-flexibility ratio. These technologies are most suitable for startups and MVPs with a growth perspective.
When choosing a database, be guided by the importance of personal data protection. If confidentiality is a main priority, consider using a relational database. It’s not as flexible and fast, but it will provide extra protection for personal information. An example of such a database is PostgreSQL.
If launch speed and flexibility are more important, then it is better to choose a non-relational database like MongoDB.
The ideal solution for front-end web development is React. Compared to another widespread technology, Angular, it’s more change-friendly and faster. An additional advantage is also great community support.
As for mobile app development, we recommend working with React Native - so you can carry out hybrid development, implementing the same solution at the same time by one team of engineers for iOS and Android platforms at once. Thus, saving costs and reducing the time frame by about 30% compared to native development.
For the cloud system, AWS is a great option. It’s the largest cloud system with a huge range of services, a start-up-friendly offer that allows you to get a temporary free subscription for a newcomer project.
This stack has been tested through experience and has proven to be the most optimized, advanced, and covering all the needs of the client, no matter what ways of modifying and expanding the platform he chooses. The only snag in using such solutions is the need to choose the right development company.
Try to be careful when choosing a technical partner, research the portfolio of candidates, evaluate the feedback from previous customers, check how their ready-made solutions look and work. Check if the team has enough experience to develop a website for eLearning, similar or the same as yours.
8 Steps to Create an Online Learning Platform
1. Business idea determination
Speaking about how to create an online learning platform, first of all, it’s worth focusing on concept formation. You must prepare approximate ideas about the project, define the business model, the main concept and basic goals of the web platform, what clients’ pains it’ll solve, and what is its uniqueness.
Then, having decided on these issues for yourself, you should write it down on paper and build on the generated documentation in the future.
Analyze the market thoroughly: are there similar solutions in your region, what are the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors; what is your target audience considering age, gender, social conditions, living standards, interests, etc.
Consider the market situation as a whole, users’ ability to pay, their main pains, and your potential growth areas.
Various services like Google Analytics and Segment.io can help you with this. In addition, you can seek advice from qualified professionals.
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3. Define & prioritize the features
The next step is to select the functionality for your resource. To avoid wasted budget and failure among the end-user, it’s better to distribute the entire list of features into key and secondary ones.
So, first of all, you’ll be engaged in the implementation of MVP with a minimum set of determining functions, and put additional ones aside. And in this, you’ll be greatly helped by the analysis carried out earlier, according to which you can determine what is decisive for users when choosing a training software, and what they attach less importance to.
4. Fill the app with the content
Unique high-quality content is the key to the success of the educational application. This is one of the tools that can help you stand out from the competition.
You can conduct e-learning website development, filling it with content from third-party amateur instructors, or you can put more effort and establish certain frameworks and rules for authors; verify their accreditation, ensure copyright protection against theft/plagiarism. Even better - to agree on cooperation with scientific organizations or universities - so you’ll be 100% confident in the quality of the provided information and this will attract more students who are serious about education. In addition, it’ll have a beneficial effect on the monetization of your service.
5. UI/UX prototyping stage
When the requirements list and content for the future website are ready, it’s time to give it its initial shape - to develop a design and prototype that will give an approximate idea of how the interface will look and on what principle the application will work.
This is useful not only for you and the development team. But it can also help attract investors - they are more willing to invest in a software that they have at least some idea of than in a verbally described idea.
6. Implementation & testing
The development process should be thought out and organized as much as possible. Decide in advance on the approach and methodology. Today, some of the most widespread and effective approaches are Scrum and Agile. So, the implementation of the website takes place on milestones, at the end of each analytics and work on errors are carried out, and only after their completion, planning and implementation of the next milestone begin. So the client is always aware of all changes, can track progress and intermediate results, make adjustments immediately if necessary.
Don’t write off testing as well - the website must be tested throughout development and after release to the market. This is an important part of the build-measure-learn cycle, without which the further development of the MVP into a full-scale project and the correct work of the software are impossible.
7. Deployment and market launch
It’s very important to be in touch with the development team, both while developing an e-learning platform and all the way to the market launch. To do this, you can resort to technologies and approaches like CI/CD. This will help to make the deployment as time-optimized as possible and ensure continuous immediate coordination of all changes between the engineers and you as the platform owner. This way you avoid delays and minimize human error.
8. Support and improvement
After the MVP launch, a Build-Measure-Learn cycle follows - this means that you collect feedback and conduct analytics (where the software needs to be improved, what should be removed, and what should be modified; what functions were unclaimed). After that, based on the obtained data, the improvement and refinement of the website are carried out, and then the cycle is repeated again.
And so, with each new iteration, you’ll get closer to the final version of the application.
But you can’t stop there but scale the platform, conquer new market segments, and expand the audience of users. Along the way, you’ll need a reliable technical partner with sufficient experience and skills to provide support for your software, bug fixing, and the development of new features.
How Much Does It Cost to Start Your Own e-Learning Platform?
Before moving on to specifics, let's talk about the basic conditions strongly affecting the final cost of web development services.
- Design. Everything is simple - an elementary typical design based on a template will be much cheaper than a conceptual custom design.
- Software type. Building a small training course is much cheaper than developing a large-scale marketplace.
- Region. It’s no secret that the hourly rate of specialists depends on the economic conditions of the region, the presence/absence of domestic large projects, the education level, etc. So, the average rate of engineers from the USA and UK is $50-$150/h and $71/h, respectively. These are some of the most expensive price tags in the world. Whereas the average rate of an Eastern European developer is only $25-$50/h. At the same time, the quality of work doesn’t necessarily correlate with the price - engineers from Ukraine and China are quite professional, although their hourly rates are not the highest.
Pricing when building an MVP is based on a few key factors.
Firstly, these are the requirements described in the project documentation. Secondly, the scale of the project. Thirdly, technologies - the more complex and newer they are, the more expensive their implementation will cost. The team composition and the time frames are also important.
We can talk about more or less accurate amounts personally for your idea, having all this information.
However, if we take the average cost as an example, with a budget of $20K-30K, we can consider in detail and work out the requirements of your project, highlighting only the most relevant functions, concentrating only on their implementation. In this case, the team will consist of a PM, 2 developers, and a QA. As for the timing, in the described situation, the development and launch of the application can be completed in 3 months.
If additional cost limitations are needed, we can save on writing a backend by using Firebase instead of Node.js - this way, we get both the database and user authorization, which means saving funds and time.
Full-fledged Solution Cost
Full-fledged Solution Cost is on average twice as expensive as the MVP version. That is, the approximate amounts will vary from $60K to $100K.
Here we are talking about a detailed development cycle, including additional features, revision of the basic ones. Also, in addition to the regular team members, the participation of technical architects is planned.
If you are creating a large international resource with a huge number of users, then include additional funds for servers on AWS in the estimated cost.
Don’t forget about marketing as well. On average, the cost of promotion, including SEO part, Google Ads, Instagram, and Facebook Ads is about $10K.
You shouldn’t save a lot on it. Remember, that even the best platform will fail if promoted poorly.
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Our Experience in Developing an e-Learning Platform
Let’s look at a specific case from our practice in order to understand in more detail how the development price is formed.
Our clients were Avid Adventures - a Singapore-based company specializing in the field of education, and in particular, career consulting.
They wanted to create a distance learning website with interactive elements to involve children in learning. It was essentially a career simulation game that we brought to life in the form of a PWA. It’s essentially a site that looks and works like a mobile application. This decision was caused by the need to complete the implementation in 3 months and it worked correctly.
The game itself includes the following modules:
User interface - with progress tracking, in-game purchases;
Online gaming sessions - we used reliable powerful servers so that about 300 players can participate at the same time;
Advanced admin panel for teachers with the ability to customize the gameplay and save the results of sessions.
In general, the development cost the client about $60000.
Now the project is expanding rapidly. It’s no longer a promising startup, but a large international project working with commercial and non-profit organizations around the world.
At the moment, $50000 has been spent on supporting and improving the project.
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Wrapping this up, we’ve considered all the highlights to look out for when planning to build an online learning website.
- In terms of market conditions, the high demand for such solutions creates a promising growth area for a new entrepreneur.
- Cutting-edge technologies are gaining popularity in the US and European regions, and it’s worth considering the trend of cloud-based software distribution and the demand for accredited education.
- In the Asian regions and in the Middle East, it’s possible to obtain good funding from a wide range of corporate enterprise companies and government organizations. There is also a high probability of success here in the creation of language training sites.
- The world’s leading e-learning providers are large projects like Udemy and Coursera, which are MOOC. They gather a large audience of clients by covering the needs of instructors, learners, and companies interested in corporate programs. In addition, this application structure allows the use of combined monetization models.
Based on this information, you can start developing your own business idea.
It’s better to work it out in detail and put it on paper.
High-quality digital consulting from a pro team can help you. With it, you’ll receive not only an analysis and a preliminary list of features but also an approximate estimate of the project and a rough understanding of its timing.
This is followed by design creation and prototyping, development, and testing.
To control the implementation process, optimize costs and time frames, carefully select technologies, taking into account the platform format, number of users, and other factors.
After launching MVP, you get your first earnings and feedback. This opens up possible ways for you to expand the project, modify it.
If you keep in mind all that information, and choose the right development company for a startup, skilled enough and having rich experience, your business idea is doomed to success!