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  • Helen Kyianovska

How To Build a Custom E-Learning Platform: Best Practices



The popularity of online education platforms and webinars is booming. Popular e-learning platforms examples include Udemy, Coursera, EdX, Khan Academy, etc. The size of the global e-learning market exceeded 250 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow by 21% annually between 2021 and 2027.


This remarkable growth was catalyzed by COVID-19, as people were forced to stay at home and study remotely. Millions of students moved to online schools and virtual classrooms. However, even in the post-pandemic world, distance learning platforms will play an important role.


In this article, we used our expertise to describe how to build an e-learning platform from scratch.


You will find out which features you should pay attention to and which instruments you can use. We also listed some typical challenges you are likely to face.


On top of it, there is a rough estimation of how much building such a product will cost.


Read on to find out!


E-learning website design best practices

The ideas about the ideal design of educational platform may vary as e-learning software comes in all shapes and sizes. Still, some common practices proved to be successful. We prepared a shortlist for those who wonder how to create an online learning platform.


Gamification


Many e-learning solutions use games to engage users. Besides, gamification makes the learning process more effective, in particular by structuring new information.


There are various methods of gamification you can use. The students may earn platform currency, using it to get some extra features. Besides, you can offer them some points systems and vivid leaderboards.


Thus, learners see real examples of successful learners. Introducing some elements of competition into your platform can also be a good idea. The completion of a task or level can be marked with some audio and video effects. Sites like Khan Academy have badges to mark users’ achievements and keep them motivated.


“Today’s educators have used gamified learning techniques for years. Teaching through the use of game-like elements, such as scoring, levels, and hands-on exercises is a complementary modality to traditional auditory-visual instruction. Logic, math, and communication skills are often learned via game-like tasks. This ‘learn by doing' style has shown to improve retention rates to 75%, compared to 5% through traditional learning methods (i.e., lectures),” says Mike Moniz, Co-Founder, President, and CEO of Circadence.



Certificates


Many students would like their achievements to be marked not only by inter-platform awards but by certificates. The latter serves as a testimony to their new skills and knowledge. That’s why many educational websites issue certificates for course completion. For instance, Treehouse online technology school gives certificates to those who complete its ‘Techdegree’ programs. You can offer the best students discounts on other courses, motivating them to continue.



Feedback and ratings


Students should be able to comment on the quality of educators and their courses. Firstly, such publicly available reviews can help the users to choose the course they need. Hesitant ones can be motivated to start by feedback from others. Secondly, such information can provide administrators and educators with insights into areas for improvement. Those who wonder how to sell the online course they create should be eager to get more positive reviews.



Multi-language approach


If you think big and plan to build an e-learning website for a global audience, support of different languages is a must. The visitors will appreciate your efforts to make them feel comfortable. The easier it is for them to find their ways around your website, the more likely they will become new users.


Features of an e-learning platform you should consider

While planning to build a custom online learning platform, you will have to choose from a long list of available features you can add. However, some of them are more important than others. Here is a list of those you may consider.


Authentication

Coursera's log in page

Secure registration and log-in both for students and teachers is a must-have for any online learning platform. An e-learning website like Coursera provides several log-in options. Creating profiles and setting preferences should be as easy as possible. Trainers should be able to specify their credentials and provide additional information.



Search options

Advanced search options on Udemy

Your users should be able to find a relevant course on your online education platform. Create a catalog of courses anyone can roam through easily. Allowing students to compile the lists of their favorite courses can also be a good idea.


Dashboard or Home Screen


Learner's homepage in Khan Academy

Usually, the dashboard is the first thing users see after signing in. Its key purposes are:


  • Help learners track the progress (number of completed courses or lessons in the courses, etc.)


  • Provide easy access to all essential features (continue an interrupted lesson, for instance)


  • Offer recommendations, promote new or additional features and courses


Having all the important information in a single window is convenient for a student. Moreover, it boosts engagement and helps to prevent users from quitting halfway.


Here is an example of a dashboard for a preschool e-learning app. With its help, parents are kept updated about what is happening to their children. Durations of naps, meals, activities, curriculum, etc. — all the important information is on one screen.





Add video content

An example of a video lesson on Udacity

Video courses have become very popular. Recent studies show that such a format can be more effective than the usual forms of teaching. There is a great variety of video players you can arm your users with. Note that they might benefit from some special features like:

  • quick rewind (5-10-20 seconds),

  • resuming watching from the moment when the video was last stopped,

  • changing playback speed (0,5x, 1.5x, 2x, etc.)


Payment systems


Coursera credit card payment

It is one more of the important e-learning website features. A payment gateway is necessary if you plan to sell courses on your platform or offer some extra paid services.


It should support different payment options, including PayPal, Google, and Apple Pay, etc. Besides, it has to be consistent with both your website and mobile apps. And last but not least, your payment system should work fast and ensure high personal data protection.


Tests and quizzes

An example of multiple choice problem in EdX

Testing and quizzes are indispensable features of e-learning website. Teachers should have the ability to ask students some questions after the lessons. It keeps learners focused and helps the material sink in. Therefore, the learning process becomes more efficient.


E-learning platform tech stack

If you decide to create an online learning platform from scratch, you’ll inevitably have to deal with some technical questions. Here is a brief overview of the technology stack you will need.


Architecture

Monolithic vs Microservices architecture

When you create an e-learning web app, you should strategically decide on how its principal components connect. Essentially, you have two options:


  • Build a monolithic eLearning application if you expect a limited amount of users and content


  • Split backend into micro services if you will scale your learning platform, allowing third-party organizations to create and sell their online courses.


Using monolithic app architecture makes the initial stage of development much simpler. However, as the amount of content grows, such a solution can become too difficult to handle. At the same time, different microservices can be deployed, updated, and scaled independently.


The backend


The backend is the cornerstone of your project. It allows your users to design and deliver courses, manage learners, store information, send notifications, etc. You may require different plugins, add-ons, and APIs linking the platform to third-party tools. If you plan to create websites like Udemy, pay attention that the latter is written in Python.

However, the choice of backend tech stack ultimately depends on the desired features. Our team, armed with knowledge and experience of combining Amazon Web Services (AWS) and node.js, built the Nurture communication and management platform for preschool education. AWS allows us to balance out the workload and project costs. Making decisions about cloud platforms, we are taking into consideration all the aspects of the client's business and project vision.

Many educational websites use MySQL and MongoDB for database management. Cloudflare is a popular choice for a content delivery network (CDN). CDN speeds up the delivery of content to users, using servers that are closest to them.


The frontend


This part concerns a user interface. It should be concise, functional, and visually appealing, allowing learners and teachers to interact with your platform easily. The above mentioned Udemy uses mainly Javascript, Angular, CSS3, HTML5, and Bootstrap framework in its frontend. Our team has developed a great frontend using React.js or Redux.


Many modern learners appreciate the opportunity to study on the go. That’s why aside from the web version of your platform, you should consider creating a mobile app. We use such well-known native mobile platforms as Android Kotlin and iOS Swift.


Note that the use of such innovative technologies as Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality can boost the efficiency of the learning process. For instance, AR has already found its way into some corporate education programs.


While some companies have used AR technology primarily for entertainment, it has become advantageous for many industries when it comes to training. You can use it to imitate real-world experiences your employees encounter to keep their skills relevant in the changing industry environment,” says Lorne Wade, Co-Founder, and COO at VR Vision Inc.


The challenges of e-learning platform development

How the online education process looks in everyday life

Designing an e-learning platform is quite a complex process. If you don’t have much experience in this sphere, you may face some unexpected pitfalls on the way. To make it smoother for you, we’ve compiled a list of the most common challenges.



Determine the correct scope of the project


The first item in the ‘How to create an online school successfully’-list is to define your focus. Your development team has to understand which features you need to get your platform rolling. There are a lot of luring options, but be sensible and start small. Otherwise, you may spend more time and money creating an MVP than you expect. You can build on the first version of your project later.



Work in unison with the development team


Your involvement is crucial, especially at the initial stages of development. Stakeholders, business analysts, and technical specialists should shape the project together.


At first, only you know the idea behind it. However, others have the skills and experience to make it clearer and create your e-learning platform for you. If you’re always in touch with the team, you will eventually get the product you envisioned.



Keep UI simple and functional


There is a temptation to arm the users with each and every useful feature you can think of. Besides, you might want to showcase all of them at once. However, the users may become confused and even frustrated, not finding what they really need.


Think about what teachers and students require from the e-learning platform in the first place. You don’t have to make your UI primitive, but strive to keep it effective and understandable.



Be careful with third-party services


Using some third-party services can save you time and money. Nonetheless, you should always consult your development team before committing to do it.


Third-party solutions should fit in the larger picture of your project. To determine it, your technical specialists should explore all technical peculiarities (API availability and features, etc.) as well as the technical documentation readiness.


How much does it cost to create an e-learning website?

The designs for Edtech, an e-learning platform

Before starting your own project, you may wonder about the investments required to create a platform similar to Udemy or Coursera. The cost to develop an e-learning platform may vary considerably depending on:


  • the list of the desired features


  • hourly rate of the developers


  • required integrations and technologies


If you reach out to a technology partner for help, the business analyst and project manager will help you to create a release plan and a list of required features. Then an approximate cost of the custom e-learning solution development can be calculated. Contact us and we will lay out the detailed budget of your future online learning platform.


Why should you choose Menklab as a partner to build your own e-learning platform?

Menklab has completed projects for clients from various industries since 2013. Our team has the knowledge, skills, and experience to build complex e-learning solutions.


One of our top projects is Nurture, a platform for early care schools, facilitating communication and coordination between parents, teachers, and administrators. This is one of the main screens of its teachers’ app. It allows caregivers to inform parents how their kids are doing at school.



ADD image from requirements


The main goals of the project were

  • to improve parents’ experience by keeping them informed about their children during the day

  • to automate some administrative tasks, allowing teachers to devote more time to children;

  • to keep school administration in touch with parents and teachers at the same time easing the


Our team has developed several solutions, satisfying the needs of each group. We built a web application for school management, an iOS app for teachers, as well as iOS and Android apps for parents.


As a result, with the help of Nurture, parents can enroll children, manage their accounts, and get photos and videos of their children from teachers. Each child’s page for teachers contains information about mood, behavior, special needs, meals, curriculum, naps, and other details.


To complete the project successfully, we had to overcome different challenges. For instance, the location of each student on school premises should be constantly monitored. The technology has to run on various devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets). Besides, our average customer has 30+ Locations with 20 live cameras and 100 parents viewing those cameras. The solution has to accommodate information about 5,000 active students daily.


The platform was set up for the first school within six months from the start of development. Now it is used by dozens of schools and parents from over 30 countries. Our client opened two additional schools each year, exceeding initial plans. 1.5% of top line revenue was saved due to tuition processing.


On top of it, another 5% were saved due to boosting teachers’ and administrators’ efficiency, improved parent retention rates, as well as the increased flow of new customers.


Let’s build an e-learning platform together!

Creating e-learning platforms is a demanding task. You should help students to choose the best suitable course and keep them effective and engaged. Teachers should be able to manage their courses easily and use a variety of materials. Both will appreciate a functional but simple interface as well as some feedback about courses and educators.


A reliable tech partner may help you to create your own e-learning website. Menklab can become such a partner for you. We have years of experience and challenging e-learning projects in our portfolio. Our team is armed with strong engineering expertise in cutting-edge technologies.


Share your most daring ideas for the online learning industry with us, and we will do our best to make them come true!




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