How to Build an e-Learning Website…

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e-Learning seems to be a straightforward concept of learning conducted via electronic media. But once you decide to build an e-learning platform, you come across dozens of possible options, alternatives, and market niches. Today we will define what an e-learning platform is, identify the multiple types of business opportunities, and talk about developing an effective product.

What is an e-Learning platform?

This is an easy and extremely complex question to answer.

On the one hand, you will have Udemy and Coursera – the two largest giants of the e-learning world. And if you need a definition based on their examples, it would be as follows:

An e-learning platform is an online marketplace (website) operating with a set of integrated services for educational purposes. Such a website offers educators a set of tools for creating online courses and learners a wide range of resources and online courses to learn from.

On the other hand, you will have Moodle, Blackboard, or Canvas as other examples of e-learning platforms. And for them, the definition would be different:

An e-learning platform is an information system that provides educational institutions a number of tools and features to facilitate teaching and learning experiences. A platform can be a content management system (CMS), a learning management system (LMS), or a combination of both with extensive collaborative tools to develop and manage a virtual community of learners and educators.

To better understand what an e-learning platform is, we advise checking the industry leaders since each platform’s features, purposes, characteristics, and benefits would differ tremendously. Here are the companies you can check to learn more about the business before you build an e-learning website:

  • Kajabi
  • Pearson English Portal
  • Teachable
  • Udacity
  • Joomla LMS
  • ClickMeeting

A generalized definition for all of them would be that an e-learning platform is a basic technology that allows for the development of other technologies. The latter contains tools and features to facilitate teaching and/or learning through the creation of virtual learning environments. An e-learning platform also helps educators manage and monitor students’ progress and skills development.

Why build an e-learning platform in 2021/2022?

Let’s talk numbers first. In 2019, the global e-learning market size was $200,000 mln; by 2026, it is expected to grow almost twice in size. When the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the world in 2020, e-learning initiatives instantly sky-rocketed. Governments and NGOs started supporting and financing e-learning platforms to deliver high standards of education to children and students worldwide.

Besides schools and educational facilities, many companies adopted the distance learning initiative to support the development and business-as-usual operations in their teams. Back in 2015, 40% of Fortune 500 companies used e-learning platforms to educate their employees. The tendency has been growing steadily ever since; back in 2018, 90% of all corporations implemented e-learning into their onboarding and advanced-studies courses in one way or another. In 2021, the numbers remain high and the trend is quite promising as the interest in the industry and its solutions continues to grow. Here are a couple of brands that implemented e-learning into their daily operations smoothly and efficiently:

  • Shell Open University is an internal online portal for learning practical and commercial knowledge about the brand and improving technical skills.
  • Colorado State University – Global Campus is an e-learning platform that gamifies everyday tasks for university employees to raise the completion rate of mundane tasks .
  • Facebook is offering e-learning courses not only to its employees but to anyone interested in online marketing. The same strategy was adopted by Tesla and its open online courses.
  • IKEA was training its employees remotely even before the pandemic. The immersive experiences in AR allow floor managers to memorize stores’ layouts while learning at home.

The benefits of e-learning platforms

We’d like to start from a disclaimer here: you won’t see all of the benefits e-learning can bring for a business or an individual. The reason for this comes from the diversity of e-learning solutions existing in the market and the angle of benefits one takes. Just to name a few, we will list the benefits for educators, learners, and businesses.

e-Learning benefits for
EducatorsLearnersBusinesses
Any time is suitable to teach/learnAdaptable learning
Access to classes/learning materials at any placeShorter training period
Complete control over the teaching processRepeat a class as many times as neededRemote trainings and onboarding
Greater course coverageReduced cost of a courseBetter knowledge retention
Easier (frequently) automatic assessmentClear standards for knowledge assessmentCost-effective use of learning materials
Reduced time of course preparation (content reusability)Adaptable to every learning style and paceEmployee retention through continuous learning
Use of innovative technologies (AR, apps)Expansion of the peer circle for further careerEasy evaluation and control of the process

What are the types of e-learning platforms?

And now we have come to the most exciting part of this section. As you have already learned from above, to build an e-learning platform, you should know exactly what you will be developing. So here are the multiple types of e-learning solutions for your consideration.

The easiest differentiation for e-learning platforms is by the target audience they serve:

  • Educational facilities (schools, universities, private/individual learning schools/courses)
  • Professional open learning courses (including language-specific ones)
  • Small kids
  • Businesses for internal trainings
  • Corporations for internal development

Now let’s see the differentiation by learning curve that a platform can offer:

  • Learning destination platform (marketplace). A single extensive collection of online courses is offered to learners for free or at some low cost. Educators create their content and simply put it up or sell it to the marketplace. They also update and collect feedback on the developed material.
  • Traditional LMS. This is the most common type that allows educators to create their own online courses and materials and also share files and quizzes with learners. They also have the built-in assessment, performance, and administrative features.
  • Open-source LMS. The basic features and overall offer of an open-source LMS are the same as above. The difference is in the open code that can be amended to match the school’s or individual’s needs. Open-source LMSs can be in-built into existing learning systems for greater integration.
  • Customized platforms. These platforms are developed based on the individual needs and requirements from a business or education person. Pretty much every mobile and web application delivery for educational purposes can be considered a customized option.

While the following classification of e-learning platforms is subjective, we still want to outline the options on the table. The method of learning can also be a quality for classification differences:

  • Full/partial computer learning. When you build an e-learning website of this type, most often, you will be developing a platform for schools and universities that conduct all or some of their classes on computers.
  • Adaptive learning platforms. These e-learning websites monitor each student’s individual progress and adjust the upcoming lessons and materials to their knowledge and proficiency. Such platforms are based on AI technology to offer the highest level of flexibility.
  • Fixed-content leaning. These platforms have a predetermined set of materials that a user can access.

And the last but not least differentiation criterion is cost. In terms of cost, e-learning platforms can be:

  • free (open to the public)
  • partially free and partially paid (open to the public for free but with paid elements/content)
  • paid (open to the public but only at a cost)
  • paid (closed to the public, developed as white-label solutions or for internal use only)

We know that we have defined so many different types of e-learning platforms that it’s easy to get lost in the definitions. So the tip here would be to go over each criterion individually and think of your upcoming platform within a single category. In this way, you will be able to decide your target audience, learning curve, method of learning offered, and platform openness. By defining these elements, you actually make an initial step of the e-learning platform development.

How to develop an e-learning website

Before we move to the features and steps, we’d like to point out an essential hint to simplify your development process. When we say “develop,” we don’t always mean the creation of a platform from scratch.

Today, the market is full of white-label solutions for every need. These apps and platforms offer their service for a fee (license-based or monthly payments); once you pay for the service, you can integrate it into your existing system or reshape it for your own purposes.  This option is ideal if you have found a perfect white-label partner with great support and a fair price, especially if you do not have much coding experience and time.

A less common option would be to redesign your current system by either changing its features or just adding the new ones. In this case, the cost would be higher; yet, you can get more freedom for the required changes.

Finally, the most common method is development ‘from scratch’. Though it costs the most and requires much time, still the perfectly adjusted and adjustable platform designed to serve a specific pre-defined purpose is definitely worth the trouble if it makes your end-users happy and satisfied. 

Essential Features of the e-Learning Platform

The features you develop heavily depend on the type of platform you are planning to build. For instance, multiple payment options are essential for a learning destination platform with paid content, while video calls are crucial for LMSs used by schools. So we’ll name a few truly essential features and provide some details on the important add-on characteristics of different e-learning websites.

Must-haves

  • Log-in/sign-up functionality
  • User profiles of different roles
  • Dashboard for progress tracking
  • Notifications
  • Support for multiple languages (even if Google-translated)

Now, for an LMS, you will also need some admin front for class management and control, in-built quiz development tools, and messaging tools for educators to communicate with their students. Grading and gradebook export may also be of great value if you aim at serving thousands of students simultaneously.

For a marketplace, you should implement the acceptance of different payment options, feedback on the courses, reviews and comments, an admin panel, and even a blog. And while the latest addition might sound odd for an e-learning website, the blog actually helps a lot with the platform’s online marketing. It offers self-service space for anyone confused about your product features.

Nice-to-haves

The non-obligatory yet handy features should be considered based on your target audience and the unique offer you plan to sell. For example, class management tools (e.g. add student/register student/remove student/move student to another class) can help educators at institutions work with their student groups and manage their progress more efficiently. The same feature for a learning destination platform can be transformed into a roster of all users who have ever completed or started a course. It can provide valuable statistics to manage the most popular courses and improve them in the long run. For internal educational e-learning platforms, such a feature gives businesses control over the participants when course completion is mandatory, for instance.

Among such amendable and adaptable features, you should also consider:

  • Course catalog and search
  • Video calls
  • Social media integration
  • Support for multiple languages
  • Integration with third-party systems
  • Offline activity tracker
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Customizable learning paths
  • Role management
  • Organizational management
  • User management
  • Certification
  • Calendar integration and smart scheduling 

5 steps to build an e-learning website

Before we proceed to the steps, let’s reiterate what you already have: a target audience, a general idea of what your platform will offer, a selling model (free/paid), and a development method. So you have basically completed step #0 – planning. Once all this information is written down in a clear format, move on to the development:

  1. Get a team. Yes, a team of architects, developers, designers, and testers is needed regardless of the development method you select. Even if you are using a ready-made white-label solution, you still need to integrate the system into your business processes and ensure that it works flawlessly.

Note: If you have never worked with code, have little knowledge of web development, and want to build an e-learning website, consider outsourcing your development. The steps would be the same, but the process will be handled by a team of experts in the field.

  1. Choose a tech stack. We won’t talk much about selecting any tech stack as your team should make a decision on the framework, backend, database, frontend, cloud, and payments. If you undertake the development yourself, consider turning to digital transformation consulting services to ensure that you are selecting the right fit for your platform.
  2. Work on UX/UI. In educational projects, user experience is one of the most critical development stages. You will be teaching people with little knowledge, so a platform has to be intuitive and straightforward, especially if your target audience includes kids and their parents. Here are a couple of tips:
    1. Learners need to learn during the lesson rather than think of how to find their lesson.
    2. Don’t clutter the UI with extra buttons and features. Minimalism should be the core.
    3. A simple and consistent content structure is a must. Every course or class needs to be similar; otherwise, users will get lost.
    4. Add interactivity where possible but don’t overcomplicate things.
    5. Cross-device experience needs to be the same. Computer, tablet, phone, MAC or Windows – your platform should offer the same experience.
  3. Move to development. Once you are ready to build the e-learning platform, we recommend building an MVP first. This is the fastest way to test your core product and release the platform to the market to begin marketing, funding, and sales. Besides that, here are some tips to make the most of this initial development stage:
    1. Use the cloud for data storage
    2. Think of the further expansion, develop with scalability in mind
    3. Make your platform responsive
    4. Keep the data secured (MFA, access control, etc.)
    5. Protect content from copyright
    6. Allow pre-downloaded content for offline use
  4. Test, release, and support. Before making your e-learning platform available to the world, test it with the focus groups of your project (students, teachers, individual learners, parents and others involved). Collect the received feedback and make the changes to meet the users’ needs as much as possible at the MVP stage. 

And keep in mind that after the platform launch, you need to provide the best support for your new users they have ever seen. This would be hard as your platform has a minimum of features, and your end-users can be from any country in the world. However, reliable and fast support is an essential element of a positive impression for your first adopters. The more they like your platform, the higher you can jump from the start.

Do’s and Don’ts

We have recently finished our cooperation with the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF), one of the fastest-growing e-learning platforms. This latest experience made us rethink our strategy and take a closer look at this field and the particular needs of the market. That’s why we’d like to share both do’s and don’ts with you to ensure that your e-learning platform runs smoothly and efficiently.

Do’s

  • Know and monitor your audience. You need to know your users, their preferences, struggles, needs, and demands. So after you launch, ensure you keep the pulse of your users, monitor their platform activity, and send regular pulse surveys. This can be a perfect way to keep the audience loyal while also attracting more target groups.
  • Be native. After you build an e-learning platform, plan for expansion into the world of mobile. Online platforms, no matter how well optimized, still cannot compete with the native applications. Considering that 20% of all learners use only mobile devices, and 47% do some of the work with the mobile, you get a potential boost in business growth.
  • Go over the design. Yes, we stressed it before but you also need to know that counter-intuitive design will cause massive drops in the use of your product, hence overall business decline. Experience with your platform needs to be simple, intuitive, logical, and light. So conduct multiple tests, hire the best UI experts, and invest enough time & money into the platform design. Even the best content in the world won’t work if your platform design looks old and feels unnatural.
  • Play with content formats. While videos are the easiest and most popular way of content delivery today, you need to remember that videos help users learn passively. To add some active learning into the mix, give educators tools for quiz development, plan interactive tasks, and ensure to add text for platform accessibility. The more different content types you have, the greater freedom the users will feel. 

Don’ts

  • Don’t forget about analytics. We mentioned the collection of statistical data above but did not stress enough its importance. Collect and analyze the data you get. It is a perfect way to get rid of the non-working platform features, reconsider user journeys, remove abandoned task types, etc. Statistical data demonstrates how well users feel with your product, and it can give you the early signs of things that need to be changed.
  • Don’t accept all teachers. You should vet teachers who post their materials on your platform. It is hard, the criteria are blurry, and you will have to deal with rejections and upsetting behavior. But careful vetting can guarantee the quality of learning that will keep the learners engaged.
  • Don’t launch without content. You can test a platform with demo videos and show teachers the platform features with the limited content, but you cannot go online without content at all. If a user’s first impression is perfect design but no content to work with, they will not come back for more.
  • Don’t ignore tests. Test, re-test, and double-check every feature, functionality and piece of content that gets published for end-users. You cannot allow sensible activities or non-working ‘submit’ buttons on a live platform. Tests are the only way to guarantee high-level service to the end-users.

The bottom line

Build an e-learning platform with interactive content and flawless technology. There are no dark magic or hidden tricks in making your next learning product engaging and attractive to the markets. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the world is ready to go online for learning, and the global adoption of distance e-learning has proven to be effective. So use this precedent to your advantage and build an e-learning platform for commercial or public use with the future in mind. Get professional support of a development team, plan your user experience, and release a bugless platform. Should you have any questions, difficulties, or doubts about making your development process effective, contact our team for a free consultation to get the answers.

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