Over the last few years the EdTech market was among the few ones that during the ubiquitous lockdowns got a significant boost. The vast majority of educational facilities started to look for the possibilities of bringing offline education online, thus increasing the demand for educational solutions.
Aside from that, more and more people became interested in taking courses and training programs from the comfort of their homes as there were basically no other ways of doing that during the pandemic. This all resulted in the rapid growth of the EdTech market, and the appearance of new startup initiatives.
In this blog we'll discuss how to create an e-learning app from scratch, what steps need to be taken, and what features normally come with such mLearning solutions, as well as give some advice on which format — website or app — to choose for your future product.
e-Learning Mobile App vs Website — Which One to Choose?
Before you jump straight into the development of either a website or mobile app, you should first understand the main differences between the two, and what aspects should be taken into account — to make sure that once the project is done you get exactly what you've looking for in the first place.
In order to give the answer to the question of what makes a mobile app different from the website, we could provide a list that would cover dozens of unique criteria; however, in general case, the difference boils down to four main factors. These are: purpose, complexity of the development process, time to launch, and required resources.
Purpose — or area of the application — is the main characteristic that should be considered when choosing between web app and website. Talking about the websites, these are commonly developed with the informative goals in mind, meaning that here users are supposed just to get some information about the company, get to know its organization, structure, etc. Just take a look at the resources of the majority of the universities worldwide — their websites do exactly that.
Web apps, on the contrary, focus more on the actionable goals. They are developed to solve an existing problem or do a particular task. In EdTech, to this category fall all the products connected with online courses, language learning, early childhood learning, STEM, etc.
Complexity of the development process
On average, websites are easier to produce since they basically consist of web pages that are compiled together. The main challenges with the website development may arise with the page appearance as here the 'sky's only the limit', i.e. you can go with a simple WordPress theme that takes little effort to integrate, or choose to produce complex design with lots of animated elements, transitions, etc.
Nevertheless, even with that perspective in mind, the development of web apps is a lot more complicated due to the higher number of product components and tech integrations that need to be considered. Also, don't forget about security and other functionalities like data, payment processing, transactions, analytics, social integration, interface responsiveness, etc.
Time to launch
The development of a basic website may take on average from a couple of weeks to 1-2 months; however the production may take even longer in case developers will have to deal with the large number of pages and lots of dynamic elements as it will take more time to create and integrate those, compared to the static content.
When it comes to the development of the mobile apps, this can hardly be fit into a one-month timeline. Here, the entire process will consist of two major phases: 1) the development of MVP and 2) further scaling. The production of MVP itself may take somewhere around 10-15 weeks, while the scaling phase can stretch for months and even years — depending on the project demands and amount of changes that the team will need to do along the way.
It's a bit hard to tell which one — website or web app — consumes more or less resources as here it's more about the type of resources being consumed rather than their amount. And this is what makes two approaches different.
So, when creating a website most of the time developers will be busy putting together website architecture and sourcing (or producing) website content. With the app, on the contrary, most of the time will need to be invested in the creation of the app's functionality and integrating corresponding technologies.
In a nutshell, we can say that there's no 'better' or 'worse' option when it comes to the choice between a website or web app development. These both approaches work well and it depends more on the purposes and needs of a particular project. In this article though we'll focus more on custom eLearning app development as this is a more complicated topic with more stumbling blocks that need to be examined in greater detail.
Core Features of eLearning Apps
Sign Up & Profiles
The developers should establish easy and clear sign up process for app users. The combinations of either 'phone number + password' or 'email + password' are seen today as the most common methods of handling the registration procedure. For the ease of use the option of signing up via social networks can also be implemented. Implementing two-factor authentication should be considered here as well.
Search & Filtering
One of the distinctive characteristics of e-learning apps — and what basically makes them different from other types of mobile apps — is the amount of content. If we take for example apps that offer online courses, sorting through hundreds of educational programs can become a daunting task for an average user. That's why the integration of a well-developed search component — where users can set parameters, apply filters, and browse through categories — is a must for all educational products.
Dashboards & Progress Tracking
This component would be especially helpful for those e-learning products that work with online courses. With the help of the dashboards, users can get all the information about the courses they're taking on the platform, progress stats, time spent, etc. Dashboards can also display completed programs and completion certificates.
Adding video conferencing functionality to an education app is a great way to promote a blending learning approach that allows not only to study material, but also get comprehensive answers on the questions during live consultation with the subject-matter expert.
Another benefit of this feature is that it can help establish a convenient communication channel for app users. This is extremely important for the products where the main concept is wrapped around the idea of user interaction, like in the LukLabs — EdTech product that was produced by our team.
When users take an online course or go through an educational in-app program that has a particular deadline, they need to have a calendar that will remind them of important dates, or the need to submit current assignments. Aside from that, the calendars can also be used to book a consultation (video call, for example) with a teacher or another app user (like in LukLabs).
As any other types of mobile apps, the e-learning products should also offer users the ability to make in-app transactions. These can be payments for courses, lectures, consultations, certificates, extra content, etc. This is a pretty standard feature and normally developers add those payment gateways which are the most popular on the market that the app is developed for (credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, etc).
In the case of online courses not only users should be able to download learning materials from the app, but also upload files (assessment documents, for example) to the system too. These can be anything from simple media (images, videos) to more advanced formats like PPT and PDF.
Gamification Elements in eLearning Apps
In the EdTech industry gamification is often seen as one of the main elements of the user-friendly application for many reasons. First, it improves user engagement and motivates learners to progress through the course or program. Gamification is also considered to be a great cognitive tool, and one that is able to cater to the needs of people with disabilities.
Now after we've sorted out the benefits of this game-based approach, let's look at different gamification methods that are often used in the e-learning products:
Rewards & badges
These are often added to the apps to acknowledge user's progress and make them feel that their in-app achievements matter. Rewards are normally given out to users for hitting a specific milestone, for example passing a test (for students) or education exam (for employees). Rewards and badges can also be used as an addition to another point-based grading system.
Levels and scores
Levels are especially helpful in case of big courses or extensive training programs. So, in order to make large chunks of information more 'digestible' developers often break down courses into several parts or 'levels'. As to the scores and points — these are used to give users instant feedback regarding their current learning progress. They also serve as targets motivating users to reach specific goals and use an e-learning app more frequently.
This is one of the most important elements among all others in gamification as it motivates competitive users and boosts overall engagement. The leaderboards normally include the necessary information about user progress, in particular: the number of points the user has collected, the current position of a user (in the leaderboard list), how many points are required for the user to move to the next level or higher position, etc.
Leaderboards also promote the social component of the product as they allow users to share their stats on social media and compete with friends and colleagues.
Introduction of the digital currency to the EdTech product gives users a feel that they earn actual money while completing in-app programs and assignments. This is a very strong component of the whole gamification system that can also be used by users for getting some in-app assets. For example, they can use currency (or earned points) to purchase additional content, bonus lessons, unique stickers, and more.
Simple yet very useful element that allows users to see where they are at in the education course. Progress bar helps to easily track and measure the current progress and it should be clear and visible enough once implemented in the final product. It can also display some basic information like the number of lessons already completed, rewards gained, etc.
Microinteractions are not mandatory in terms of gamification; however, they can spruce up the app's interface and user engagement, capturing their attention and making them stick longer with the solution. These can be anything: from easter eggs, and special effects to loading, hover, and navigational animation. The only recommendation here would be not to overdo things — since microinteractions are used for decorative purposes, the interface that is overloaded with additional elements can distract users from the main elements and in-app tasks.
According to the research, 63% of people process information better if it is presented in the form of a story. So, adding a storyline is a great way of making the educational process more engaging. The storytelling is critically important for those products that target the K12 audience as children can often get easily distracted from learning thus developers should ensure that the users keep focused as long as possible.
When implemented right, countdowns can greatly motivate users to complete a lesson within a limited timeframe. These can also be combined with other gamification elements — for example, if a user manages to complete a test or task in time, then they will get additional points or another in-app reward.
The personalization elements are widely applied across different mobile apps, and e-learning products should be no exception. Aside from such basic features as changing a nickname and customizing interface elements, users can also get a possibility to add avatars to make their profiles unique. Aside from that, common practice is adding awards or badges to the profile picture. These can be added once a user hits a milestone, completes a program, or gets another in-app achievement.
Custom E-Learning App Design & Development Process
This is the very first stage of the development process where you assess the project concept, clarify overall vision, goals, scope, identify potential risks, setting priorities, etc. Basically, this step serves as a foundation for the entire project and helps developers find answers on the main questions, such as:
- Why are we developing this project in the first place?
- Does the market actually need this new product?
- Who will be the audience of this product?
During the discovery stage the development team also conducts comprehensive competitors research, analyzes existing products on the market, their strong and weak points, etc.
On this stage the team gathers all the learning materials and creates learning experiences that then will be provided in the future product. Basically on this step developers need to ensure they 1) get all the content required and 2) structure the educational process in the way that would be most effective for delivering new skills or knowledge to the end user.
When carrying out this phase the developers normally opt for one of the instructional design models which allows to ensure the designed model fully corresponds to the educational needs of the projects. Some of the common models are: ADDIE, SAM, Dick and Carey Model, and Kemp Design Model.
Once the structure of the educational content has been sorted out it's time to start developing a Minimum Viable Product. On this step the main task for the developers is to build the very first version of a product. The MVP will include only core features but will be usable and able to attract the early adopters (users) of a product who will then provide feedback for future improvements.
The main advantage of developing MVP instead of a fully fledged product is that it allows developers to save up on the production expenses while still getting a working version of a product — a version that will help to test the general concept before investigating a top dollar.
This is the final step of the e-learning mobile app development process that can extend over months and even years. So, once the MVP is done the developers start testing it and — based on the feedback they get — make changes, add new functionality, fix errors, etc. Here, the duration and complexity of this stage basically depends on how many iterations developers want to make with their product, and how often these new updates need to be made.
eLearning App Development Tech Stack
When it comes to the techstack, custom e-learning mobile app solutions — depending on a platform — may require different technologies and programming languages to be used. Here are the most common tech sets that are used for building an e-learning app:
- Native apps
- Android — Dart, Java, Kotlin.
- iOS — Ionic, Swift, Objective-C.
- Cross-platform apps
Aside from that, there also can be third-party integrations used to extend products functionality. If we take a look at the leading products in the EdTech market today, these rely on dozens of tools and utilities in their tech stacks. Here's a short list of such integrations for:
- Mailing — ZeroBounce, MailGun, FastMail, TempMail, SendGrid.
- Push notifications — Nexmo, Plivo, Sinch, Twilio.
- In-app payments — Stripe, Braintree, PayPal’s SDK, Google Pay, Apple Pay.
- Analytics — Firebase, Google Analytics, MixPanel, Flurry.
Costs of eLearning App Development
As you've seen, the custom e-learning application design and development includes multiple production stages and components that can affect the total timeline, and as a consequence, production budget. Aside from that, the amount of investments to be made directly depends on the development approach and team you choose. So, in order to be able to correctly assess e-learning app development costs, consider these three general factors:
- Product complexity — eventually, the less complicated a project is the less resources will be required to get it off the ground, and each new feature or functionality will consequently increase the development costs.
- Number of platforms that product needs to be run on — if you want to create an e-learning app for multiple platforms then be ready that the production costs can be several times higher compared to the situation with the e-learning app development for a single platform (either Android or iOS). If, however, your budget is limited, then you can opt for a cross-platform app that provides a native-like experience for users on both mobile platforms, and is less expensive to develop at the same time.
- Software development partner — here you basically have two options: assemble an in-house team, or outsource your project, hiring either onshore or offshore developers. Talking budget wise, the most affordable way of building a mobile eLearning app is by hiring an offshore e-learning app development company that will create a platform for you. This will be 2-3 times cheaper compared to the onshore agencies (especially if we're talking about the US or Canada region), and a few times faster (compared to the assembly of the in-house team).
At WTT-Solutions we've been developing software products for over five years with the Education market being one of our main areas of expertise. In our portfolio you'll find the most recent examples of our work on the EdTech projects, such as PLH, LukLabs, and Knowledge Pillars.
The PLH or Parenting for Lifelong Health app was developed by our team to help parents create healthy relationships with their teens and decrease the risk of domestic violence. The program offers a wide range of positive parenting techniques that aim to develop a nurturing and protective environment for children at home.
The app interface was purposefully kept minimalistic to make sure that nothing distracts users from main actions/elements on-screen. Bright colors were used for the app's interface to accentuate the fact that even though the subject — parenting tactics — is quite serious, still, the learning process should be fun and interesting itself. In total, 990 man-hours were spent on the development of this project. As to the technologies, here our programmers used Ionic and Angular.
Another project that was produced by the WTT-Solutions team is LukLabs — the platform that allows teenagers and their families to connect with college students and get comprehensive consultations regarding the education process and other questions. Users can even book a live video tour with one of the students who will take them on a virtual walk around the campus, residence halls, and give a general overview of the college.
For this project we've developed a smart search function that allows users to conveniently browse through the list of 'local guides' (students), introduced a secure payment processing module, and integrated a high-quality video tool to allow users to connect in real-time. We also made it possible for the users to access the platform via any device (phone, desktop, laptop, etc.)
It took 6058 man-hours to develop this app and a team of six professionals were engaged into the production process all the way through: 2 front-end developers, a backend developer, project manager, business analyst, and QA expert. The technologies used for this project were: Amazon WS, Redux, React, Redux Saga, InversifyJS, PayPal, PostgreSQL, Braintree, and Express.
One more educational product that was created by our team is the Knowledge Pillars. This testing service helps K12, college-level students and industry professionals to validate their IT skills via globally recognized certifications and within a convenient programming environment. Knowledge Pillars offers a wide range of tests, each of which targets specific areas of expertise.
Two developers and one project manager were involved in this project that took 1957 man-hours to produce. As for the tech stack, our team used NodeJS, Typescript, MongoDB, React, Redux, ExpressJS, and Amazon Services (Cognito, Lightsail, Amplify).
Do You Want To Know More About Custom Elearning Development?
Custom eLearning app development is a complex process that requires developers to have practical expertise not only in the field of mobile solutions, but also in the EdTech industry as this is on the rise now and lots of companies are trying to jump in with their custom e-learning mobile app solutions.
If you are looking for a reliable and reputable vendor for custom eLearning app development, look no further than WTT Solutions. Our team consists of experienced programmers that know everything about software development, especially for the education industry. Over the last five years we've successfully delivered projects to our clients from the US, Canada, UK, Europe, etc.
We also provide consultations to the potential clients regarding their projects at no costs. So, if you want to know how our company can help you build an e-learning app contact us by filling a feedback form in the top right corner of this page, and one of our reps will contact you asap!