The education industry has risen to many challenges over the past few years. Social distancing, continuous shutdowns, and the shift to remote work has become a new reality for many educational institutions and organizations worldwide. The need for new tools to facilitate the learning process in a post-pandemic environment is evident, and has boosted the e-Learning sector to heights it has never before experienced.
In 2020, the e-Learning market reached the mark of $250 billion and is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 21% between 2021 and 2027. The self-paced e-learning sector — most commonly presented by Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms — takes a significant share here, so it's no wonder that more and more startups are looking ahead at the new possibilities that the development of e-learning platforms brings to the table.
Read also our guide where we will detail how to launch an EdTech startup.
So, where do you begin when it comes to the question of how to build an e-learning platform for selling online courses? How do you pace the development process? Keep reading to find the answers to these questions.
Types of Online E-Learning Platforms
In broad terms, e-Learning can be identified as a learning experience delivered electronically to a user. This concept unites all the methodologies, tools, and other means used to create, organize, and communicate educational content in a digital environment.
E-learning has many benefits over traditional education, it:
- Enhances the quality of learning — online learning allows students to focus on subject matters which they may not feel confident in. Learners can also benefit from different types of educational content (images, illustrations, video, infographics), which results in better retention of information.
- Helps to meet learning needs — each learner has their own needs and learning preferences, which is rarely taken into account in standardized educational practices. With e-learning, on the contrary, learners can choose their own path and navigate it at a speed that is comfortable to them.
- Improves user-accessibility — e-learning removes geographical barriers, allowing individuals from around the world to participate in courses that spark their interests. Students with health issues can also benefit from e-learning, as they no longer need to physically attend in a facility to keep the education process going.
Now, let's take a look at the most popular types of e-learning systems one can find on the market today.
MOOC is a platform that hosts and organizes a large number of courses in different fields. The learning materials on the platform are normally created by educational institutions or individual course providers. In addition to online courses, MOOCs also offer tools for online testing, quizzes, and functionality for live interaction between students and teachers via dedicated discussion forums.
These platforms are commonly used for higher education purposes or for career enhancement. Many MOOCs offer their courses for free; however, if learners are interested in taking courses that are narrowly focused on a specific competency, the price for these may vary — from hundreds to a few thousand dollars.
Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
These systems assist businesses in delivering online education to their employees. LMSs are used for storing, managing, and tracking educational content within an organization. With an LMS, training development supervisors can assign courses, set goals for employees, track progress, and generate corresponding reports.
LMSs help companies save on training costs and simplify the onboarding process. This type of software is especially helpful for companies that have to deal with lots of regulatory requirements and, thus, want to ensure their staff is aware of all the current industry legislations and compliance rules.
Learning experience platforms (LXP)
The Learning Experience Platform is considered to be a more advanced interpretation of traditional Learning Management Systems. While LMSs incorporate a Top-Down approach where particular courses are assigned to particular employees, LXPs take one step further offering a Bottom-Up approach where learner's interests are put first.
LXPs focus on a personalized learning experience, thus better engaging employees in the learning process. Instead of browsing through a standard catalog of information — as is the common case with traditional LMSs — learners receive tailored knowledge and recommendations on content.
In addition to that, LXPs offer companies a comprehensive set of tools to ensure the learning curve of their employees goes along with the business goals and policies set.
Student management systems
Student Management Software (SMS) — also commonly referred to as Student Information Software (SIS) and Student Record Software (SRS) — eliminates paperwork from daily operations at educational facilities. Schools and universities use SMSs to manage student records, facility administration, and all other daily activities that take place.
Simply put, Student Management Software serves as a single database for all facility operations and admissions. It stores information about employees, contractors, suppliers, etc.
SMS may also include additional modules to manage such operations as billing, payments, reporting, and more. This system can offer enhanced functionality for parents, as well, such as attendance forms, grades, course information, schedules, etc.
Web conferencing software
These solutions allow users to hold online meetings, webinars, conferences, and training courses. Web conferencing tools support instant messaging, file, and screen sharing capabilities and help to streamline the communication process for all parties, regardless of their current locations.
Web conferencing software is used by a wide range of businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, and schools and universities. Aside from online classes, teachers normally use these tools for check-ins and Q&A sessions.
When students take exams remotely, there's a need for exam supervisors to somehow maintain the integrity of online assessments, and this is exactly what proctoring software helps them do. Such tools constantly monitor student behaviors during a test, check suspicious or background voice activity, and ensure that candidates stay focused on the test screen.
Advanced proctoring tools also support face recognition and multi-factor authentication technologies to confirm that the verified candidate is the actual person taking the test. Proctoring software can also block browser functions to prevent students from accessing help websites and other apps.
Read also about designing a SaaS app
This is an e-learning solution that allows educators and trainers to create learning content in a dedicated editorial interface. It consists of pre-programmed components that help arrange and manipulate different types of content — video, text, tests, etc.
Some authoring tools don't require trainers to have special skills and normally include pre-made templates that a course can be built on. Others offer more advanced features for those who want to launch highly customized courses with adaptive learning paths, gamification elements, and simulations.
Benefits of custom e-learning platform development
Whether you want to choose an e-learning software for your business or educational facility, building a custom e-learning platform is almost always a better option. Here’s why.
When it comes to off-the-shelf e-learning products, many do not target a narrow niche. Instead, they come built with a broad set of features in order to capture a large market share and, as a result, attract a broad user base.
For businesses and organizations that don't need a 'Jack-of-all-trades' kind of product, or for those that are only looking for particular features — they are all forced to opt for functionality they don't actually need with out-of-the-box solutions. For this exact reason, we have also witnessed an emerging number of new e-learning startups enter the market recently.
To put these ideas together, the benefits of building an e-learning platform can be outlined as follows:
- Complete control over the product — a custom e-learning software can be anything you want it to be. You decide on the content types that the platform will support, security protocols, deployment strategy, licensing, monetization model, etc.
- Focus is kept on the target audience — development of a custom elearning solution involves an in-depth analysis of the targeted niche and creation of a customer profile, helping you understand who you will develop an e-learning platform for (ideal customer), and why exactly you will do it (customer pain points).
- Updates can be introduced on-demand — with custom-made software you don't need to wait months to get bugs fixed or new features added. This can all be done by your development team in a matter of days!
- Flexibility of a solution — custom e-learning platforms can be built with flexible architecture which would allow you to scale-up as your business grows, with minimum effort and cost.
How to build an e-learning platform. 5 key steps
Now that we've uncovered the benefits that e-learning provides, and reviewed the main types of e-learning solutions, let's take a look at how to build an e-learning platform from scratch.
1. Do audience research and niche analysis
This is the first and most important step in the process of building an e-learning platform. Here, you need to figure out what value your future product will bring to its users (i.e validate your startup idea). You’ll need to define:
- What challenges users are faced with now.
- What users’ learning purposes are and how you can address them.
- What can be improved in the niche.
- Who your competitors are and what features their products lack.
Your task is to also determine potential product demand, as this will help to lay a foundation for future growth. If you are not sure of the path to take, get assistance from business analysts or a team with relevant expertise that can help develop a custom e-learning platform.
2. Shape your product idea and define its key features
Now, gather your findings from the previous step, and shape them into a product concept. Define which key features your e-Learning platform needs to have in order to motivate users to start using your service.
You can start with standard components, more-or-less (like Course pages, User Profiles, Rating System, Messaging, etc.) and get more advanced as your project grows (live video communication, multi-language support, dashboards, etc.)
Once the elearning platform features are outlined, you can proceed to creating a business model and developing architecture for your product.
3. Prepare a business model
At this stage, you need to determine how the platform will generate revenue. We advise that you dedicate a significant amount of time to this task, as the development of a viable business model is critical for startup success.
The most popular monetization model for e-learning platforms is to charge learners for specific courses. This is very simple to implement; however, maintaining your retention rate on a significant level may become a challenge here.
Another option is to opt for a paid certification model where courses are free but, if learners want to receive a course completion certificate, they are expected to pay a fee.
If neither of these two models suit you, you can consider a subscription-based model, where users are charged monthly/quarterly/yearly payments to get access to platform courses.
For more about different monetization models, read our article here.
4. Assemble a development team or choose a reliable outsourcing partner
To create an e-learning platform, you'll need to onboard a dedicated team of developers. You can assemble an in-house team or work with an outsourcing partner. While gathering an in-house team might seem like the most reliable option at first glance, it is a time- and money-consuming option. In this case, business owners are taking on the burden of recruitment, onboarding activities, taxes, office expenses, etc.
On the contrary, opting for an outsourcing software development company allows you to access an already assembled team of programming experts who can start building a custom e-learning platform right away. On this path, you will also see significant cost reductions since you only pay for the end result when working with an outsourcing development team, and all other expenses are covered by the outsourced partner.
5. Create an MVP
After you have assembled a team of developers, validated your e-learning platform idea, and created a business plan, you’ll need to develop a prototype and test it on early adopters (first users of the platform).
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is an early version of your product with basic functionality, which is created to collect maximum feedback from users in early stages and help developers fine-tune a product to their e-learning niche. Startups with little initial funds can also acquire investors by demonstrating the results of their prototype performance.
From here, you will need to get into a feedback loop, where you roll out enhanced versions of a product, gather user feedback, and adjust accordingly.
Read also about MVP development for online marketplaces.
Building an E-learning Platform with WTT Solutions
When talking about the phenomenon of e-learning, one can't deny the major paradigm shift it brings to the education industry. Not only does e-learning replace the rudimentary practices of the past, but it also boosts the effectiveness of the education process, while drastically reducing all the associated costs.
Aside from the education sector, private organizations have also started using e-learning tools to improve their onboarding processes, increase knowledge sharing, and eliminate the need to constantly turn to third-party instructions.
If you need help with your custom e-learning project, be sure to turn to a software development team that has the relevant know-how to deliver a project that will fully match your business needs. At WTT Solutions, we are vastly experienced in building customized e-learning platforms of different scales and complexity.
Contact us through our feedback form at the top of the page to get a free consultation with one of our experts on how to build an online e-learning platform. We also invite you to subscribe to our newsletter where we continuously share noteworthy industry highlights and updates!