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everything you need to know about building an e-learning platform in the usa

Introduction

The online learning system got a major boost during the pandemic and will continue to be popular post-COVID. More and more people have realized the importance of virtual learning and have joined the bandwagon. A lot of companies came forward and attempted to create their own e-learning application, and a good number of them have been hugely successful; for example, giants like Udemy, WizIQ to name a few. This caused the development of online education technologies to hasten faster than ever and there is still space in the market for newer technologies and new approaches.

Choosing the right platform

If done correctly, the online learning platform is good for both learners and teachers. So if you are building a successful platform for online courses, the first focus should be on the platform functionality.

While visiting other online platforms that offer courses, you can see them flooded with testimonials claiming their worth. But it still is a task to make successful platforms because a lame platform functionality will interrupt the students’ studies. It is also important to create an online platform with the perspective of scaling up.

Features of a winning online learning platform

While planning an online e-learning channel, here are some features you can include in them.

1. User-friendly design

The learning platform that you create must have an excellent user-friendly interface and multilingual support. It must have the ability to segment different teams and create unique learning paths. LearnUpon is a learning portal that has the capacity to train multiple users through its learning paths. A single user can enroll in multiple courses at a single time without wasting time, and go through structured training programs that give the user the ability to control the order in which the courses get assigned to them and the timeframe of the course availability. This is a wonderful feature that allows users to learn at their own pace and drives them to their goal.

Creating a learning path for the platform provides a customized experience to the users. And it works in a much different way than customized help because, with the learning path, the users would be able to easily perform an action or open a page. Even though it is an optional feature, more engagement would come into the platform if you have the feature set in.

2. Rewards and incentives

One of the best features of an e-learning platform is obviously the reward mechanism that it provides. After all, who doesn’t like an incentive when completing milestones? There are points, badges, and pins that can be assigned to the user’s profile as a representation of a virtual boon or digital artifact that they earn on the field. Several well-known applications use this feature to boost learner motivation and excellence, bringing the users closer to their goals in a fun way. For example, Udemy provides a number of courses that promise different kinds of incentives for learners completing different goals.

3. Assessment tools

There are various ways of assessing learner knowledge and using a few of them in your platform would help teachers and tutors calculate the skill level and knowledge of the users. These rubric assessments would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the students and grade them accordingly. All the learning platforms that you see online utilize assessment tools in various ways so there is no set tool that you should use for your own.

Socrative, an interactive digital tool that lets teachers quiz and grade their students, Google Forms to automatically create and grade students, Mentimeter with its pre-built education templates for listening skills assessment, icebreakers, formative assessments, post-lecture surveys, and polls and Open-ended Questions are some of the most popularly used assessment tools in the platform.

4. Creating a collaborative environment

Making remote learning collaborative is an added feature for many online learning platforms. Google Meet and Zoom are excellent examples of collaborative learning where teachers and learners can meet in the same virtual environment and collaborate with each other. With the pandemic, schools have started embracing these technologies successfully and they have become a part of the daily school routine.

5. Providing certification support

After completing courses in platforms like Udemy, the learner gets a certification of achievement that the learner can add to their resume or portfolio. These certifications can be used to progress the skill level of the user.

These are just the basic features of the online platform. However, it is important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all scenario and you really have to be aware of the requirements of the target segment before planning to build one.

One of the biggest questions that comes in when you choose a platform would be whether to go for MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) or LMS (Learning Management System).

In the MOOS system, people from all over the world can create and buy courses on the platform. Udemy is a good example of a MOOS system. And with LMS, there will be restricted access, meaning only people with access will be able to do the courses. It is usually meant for corporate employees, university students, distance education, and so on. Whatever platform you are choosing will have to be customized to your business requirements.

6. Reporting and analysis

This is a very essential feature-component of the learning platform. The course creators must be clear on the robustness of the data and its integration with other software. The integration with other software would help the course creator provide more accurate service to the learners and teachers because it helps them analyze and track student progress, the effectiveness of online training activities, the time needed to complete a course, etc. ‘It’s Learning Platform’ is an e-learning platform that leverages the feature of learned analytics and advanced reporting to keep track of what the students and learning, and how well they are progressing in the group. The platform also uses a messaging feature to check in on the students.

Design workshops and creating MVP

When you are ready to develop an online learning platform, look at the MVP or the Minimum Viable Product to know how far it would be received by the target segment. Finalize the basic idea and validate it to know the direction the platform should take and what features should be incorporated. If needed, you can release the basic product initially to attract investor attention and raise capital.

Once you get feedback from the people who test your platform, you can also use their input to improve the platform’s features, add or delete functionalities, and so on.

Irrespective of the different models that you use for the e-learning platform, it is important to have these MVP features incorporated.

1. Authentication and user profile

The very first step is, of course, user profile and authentication of the users. Obviously, the most popular method for that is the email or username and password combination or signing up through social networking sites.

Online Learning Platform - Course Authentication and user profile creation

Image Credit: Coursera

2. Filtering system

When you are offering a big platform with several courses, users would find it difficult to find a course that suits their requirements. There must be some way to sift through the catalog of courses offered, and that is why you must have a filtering system that will help the users locate their favorite courses daily. You can help them reach their desired course by setting parameters like Udemy does to make it easier for them and be sure to recommend further courses. The filtering system in Udemy is a good example of this.

Example for E-learning platform category list

Image Credit: Udemy

3. Dashboard

Udemy has an interesting and very helpful dashboard. It’s worth a look here as it helps both students and teachers track the progress. The students can see the different courses they’ve enrolled in, the time they spent watching it, the certificates they’ve secured, and so on.

E-Learning dashboard overview

Image Credit: Udemy

4. Course page

The Course page of Google Digital Unlocked helps the users discover a huge range of courses that would help progress the user’s career. The user can go through their online courses and offline training sessions to choose the ones that they like.

List of all type of Online course categories and related Courses

Image Credit: Google Digital Unlocked

5. Payment systems

An e-learning platform must make it easy for users to make and receive payments. Thinkific has an excellent course checkout page that helps users make payments and go about their courses.

Example of an e-learning Payment System and checkout

Image Credit: Thinkific

6. Course adding page (for tutors)

The learning platform must make it easy for teachers to edit content and add more materials to the already existing page, for example, audio files, video files, pdf, etc. Thinkific is an excellent example of this.

Online learning platform Course Management module

Image Credit: Thinkific

7. Notifications and reminders

Timely reminders and notifications to both learners and tutors through emails or other message formats would be a good addition to the platform. This would inform users whenever a new course is added or the teacher when a student submits his report.

E-Learning platform Notification and reminders settings

Image Credit: Thinkific

8. Admin panel

An admin panel is something every online course platform should have because there should be administrators who manage the courses and the content that goes in. They also look after everything that’s related to the administrative functioning of the platform.

Admin panel model for an online learning platform

Image Credit: Thinkific

Tips for rapid development of e-learning platforms

The following tips can help you set up your e-learning platform quickly.

  • Choose the right platform; the right partner will set up your online learning website much faster than you expected
  • Create a storyboard to have a coherent blueprint of the content sequence of your courses
  • Create a collaborative environment with authoring tools like Shift to connect with other team members who are preparing the course content
  • Try for microlearning courses rather than jamming a huge course in a single big unit.

The e-learning platform should have quality content and the lessons should be available in an easy and affordable way for multiple devices. Easy integration of payment gateways would help you set up the e-learning platform easily. Stripe is one such card.

Compliance needed for e-learning platforms in the USA

The e-learning course must be developed to ensure compliance across different platforms and devices. SCORM or Shareable Content Object Reference Model is one much compliance standard, where a set of standards and technical specifications are described to ensure the courses can be opened and accessed in multiple devices and on most learning management systems.

Building SCORM compliant courses would help you when you want to switch to a different LMS or if you want people using multiple LMS platforms to access it easily. So when content is uploaded from one LMS, it must be accessible in another LMS or on a wide range of systems. To make this happen, the content and LMS must communicate properly, and SCORM is the set of standards that make it happen.

SCORM-compliant courses are used by people who want to sell their courses on third-party platforms (so they have a wide customer base) and for internal training in companies. To ensure cross-compatibility, there will be a special file packaged into the course material, “imsmanifest.xml.” and this file will direct the LMS and instruct how the course will open on different platforms.

For tracking learning-related activity, xAPI or Experience API compliance is widely used. This compliance ensures the framework and structure to pass information/data between the learning platform and technologies. The data includes both online and offline training activities and allows sharing between multiple systems. If you are looking to track learning experience in different environments and systems, xAPI is a good option to use.

AICC - Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee, is another learning technology standard that determines how the learning management systems and the e-learning course interact. It sends HTTP messages to your LMS. It is different from SCORM as the latter communicates with Javascript.

Both SCORM and AICC are common in the e-learning industry and without these standards, it is not easy to share the integrated learning content, and if it is possible, then it will be a costly and time-consuming process.

It is also advisable for e-learning projects to be compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards to manage the ethical standpoint. Before coming up with the e-learning platform development, you have to apply the principles of economics and legal reasons for incorporating accessibility of the resources to all the people that it’s intended for. Web content that isn’t adhering to the WCAG guidelines will be rendered unreadable and useful to many.

The four main groups in WCAG guidelines are Perceivable (where the content becomes perceivable to everyone), Operable (where users can interact with the content), Understandable, and Robust (usable on a range of devices).

E-Learning Platform Business Models comparison


Technology stack for developing an e-learning platform like Udemy, Coursera, and a couple of others

Here is a quick glimpse into the technical aspects of some of the popularly used e-learning platforms:

1. Udemy

The advanced technologies, economical rates, excellent rating, and educational content availability in different platforms have dictated the success of Udemy since it was founded in 2010. When Udemy was first introduced, Udemy used PHP with a custom MVC framework for backend purposes. Later, the framework shifted to Python, and has continued with it ever since. And for the frontend, the platform currently uses JavaScript, AngularJS, HTML5, CSS3 as it’s core technologies for the client-side. Some of the third-party tools and integrations include Trello, Dropbox, Slack, Salesforce, and Zendesk. The web server for Udemy is Nginx.

2. Coursera

Coursera was also initially developed using PHP for the first lines of coding. Then as the platform evolved, the developers chose Python and Go, and then finally, Scala in combination with the Play framework. That’s how it is being used to this day. For its relational databases, MySQL and Amazon Relational Database Service are used. As for cloud storage, the platform uses Amazon S3 and Nginx as Web Server. Some of the client-side technologies to develop the frontend are JavaScript, ReactJS, and Bootstrap. Third-party integrations and tools include Jira, Slack, G Suite for collaboration and productivity, and Amazon CloudSearch and Elastic Search for integrating Search and Analytics. Other third-party tools include Trello, Dropbox, Salesforce, and Zendesk. The web server for Coursera is Nginx.

3. Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a non-profit learning platform built by MIT graduate Salman Khan, and it is extremely popular among students who cannot afford to buy an online course and students who would like to complete their classroom learning with some extra information. Khan Academy uses React to build its user interface; and Google App Engine to build its back end (so that it can be scaled any time), and also Handlebars.js and Backbone.js. The platform also uses Crowding (as a localization management platform), Mailgun (for its transactional email APIs), Twilio SendGrid (for quick delivery of emails), and Google Analytics (for web analytics services). For its DevOps requirements, Errorception is used. It helps to find Javascript errors quickly and easily.

4. DataCamp

DataCamp uses jQuery, JavaScript, Python, PHP, NGINX, React, Java, CloudFlare, Bootstrap, Ubuntu, jQuery UI, TypeScript, Amazon S3, Ruby, CSS 3, Amazon CloudFront, Microsoft Azure, Rails, Google Cloud Platform, Go, Lodash, Moment.js, R Language, Passenger, Fastly, Cowboy, Google Code Prettify for Application and Data, Gmail, Guite, Intercom, Adroll and Qualaroo as its Business tools and Docker, New Relic and Varnish for DevOps. For Utilities purposes, the platform is set with Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Github Pages, Stripe, TwilioSendGrid, Mailgun, Mandrill, Optimizely, Segment, Gatsby, Netlify, Kissmetrics, and Braintree.

Conclusion

Looking for custom e-learning development? Before diving right into the market, you need to have a reliable and reputed partner by your side.

Cabot Technologies has experience in developing e-learning platforms in these technologies. To know more about how to create a platform to sell courses to students on a global scale, just get in touch with us.

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