The term “custom eLearning solution” describes software that helps to educate: education marketplaces (Coursera, Udemy), Learning Management Systems (JoomlaLMS, Docebo), language-learning platforms (Duolingo, Mondly). You have an idea of an app for K-12, corporate training or just a cool original course, now what? If you don’t know where to start, how to create an elearning platform or app, this guide would be the best place for it.
Choosing An Online Learning Platform
If you are willing to develop a learning system, you have two options here: creating a new system or customizing an existing system
Choose developing a new system for eLearning if you prioritize:
- Scalability. If you expect millions of users on your product, you can design the architecture and structure the code to ensure it is ready for the high load;
- Unique features. A project utilizing rare features (e.g. virtual reality or artificial intelligence) should likely be developed from scratch;
- Few budget constraints. A completely new eLearning system is expensive and takes months to build.
Customizing an existing Learning Platform (JoomlaLMS, Moodle etc.) is right for you if you have:
- Lower scalability requirements. The LMS would have features that are excessive for your product. This tends to make customized solutions more “heavy” and harder to scale than their turnkey counterparts;
- Unique process. An eLearning project which differs from the competitors primarily by teaching methods would be easier to implement by customizing an existing solution;
- Limited budget. Existing LMS’ already have most (if not all) of the functionality a learner and instructor might need. This helps cash-strapped startups save money on development.
Either way, the circle of the Elerning Software Development process will look pretty much the same and will include the following:
- Requirements analysis. Preparing a detailed specification takes a lot of time. But there should be at least a set of basic requirements so the team knows what do they need to build.
- Design. Organise and draw the visuals for your product.
- Implementation. The stage where the programming work is done.
- Testing. It is needed to make sure everything works as it should.
- Evolution. After the product goes live, it’s time to listen to the feedback and add new features.
Belitsoft specializes in custom e-learning software development, so let's discuss your project.
Elearning Content Development
The most appealing design and attracting platform are useless if there are bad content. Content includes the learning materials (games, animations etc), and tests/quizzes/exercises.
The easiest way to convert content into digital materials (if you have these exercises in some other format) is by applying the industry standards. Among the most popular standards are:
- SCORM in its many versions is the most popular set of guidelines for the content. It is a standard for packaging learning courses into special files which can be read by any compliant application.
- xAPI is newer (latest version released in 2017) and is better suited for mobile learning (mLearning), game-based learning and latest trends like mixed reality and blended learning.
- LTI. It is mostly used for connecting a third-party cloud-based course or tool (“tool provider”) with another learning system (“tool consumer”).
SCORM vs xAPI
SCORM is a good decision for those who want to convert, let’s say an old PowerPoint presentation to a cross-platform e-Learning course without spending money. Plenty of authoring tools have a SCORM conversion feature.
It goes like this - you create some course in an authoring tool (or LMS), publish this course (or the part of the course) as a SCORM package, invite the learners and see the results of their courses in the LMS you’ve uploaded the course into.
Also, if you are about to change the platform, and both the new and the old one are SCORM-compatible, this task won’t be of any problem to you. You can simply export and import all the learning materials.
SCORM is more than enough for, let’s say creating a library of learning objects. It also satisfies the need for tracking the success of a small number of learners and monitoring their activity to adapt the course accordingly in the future.
People still use SCORM despite the fact it only allows tracking completion and success over the course.
xAPI seems to be the step forward in the industry.
xAPI has plenty of advantages in comparison with SCORM, including:
- No browser required;
- LMS agnostic (You may not use LMSs at all with this standard).
Have a look at what features this standard has to offer in comparison with SCORM at the official website of xAPI.
However, with xAPI you will need a new piece of software - LRS (Learning Record Store), and providing the connection between LMS and LRS is quite expensive.
LMS administrators should move away from SCORM slowly but steadily. The best way to do this is by not building new SCORM content.
If you need help with implementing xAPI, hire an e-learning development company.
SCORM and xAPI are going to be implemented simultaneously this year and maybe a couple of years more. Some will use SCORM for tracking the course completion by individuals, while the others are going to have xAPI in use for a deep analysis of performance and learning activity visualization. It is a better fit for analyzing group learning as well.
Authoring tools are just what you need to create content yourself. Their purpose is to help users prepare all kinds of learning materials, games, animations, and tests. Many LMS’ include some kind of authoring tools to help users get started faster.
Alternatively, there are companies specializing in eLearning content development. But you should clearly state your preferences and goals and participate in regular meetings with the team to make sure everything goes as planned.
Learner experience is paramount for a custom e-learning project.
The centerpiece of learner’s experience is their dashboard. It should provide easy access to courses, stats and other features that the user might need. Following your company style guide and adapting the design to the course will help reinforce your brand and make learning more interesting.
Custom lessons need to be designed in a way that doesn’t distract the learner from the exercise.
On the other hand, administrators and instructors need access to many features and they need it quickly. So the rule of thumb for an admin panel is “help the user do what they want with as few actions as possible”.
This is not the hardest part of the elearning development. There are plenty of freelance graphic design marketplaces (Upwork, Designhill), not to mention different design forums, job boards, etc. Hiring an established team of professionals is also a viable option.
Check out the examples of what an e-learning development company can do.
Instructional Design and Gamification
Gamification includes elements that motivate users by making learning process fun and competitive. The approach has proven to be effective and is widely accepted among the top e-learning companies.
Some of the popular features are:
- Progress bar showing how much the learner has already studied;
- Badges as a reward for achievements, like 10 successful answers in a row or 5 tests passed.
- Leaderboard which lets learners compete with friends
- Experience points and levels showing user’s expertise in given class;
- In-app currency which could be spent on bonus lessons or cosmetic elements.
DuoLingo, one of the most popular and praised educational apps on the market, is a fine example of using those features. Gamification has been their leading success factor.
As each product is unique, the exact details of your gamification system will have to be developed from scratch.
Marketing strategy for e-learning
You know how they say: build it, and they will come… to your competitors, who have invested in promotion. To achieve success, make sure people will hear about you.
There are several major options for marketing your e-learning product:
- Ads. It includes contextual advertising on search engines, banners and promotion blocks on social media. There are tons of available tools and the costs are reasonable. For example, advertising on Google for the keyword “learn German online” costs $3-5 per click. Compare that to the “offshore software development” at $104 per click.
- Social media marketing. Choose the social network(s) where your prospective clients gather and build a community around the product. Besides attracting new customers, social media can help track what people want and gather feedback.
- Content marketing. Making useful content and promoting it demonstrates your expertise and helps you rank higher on search engines. A blog of an e-learning company, for example, might have advice about teaching/learning methods, research, stats and more. Don’t limit yourself to text - videos and infographics are also quite popular.
Online Learning Monetization Strategy
As for monetization, there are many ways of earning money with the help of ready products in e-Learning, including:
- Paid lessons. The whole course could be a product that the users can buy and access at will. Having a free trial version showing off your advantages will be useful to bringing learners.
- Freemium. The product is free but has one or more paid versions offering extra benefits: no ads, personalization, priority service and more.
- Subscription. This model is similar to the first one but offers users temporary access to the product for certain payment.
- Ads. If your e-learning app has a free version, it can bring revenue through ads. The tricky part is finding the balance between earnings and user satisfaction. Nothing irritates a user more than nagging ads everywhere.
- Commission. This model suits marketplace. If a learner pays a tutor or a course vendor through your system, you can take a cut of the transaction.
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