Web-Development

How to Create a Custom Online Learning Platform

In the last few years, e-learning has become really popular. Coursera has recently surveyed and found that online courses provide more hands-on knowledge and develop everyday subject skills more effectively than traditional education.

The educational technology market is predicted to grow by 11% annually and reach $341 billion by 2025. Approximate annual revenues of Udemy are 28 million dollars, compared to Coursera, which is 140 million dollars, and Udacity – 67.5 million dollars. In addition, in 2018, EdTech Venture Capital has invested $2 billion in EdTech startups.

With all this data, it’s no surprise you want to learn how to create a MOOC (Mass Open Online Courses) platform, such as Udemy, Coursera, and EdX. Who doesn’t want a slice of that sweet pie?

Recruiters are getting more serious about online certificates, which has led to increased trust in online courses. E-learning is a great way to share your skills and learn something new. You can also make money from it if you create a high-quality e-learning website filled with great online courses. In this article, you will learn how to create a сustom online learning platform. Read on to find out how you can do it!

Online Presence

To start working on your MOOC platform, you need a name and suitable, available domain. Here are a few tips on how to find a good domain for your e-learning platform:

  • Start by brainstorming names close to your niche;
  • Check the availability of a domain name by checking it;
  • Give preference to yourdomain.com;
  • Try to think of something short and memorable;
  • Do not use symbols or numbers – make it more universal.

Once you have found the right domain, find a reliable hosting site to host your e-learning site. There are many platforms on the Internet that are convenient for ordinary users with scalable hosting plans for small, medium, and large websites. I’d recommend InMotion Hosting or Siteground.

E-Learning Advantages

The impressive growth of the e-learning industry is due to several key advantages that e-learning offers over traditional learning:

  • Availability. The Internet provides access to online courses from any device (computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone) so that people can learn anything, anytime, anywhere.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Learning online is more cost-effective because there is no need for buildings, large bureaucratic and teaching staff, or other typical overhead, students don’t have to go to any places and waste their time – everything happens online.
  • Flexible learning. E-Learning allows you to create personalized courses of any complexity, specialization, and for any audience. There is no longer a need for the “one-size-fits-all” approach. Online courses, as opposed to schools and universities, are not bound to a specific time and schedule, so people can learn at their own pace.
  • Audience coverage. Online learning is available to everyone who has the Internet, which is almost 60% of the global population.

Anyone can enter the market – the main thing is to provide people with high-quality learning content and be able to attract users. This can be done even with little start-up capital. So, if you want to create an e-learning platform like Udemy or Coursera, now is a perfect time, while the market is growing rapidly, and there is no saturation of demand.

Platform Type

To create your e-learning platform, you first need to decide on its type. Depending on the services offered, these sites are roughly divided into six classes:

  • MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses). These offer many courses from different vendors: teachers, professors, universities, governments, community organizations, etc. MOOC is most similar to marketplaces like Amazon or eBay, where anyone can sell their product (in this case, educational courses) to anyone who is ready to buy it. Coursera, Udacity, edX, and Udemy are examples. Many industries also have their own niche sites.
  • LMS (Learning Management System). They offer basic functionality for creating courses, their storage, user profile management, progress reports, and achievements. According to the latest estimates, there are now more than 700 LMS sites on the market, most of which are specialized in corporate learning. Some of them have advanced features that make it easier to convert content to external audiences.
  • Open Source LMS Platforms. These sites are just like regular LMS platforms, only they are based on open-source software. In other words, anyone can create their own site or adapt one of its courses to their content and needs, basing on open-source LMS platforms. Examples: Moodle, Sakai, Litmos, Claroline, DotLRN, BrainCert, and Open edX.
  • MLMS (Modern Learning Management Solutions). These platforms are focused on student experience, using algorithms to create online courses and e-learning management tools that maximize the effectiveness of the process (in theory). Some modern MLMS platforms like Motivis, Docebo, NovoEd, and Totara rely on specific pedagogics.
  • LMS Ecosystem or Learning Management Ecosystems. Such projects strive to use the best “targeted” solutions in the field of distance learning by combining them into a single ecosystem. The University of Notre Dame’s NeXus platform based on Open edX can be an example.
  • Custom Built Learning Platform. Training platforms fully customized for specific solutions (courses, learning programs, etc.). A good example is Harvard Business School Online (HBX), a special platform created for Harvard Business School to provide premium-class business certificates.

Target Audience

Your online learning platform can be either universal (any courses, on any subject, for any audience) or specialized. Specialization can be divided into two directions: niche (industry, agriculture, art, teaching, etc.) and target audience (students, businessmen, mothers, pilots, Spanish-speaking immigrants, etc.). The narrower the niche and target audience, the easier the promotion but the smaller the audience coverage.

When launching a new project, it’s better to make it specialized. This will increase the efficiency of the initial investment and provide more tools to increase user engagement. Just like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many other companies from the Fortune Global 500 have done, starting from a certain niche and further expanding to a global scale.

Niche specialization is due to the demand, distance learning opportunities, and user buying power (if it’s a commercial project). For example, Udacity specializes in business and technology, Exchange CME provides continuous medical education, and Oilennium specializes in the oil and gas industry.

Specialization by target audience can make your project even more niche. For example, if the platform is oriented towards business education, you can focus on courses for students, faculty, or senior management. There are also courses designed to increase economic literacy for prisoners, immigrants, and teens.

E-Learning Platform Functions

Platforms of this type should have three user roles: the administrator that manages the site and deals with various site-related issues, the instructor (teacher, tutor) that creates courses and manages e-learning processes, and the student that studies, receives grades and a certificate, which confirms completion of the course. To make this possible, when creating the platform, you have to implement the following functions:

Administrator

  • Adaptive design
  • Convenient admin panel
  • Various payment gateways
  • PCI-DSS compatible gateways
  • Course categories
  • Search system
  • Multilingual support
  • Commission management
  • User management
  • Instructor management
  • Course category management
  • Complaint management system
  • Return management
  • Adjustable reviews and ratings

Student

  • Search system
  • Course categories
  • Course summary
  • Course structure display
  • Tutor information display
  • Course feedback feature
  • Administrator and instructor communication
  • Full Course of Module Only options
  • Student dashboard and analytics
  • Online quizzes and surveys
  • Learning success reports
  • Purchase history
  • Refund function
  • Additional offers

Instructor

  • Analytics dashboard
  • Course creation
  • Setting course data
  • Private course settings
  • Online quizzes function
  • Price management (incl. discounts)
  • Student/administrator communication
  • Course review and ratings
  • Certificate and diploma issuing

The listed functions are enough for your site to perform its main tasks. But if you want to stand out from the competition and get closer to the market leaders, you will also need a unique custom solution that can be implemented with the following features:

  • Gamification. It’s about creating a learning system that stimulates dopamine incentive systems in the student’s brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for the feeling of pleasure and anticipation of pleasure in learning, new knowledge, achieving goals, and many other actions. To achieve the maximum learning efficiency (dopamine reaction), you need the learning process to be a game, as in the Duolingo app.

You can learn how dopamine reward systems work from books like “The Biology of Good and Evil. How Science Explains our Actions” by Robert Sapolsky and “Maximum Willpower: How to Master the New Science of Self-Control” by Kelly McGonegal.

  • Artificial Intelligence. Besides gamification, Duolingo also uses deep neural networks to optimize learning. The other day, the world’s biggest experiment in online schooling was held in China, which helped people understand how AI can improve teaching and e-learning. First, Chinese artificial intelligence-driven learning apps will test students and offer them learning models according to their current knowledge. Next, scientists want to tune the AI to develop personalized courses.
  • VR and AR technologies. Virtual and/or augmented reality is the best way to show how mechanisms work, buildings are built, what’s inside the human body, etc. In addition, these technologies allow you to create muscle memory, which is highly important for many professions, from the military to doctors.

Effective UX/UI Design

E-learning platform design should be simple and contain colors that motivate students to study, keep them focused, without distracting them (advertising, popups, other courses, etc.). Thus, it’s best to hire a specialized agency to develop specific site design, but if you want to do it yourself, remember the following facts:

Hickey’s Law: “The more options, the more time it takes to make a decision. Experienced designers always remember this and, therefore, do not provide many options when it comes to choosing something. When you can’t do without it, the choice comes down to a few steps with 5-7 options.”

Miller’s Law: “People can store up to 7 information entities in their memory. Following this law, designers began to group the lists into groups of 5-7 entities.”

Gestalt Theory: “The human brain tends to recognize structure, logic, and patterns in what it sees and tends to combine many small objects into a large group. This helps to process information, create visual hierarchy, and increase the ability to scan content.” The main features, by which the brain groups objects, are as follows:

  • Proximity. When objects are placed together, they look like a group.
  • Similarity. When objects look similar to each other, they look like a group or pattern.
  • Continuance. The eye is compelled to move from one object to another.
  • Closure. When an object is incomplete or not completely enclosed.
  • Figure and ground. When the eye distinguishes an object from its surrounding environment.

Von Restorff Effect (Isolation effect): “If there are several similar objects, the one that is different from the others is more likely to be remembered. In UX design, this effect is useful to highlight important information as well as to encourage users to perform a certain action.”

Color Psychology: “People tend to associate colors with certain emotions and actions. Thus, blue is associated with trust, red – with aggression and importance, green – with harmony and nature, orange – with friendliness and kindness, pink – with sensitivity and hope, purple – with power and superiority. White and black – have many meanings, depending on the context.”

Monetization Model

WordPress offers its users many monetization systems. Perhaps the most popular of them is WooCommerce, which is a super easy to use e-commerce plugin that greatly simplifies the monetization process. And it’s completely free. 

  • Paid content. You can divide your courses into initial (free) and advanced (paid) groups. Moreover, you can create special tools that can be accessed only with a one-time or monthly fee.

To make your course paid, you must first add a WooCommerce product. To do this, go to the WordPress administration panel, select WooCommerce -> Products -> Add Product. Now you can create a product by specifying its name, description, regular price, and sale price.

You can also add a sale schedule for this product. Also, make sure you tick the For Tutor option so that Tutor LMS can use the plugin to sell the product. Publish the product.

Once this is done, go to your course and click on the “Edit Course” button. Scroll down to find the “Add Product” section. In the “Select a Product” drop-down menu, select the product you have created. This is how you will link the WooCommerce product to your rate. Make sure the “Paid” option is selected in the “Course Type” section. That’s it. Now you can monetize your distance learning site.

Repeat the procedure for each course you create, so you can track the sales of each course.

  • Sales fees. If your site allows people to sell training courses and other services, you can charge a fee for those sales. To do this, you need to create the ability to pay for these services on your site by connecting some of the most popular payment gateways (PayPal, Stripe, Square, SecurePay, etc.).
  • Ads and Blocking. You can make money on the promotion of your web services and/or courses on your site, as well as on the ability to block ads. For example, Duolingo offers a $10 monthly subscription with no ads at all.
  • Coupons. Many e-learning platforms allow many instructors, tutors, and teachers to promote their courses with special coupons that entitle them to various discounts or bonuses on the site.

Coursera and Udemy Stacks

Coursera Technology Stack

  • Programming languages: Scala, Javascript
  • Database: Amazon Relational Database Service
  • Search system: Amazon CloudSearch
  • Storage: Amazon S3
  • Web server: Nginx

Udemy Technology Stack

  • Programming languages: PHP, Python
  • Search engine: Elasticsearch
  • Database: MySQL
  • Web server: Nginx

Conclusions

It’s great that you think about creating a MOOC platform such as Udemy, Coursera, EdX, Udacity, etc., to help people share and get their knowledge.

Basically, to succeed, you only need 3 key elements:

  • Great idea and a business model to help you beat your competitors and major players.
  • Validating your idea through MVP.
  • Experienced development team that will help you create and maintain an excellent product.

The startup process is complex, and it’s not about unicorns and smoothies, but about the hard work of testing, measuring, collecting feedback, and rebuilding. Good luck!

Deven Rathore

Deven is an Entrepreneur, and Full-stack developer, Constantly learning and experiencing new things. He currently runs CodeSource.io and Dunebook.com.

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Deven Rathore

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