How To Avoid Costly Mistakes in eLearning Platform Development

How To Avoid Costly Mistakes in eLearning Platform Development

Dominik Raś - PMO Team Lead
5 minutes read

Elearning is one of the fastest-growing industries worldwide. Providers of cloud-based learning platforms are taking advantage of the “learn-from-anywhere” culture by selling edtech solutions, creating new learner experiences, and delivering powerful educator tools.

However, a majority of these platforms are built by companies that are still saddled by the technical debts of building them. Technical debt is the time period when a project’s software developing costs exceed the profits or revenues generated from its market state—and this is all too common in the relatively new eLearning industry.

Developing a top eLearning platform can be expensive, complicated and time-consuming. On top of this, the market can shift unexpectedly (think mobile education, or pandemic restrictions). These rapid shifts will demand even more software development costs, meanwhile, the previous ‘debts’ have not been resolved—and the debt payoff moves further down the line.

Despite the grim reality of technical debt, companies that can get ahead of it will generate incredible revenues and capture a growing eLearning audience. Let’s take a look at some of impressive eLearning statistics:

  • The Global Education ERP Market is expected to reach $22.2 Billion by 2026, a rise of nearly 13.8% compared to 2020 according to Research and Markets.
  • On-the-job training and corporate e-learning industry is estimated at 17.2 Billion, with 90% of employees saying that eLearning was most effective for their job training.
  • Forecasts predict the eLearning software market worldwide will surpass 243 billion U.S. dollars by 2022 according to Statista.
  • Enterprises like IBM have saved around $200 Million by switching to eLearning and about 40% of Fortune 500 companies are moving towards online learning.
  • Educators on platforms like Skillshare earned on average about $40,000 USD per year.

These exciting figures point towards why many organizations—from startups, to Universities and well-established enterprises—want to build their own platforms for eLearning. But many eLearning providers have learned the hard way that building such a platform can fail in big ways.

Understanding eLearning Requirements

The key to any robust software development project starts before a single line of code is written. Being short-sighted about development may lead to quick payoffs, but almost always gets a company stuck in their investment—too expensive to change models, and too rigid in rising costs over time to keep up the demand for fixes.

A learning platform that can quickly scale and provide in-demand features will rise to the top. Industry leaders like Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Duolingo have all made significant changes to their original platforms, so much so, that they are almost unrecognizable from their early versions.

In order to avoid potentially costly mistakes, it’s important to understand first that rapidly developing new solutions and features is non-negotiable. Edtech must be flexible and adapt quickly if it aims to capture learner demands. User retention rates will stagnate if there are bugs, slow page load speeds, or a lack of new incoming features, which they will demand faster than can be developed.

Many eLearning providers still struggle to rapidly develop features or get users engaged for long periods of time. There are usually two contributing factors that lead to this problem:

  1. The scarcity of eLearning IT resources. The problem here is simple: there are more ideas than developers to go around. This results in eLearning businesses frequently focusing on short-term marketing strategies or gamification options, rather than investing in a proper solutions architecture that will hold up against changes over time. The cost of poor planning for future modifications is that new features will incrementally take more time to develop while consuming more resources. A long-term development strategy ensures that a platform is scalable and maintainable by fewer developers—but this requires proper planning, which takes us to the next point.
  2. eLearning companies make the mistake of poor planning. We recently published an expert article on our Polcode blog: How to Plan Software Architecture For eLearning Platforms, which covers the early decisions to make before launching an eLearning project. But even software architecture is just one component of planning out an LMS solution. There is a lot of groundwork to be done on what exactly a learner or educator will experience when using the platform. Unlike the ecommerce industry, learners and educators are not buying a tangible product, they are buying into a digital experience—and this small yet important detail requires huge amounts of smart planning to get it right. Many LMS startups go into software development like a simple ecommerce project, and far too late do they discover that they need more product planning to really understand their users.

Planning Makes Perfect

Much of our work as IT service providers is based around solving the previously mentioned challenges. Our supply of on-demand eLearning software providers gives LMS projects an early chance to succeed. Development costs are kept low and flexible by adapting to a project’s needs and easing costly in-house hiring for developers.

But more importantly, Polcode assists in the thinking and planning before coding. By planning ahead and using discovery workshops to understand your users, eLearning projects will save incredible amounts of time and money when it finally comes to developing the software. Here are a few ways that we achieve project planning:

  • Minimum Viable/Lovable Product (MVP) Planning

Polcode’s eLearning development services, for instance, leverage a wide range of readily available, open-source technologies that could theoretically be used to build an entire LMS site within a few months, complete with Twilio-powered voice and video conferencing, digital whiteboards, payments, security and administrative panels. But which of these are objectively necessary for users to love the platform? The MVP process investigates this question, leaving very little room for questions.

  • Discovery Workshops

A discovery workshop gathers all project stakeholders to envision and define the project objectives, requirements, and expected outcomes. Our client teams run early discovery workshops with eLearning clients to not only gather business requirements, but the needs of potential users, educators, learners and administrators. Our How We Work page offers better insight into this process.

  • Scoping Sessions

Day-long scoping sessions can offer accurate time, cost and team size related to building your project. Prospecting value can save anywhere from 35-50% of time and money, ensuring that ideas are slotted into budgets and roadmaps that are feasible.

  • Solutions Architecture Plans

After the discovery phase and MVP stages have created concrete outcomes and documents summarizing outcomes, the planning stages move into the technical realms. Solution architects examine the requirements gathered in previous stages, and identify the technologies and solutions that can be used to achieve them.

  • Project Planning Tools

Collaborative tools are an important part of planning together, enabling everyone within the project to see the overall shape of an eLearning platform. Tools like InVision, Figma, and JIRA not only provide a shared vision of each system, but also the potential cost estimations involved with each one.

Build eLearning Software With Confidence

Polcode’s eLearning development services leverage a wide range of readily available, open-source technologies that could theoretically be used to build an entire LMS site within a few months, complete with Twilio-powered voice and video conferencing, digital whiteboards, payments, security and administrative panels.

These features are all powerful and popular demands from eLearning users, but only in the right context. Thinking about the problem you are trying to solve, and then planning ahead will avoid costly mistakes in development. eLearning businesses will be better equipped to avoid problems that arise from a lack of IT resources and poorly executed planning stages.

On-demand webinar: Moving Forward From Legacy Systems

We’ll walk you through how to think about an upgrade, refactor, or migration project to your codebase. By the end of this webinar, you’ll have a step-by-step plan to move away from the legacy system.

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