How to Build an Online Learning Platform Like Udemy/Coursera

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Julia Sakovich , Author at Geomotiv
Reviewed by Egor Zablotski, Director of Engineering at Geomotiv
Published: Jul 27, 2023

Today online education websites absolutely can’t be viewed as a new phenomenon. The first intranet system that allowed students to access educational materials from computer terminals was introduced at the University of Illinois in 1960, even before the internet launch. Since that time, a lot has changed. Nowadays, practically every internet user has at least heard about the possibility of getting an education on an online learning platform.

But before the “COVID epoch,” such websites were just a great supportive tool for companies and educational institutions in the majority of cases. In the context of lockdowns, online platforms became the only possible solution for ensuring a continuous learning process. 2020 became the year when the demand for elearning software development increased dramatically. And it is still very high. But why is it happening so? We have an answer.

Nevertheless, before we directly proceed to the analysis and share the secrets that will help you to build the best online learning platform, let us focus on some basic information and start with an online learning platform definition.

What is an online e-learning platform?

E-learning is the term widely used today to describe how education is delivered via different modern devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets. And a learning online platform is a web software solution that makes it possible to provide educational materials and organize the learning process in such a way.

Thanks to this approach, students can learn different types of sciences and get various kinds of knowledge without regularly attending traditional classrooms. With an online platform for learning, users can study information at their own pace, choose the most convenient formats, and continue the educational process regardless of their location.

Types of online learning platforms

When you are thinking about how to create online learning platform, the first thing you need to do is define an interactive online learning platform of what type you will launch.

top types of online learning platforms
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). A platform for online learning of this type provides users access to different courses. As a rule, the number of participants is not limited. Students can use courses either for free or on a paid basis. Examples of such platforms are the well-known Coursera and Udacity.
  • Virtual learning environments. A VLE is an online e learning platform that is intended to enhance learning and teaching experiences for students and professors. Such platforms are different from virtual classrooms that fully replicate the physical classroom environment and even can fully replace it for virtual learners. Virtual learning environments are used to complement the in-class experience. This learning platform online can offer learning additional formats of studying materials and new forms of interaction with teachers and classmates. Moodle or Blackboard can be included in this group.
  • Video streaming services. What is the most well-known example of such a platform? You may be surprised, but it is YouTube. Yes, YouTube today is much more than just an app for entertainment. It can be used for educational purposes as well. As a wide audience uses it, it is a good option for delivering educational content.
  • Visual instructor-led training. VILT is an approach to organizing the learning process to allow a professor (or a tutor) and a learner to be based in different locations (distance has no meaning here). They meet in a unique virtual environment, and the instructor holds lessons in a highly personalized manner. Such lessons can be organized for individual learners as well as for groups. This format can be chosen as an online learning platform for businesses. WizIQ and WebEx are among the solutions from this group.
  • Discussion boards. These platforms are online forums where users can post info, ask questions, and get replies. Regarding educational purposes, these platforms can be launched as stand-alone apps or as functionality of wider solutions. Very often, such platforms unite forums on different topics. Kialo is one of the popular discussion boards.
  • eLearning forums. This category is very similar to the previous one. But there is one thing that makes them different. Discussion boards can include sections devoted to different fields, and eLearning forms (like Teacher’s Corner) are launched exclusively for educational purposes.
  • Podcast platforms. eLearning platforms of this kind offer audio content on various topics related to education. Users can join it and listen to different topics that are interesting to them. It is also possible to publish such podcasts on platforms that allow posting content of this format on a wide range of topics. Among the most well-known platforms students use are Pinna, Science Friday, and StoryCorps.
  • Educational games. Gamification is a very popular and effective element of Elearning apps. Games can become a part of your top online learning platform or you can make them a core of your solution. They help to encourage students to continue learning even when they feel tired of traditional activities. They help ensure a high level of user engagement and interest in achieving higher results each time they start interacting with your platform.
    Moreover, this approach can be a good one to streamline and facilitate learning difficult rules or memorizing huge portions of new words or formulas. Kahoot is one of the game-based learning platforms that boast great popularity today. That’s why when you plan to create online learning platform, you can consider this example for inspiration and get some ideas.
  • Digital interactive books. They are also known as DIBs. You can build online learning platform that will allow users to create, publish, distribute, read, and download such digital books. These books contain much more than just dull texts. They also include animations, graphics, and simulations and offer different interaction formats with learning materials. Thanks to this interaction with the provided content, students can develop numerous valuable skills such as decision-making, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and others. What are these online learning platform examples? They are Kitaboo and Flippingbook.

Reasons for creating an online learning platform

As it is pretty logical, the demand for software development services is explained by the need for some particular types of solutions. In our case, we are talking about elearning sites.

That’s why the primary reason for building such software is the possibility to satisfy the needs of a vast audience and, as a result, get higher profits and boost the development of your business.

But speaking frankly, that’s the reason for building any type of software, especially if you can observe its demand. What is so special about online education websites?

  • Skyrocketing market growth.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Market is growing very fast, seriously boosted by the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The volume of the market in 2020 reached $6.8 billion. Its growth is still actively going on. In 2022, the MOOC market hit the mark of $11.17 billion. And with a projected CAGR of over 17% from 2023 to 2030, this figure is expected to increase to $39.71 billion.

MOOC market overview of elearning sites
  • Government support.

Governments worldwide are providing support to educational organizations in their efforts to migrate their courses online. There are various grant programs in different countries, and if you think about launching your own MOOC platform, you should check whether there are any initiatives of this kind in your region.

  • Demand for high-quality online education.

But when it comes to education, we shouldn't focus on money and profit only. It’s important not to forget that such platforms are created for people who want to study but cannot always study offline.

MOOC market

Today, in the post-Covid era, the MOOC market is still experiencing massive growth, as you can see from the figures provided above. However, the market competition can be viewed as moderate, with some significant players, such as Udemy, Coursera, and edX, dominating the industry.

It is interesting to note how the platforms reacted to the coronavirus lockdowns in 2020. At that period, people couldn’t leave their homes and unexpectedly got a lot of free time that they could devote to self-education. For example, in March 2020, Coursera made its course catalog free to universities worldwide to support the initiatives related to stopping in-person learning processes. And the platform reported a 500% surge in enrollments after introducing its new decision compared to the same period of the previous year. By the end of July 2020, nearly 1.5 million students worldwide could benefit from the introduction of free programs for universities.

But does it mean that today when the pandemic is officially over, Coursera is losing its position? It doesn’t seem so. For example, in its 2023 first-quarter results, the company noted that its total revenue reached $147.6 million. This figure demonstrates a 23% growth from the $120.4 million recorded one year ago. The platform also announced that it now has ten new degree programs and more than 15 new educator partners. And all of them were gained within one quarter. These milestones make Coursera a good candidate for being the best online platform for learning.

In May 2020, edX also made a similar move to what Coursera offered. It provided its expertise and content for free to universities, helping them build teaching plans for a new semester in a remote format. As a result, in April 2020, edX gained 5 million unique users, as many as in 12 months of 2019. But it was not the end of its achievements. The statistic shows that in total, in 2020, this platform attracted 10 million new users. In 2023, the number of users achieved a new level and hit the mark of 48 million. Another interesting fact about this platform is related to the business progress demonstrated by the company behind it - 2U. Thanks to its efforts, in 2023, edX was included in the annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company.

MOOC platforms were among those businesses that managed to get benefits from COVID lockdowns and all the restrictions. For example, in April 2020, amid the first wave of “stay at home” programs, enrollments at Udemy surged by 425%. In May 2020, the platform had 25 million new registrations, while in May 2019, this figure was at 9 million. And now, after 18 months of skyrocketing growth, Udemy decided that it was ready to follow the trend and go for an IPO in New York. In October 2021, it did that and managed to raise $421 million in its IPO, which was priced at the top of a marketed range. In its Q1 2023 report, the company revealed its 47% year-over-year revenue growth.

As for Udacity, its revenues from subscriptions increased by 260% in the first six months of 2020, and the project turned out to be profitable for the first time in its history. Today the platform has almost 17 million registered users from 240+ countries. And it is a cool fact that over 70% of graduates noted a positive career change in the first year after completing a Udacity course.

Now let’s have a look at some of the leading MOOC platforms in more detail.

PlatformUsersCoursesBusiness modelTech stackWho publishes courses
Coursera100M+7,000+Paid courses, subscription plans, paid degreesJavaScript, jQuery, Node.js, React, MySQL, Amazon S3, Django, KafkaUniversities
Udemy62M210K+Paid coursesjQuery, Node.js, React, Python, MySQL, HTML5, Amazon S3Individual teachers
edX48M5800+Paid certificates, donations, free coursesPHP, jQuery, React, Django, Ubuntu, CloudFlare, Vue.jsUniversities and organizations
Udacity16.9M300+Paid non degree courses + free coursesPython, Kafka, Go, Amazon VPC, ScalaUniversities
Khan Academy135M+1B+ lessonsDonationsReact, Backbone, JS, Underscore, Google App Engine, Handlebars.jsUniversities and individual teachers

As the edtech space is expanding, there are more and more players on the market. And what can be even more critical for businesses, investors greatly believe in edtech startups. For example, just recently, it has become known that Teachmint, one of the Indian startups that aimed at helping teachers and institutes to create their virtual classrooms via smartphones, successfully closed a new funding round. It managed to raise $78 million, which brings its valuation to $500 million.

Another Indian startup, Byju, who created a school learning app, received over $1.8 billion from investors in the first years after the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, quite a different project, Entity Academy, a US-based edtech startup that offers training for women in such areas as data science and software development, has raised $100 million amid a strong growth of its business.

But what makes all these projects successful? Their correspondence to the market need. Today many people want to have the possibility to study from home or any other place, and edtech startups can provide them with this option.

Our developers are always at your disposal! Our team will analyze your requirements and help you build a website that will change the game.

How to build an online learning platform: development stages

The path that will lead you to launch your Coursera-like platform should consist of several stages. It won't be very wise to start from the development itself. Before you proceed to this step, the necessary research should be conducted. To make sure that you are building a product that will bring real value to its owners and users, we recommend considering the following plan.

Stage 1. Validate your idea. Start with analyzing the current market state, including the performance and the achieved results of the platforms that will be your competitors. You should make sure that your idea is relevant to the current market demand.

Stage 2. Define your target audience. You should clearly understand for whom you are building your product. It is necessary to know your potential users’ region, age, interests, and other information. This information will help you to create a product that will be useful for your audience.

Stage 3. Define must-have and unique features. Of course, an elearning platform should have features for teachers and students. There also should be an admin board for managing the content on the website.

But you should also clearly understand what will make your product unique. Maybe it will cover some particular and unusual topics or offer some integrations with third-party products. You can also enrich it with some VR/AR functionality or features for video conferencing. It’s up to you to decide.

Use your imagination but do not forget that if you add some feature to your platform, it should have some particular purpose for your users. For example, theoretically, you can add a game to your educational platform. But if it has no relation to the offered courses, can you be sure that it is a good idea?

Step 4. Define your business model. Before your product is built, you should know how you will monetize it. When we are talking about elearning websites, we can provide the following range of options as an example:

  • paid certificates (courses are free, but if a user wants to get  a platform-verified certificate, they will pay for it);
  • paid courses (a user pays for each course separately);
  • subscription (a user pays for a monthly or 12-month subscription and gets unlimited access to the offered courses);
  • affiliate model (this model presupposes that the courses can contain integrated links to some tools, materials, or books that users will need to buy to study the offered information in the whole volume);
  • corporate collaboration (you as a platform owner can establish partnerships with different companies to publish some courses on your website).

Step 5. Define your approach to development. When you build a platform similar to Udemy or Coursera, you have a couple of options:

  • Ready-made products. You can rely on open-source solutions like Canvas to build your platform. Such software usually offers all essential features for an elearning product, as well as free plugins. It can also be possible to add custom themes and functionality.
  • Custom development. For creating a unique product, you should opt for the story from scratch. In this case, you will have significantly more freedom in UI\UX design, in functionality, and all other aspects.

At Geomotiv, we can build an online learning platform from scratch, as well as modernize an already existing solution, integrate it with external services, and enrich it with new features in accordance with your requirements.

Features for the best online platform for distance learning

Of course, you should understand that when creating an online learning platform for higher education or an online business learning platform, the exact set of features in both cases may differ. The reason for this difference is quite simple to explain. Even if we do not dive deep into all the peculiarities of online learning platform development in both cases, we all know that approaches to the organization of the learning process are different. This principle will be also true when we start talking about the examination or knowledge-checking procedures. And without any doubt, this specificity should be reflected in online learning platform design and its features.

Nevertheless, we’ve prepared a list of features that contain the most widely applied and highly demanded functionality. And we highly recommend you consider it if you want to create an online learning platform.

Administrative dashboard. This panel is an essential element of any platform as it will allow administrators to manage the platform itself and its content. Moreover, by using the provided tools, administrators can add and edit lessons and courses, send notifications, and ban or block users if necessary.

Dashboards for students and teachers. Here, the tools available to users on this panel will seriously depend on the exact type of your solution. But as a rule, teachers will see the info about their courses and planned lessons (when there are online sessions). They can also view the number of students who take part in their course and course ratings. Users should also be allowed to view the list of their courses, results of examinations and tests (if any), and create their schedules based on their learning plans.

Registration and onboarding. It is crucial to make this step as simple as possible. When the onboarding process is too complicated, a user can give up and look for other alternatives. It is recommended to allow students to register by using their Google or Facebook accounts. It is already a very clear and common step for everyone, which can add more trust to your platform.

Personal accounts. Users should get access to their accounts, where they will see all the purchased or saved courses, view payment history, choose the preferred payment method, and update personal details.

Notifications. Students should receive notifications when new courses potentially interesting to them are added. Or you can notify them when they need to finish the courses that they have forgotten about. Moreover, you can also inform users of new features launched via notifications. But you should also think about the convenience of students and make it possible for people to adjust notifications and their periodicity to their needs.

Search system. When you are just thinking about how to start an online learning platform, likely, you do not fully realize the scale that you will be able to reach with your solution. It is even possible that you will start just with one course. But with time flow, the number of courses may reach impressive levels. And to facilitate the search process for students, you can introduce a filter-based system that will allow people to indicate the type of courses, topics, and other parameters that may be important for them.

Course page. Each course should have its introductory page with all essential data that typically includes the info on the professor, the course length, the covered topics, the expected outcomes, the skills required for starting the course, and the skills that will be developed. This page can include only text descriptions, but you can also add a video.

Text or video chats. Socialization is a very important aspect of any learning process. Students may need to communicate with teachers and their group mates even when the course itself doesn’t presuppose any direct cooperation or exchange of information. But you can add the possibility for users to communicate with each other, discuss various topics, or share impressions. Moreover, it can also be allowed to ask professors questions to get more details on the topics that provoke special interest.

Features for the best online platform: text or video chats

Reviews. Reviews can be a strong factor for a person in decision-making. When students are looking for a necessary course and considering different options, they often want to read reviews. It is necessary to understand better what they can expect from the course.

Recommendations. Hyperpersonalization is one of the key trends in software development. And you can also add some personalized features, such as recommendations. It will be a good idea to create AI-powered tools that will analyze users' search history, interests, and preferences and suggest courses that will bring the highest practical value to them.

Payment gateways. If you are going to offer paid courses or introduce a subscription model, think about how users will be able to pay for your services. It is very comfortable for people when they can make all the payments directly on your platform. It will be possible thanks to the integration of payment gateways. What are the most popular payment methods? You can let users pay with their credit or debit cards via Google Pay, Apple Pay, Stripe, PayPal, or any other services that are popular in the chosen region.

Video player. When launching a video-based platform, you should consider the functionality for viewing the available content. It is necessary to play video files in different formats, including those that are rather old and the newest ones as well.

Video streaming. Suppose you want to make it possible not only to watch the uploaded videos but also to organize online sessions and lectures. In that case, it is required to equip the platform with the functionality for live broadcasting. Here, it is crucial to consider video quality and the risks related to quality deterioration with the growing number of users joining the stream.

This list can be extended with other features based on your requirements. You can read more about the development of custom online course platforms and their functionality by following the link.

How to build online course website: tech stack

The tech stack always depends on the desired functionality. That's why when you are just considering different approaches to starting an online learning platform, it will be impossible to define the full list of all the technologies and tools that your development team will use. However, now it is possible and very sensible to look at those technologies that are widely used for such projects to get at least the most basic understanding of what you will deal with at the development stage.

  • Frontend: HTML, ReactJS, JavaScript, CSS3.
  • Backend: Node.js, PHP, Python.
  • Database: MySQL, MongoDB.
  • Mobile technologies (for a mobile version of your platform): Swift, Objective-C (iOS apps), Java, Kotlin (Android apps), Flutter, React Native (cross-platform development).
  • Video streaming: WebRTC, RTMP.
  • Payment gateways: Stripe, Paypal, Apple Pay, Google Pay.
  • Cloud platform: AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure.
  • Push notifications: Onesignal, Firebase.
  • Messaging: Twilio.

Who can create an elearning platform for you?

If you are not a developer, it shouldn’t be a barrier for you that can stop you on your way to launching your online course marketplace or any other kind of educational platform. So, whom can you choose to rely on when you want to build a software solution? Today there are the following options.

  • An in-house team. This option can be a good one if you feel that you will have a lot of software projects in the future that will require continuous support and updates from the side of developers. But do not forget that even when your in-house developers have very little work or no work at all, you need to pay them a salary. Moreover, don't forget about insurance and other expenses related to hiring and on-boarding.
  • Freelancers. Working with freelancers, you can avoid a lot of expenses and time needed for administrative procedures. Moreover, you can significantly save your money if you find freelancers who do not take high fees. But bear in mind that on freelance services platforms, you can meet unscrupulous specialists who will provide a shallow quality of their work, won’t meet the set deadlines, or won’t fulfill any tasks at all even if their services are pre-paid. However, we do not want to scare you. There are a lot of responsible freelancers. But the issue is that you never know with whom you are going to work before seeing the first results. And you will have no control over freelance developers.
  • A dedicated outsourcing team. This business model is already a trendy one, and it is still gaining popularity thanks to all the benefits it offers. This model unites all the most important benefits of the two ones, as mentioned earlier. You do not have to care about hiring procedures. You have significant flexibility in team reconfiguration if it is needed. But at the same time, this team will be entirely focused on your project, and you will be able to manage the whole development process.

How much does it cost to build an online course website?

Your investments in your custom software development project will depend on many factors. It is essential to know what functionality you want to add to your platform and what special features should be developed to make any estimates and calculate your online learning platform cost. Moreover, your expenses will depend on your IT partners, the size of the hired team, and the set rates.

When you need to create an online learning platform, you may need to work with a team consisting of at least 5 specialists:

  • 2 developers;
  • 1 UI/UX designer;
  • 1 QA engineer;
  • 1 project manager.

But on average, the development costs will vary in the range between $70K-$150K. As for the project timelines, it can be 4-12 months or more depending on the complexity of the learning platform. Nevertheless, it is necessary to know the scope of work before making any conclusions.

Closing Thoughts

Already have an idea to launch an elearning website but still haven’t decided who will help you do that? At Geomotiv, we are always happy to meet new clients and help them to transform their ideas into actual products. With solid expertise in working with edtech solutions and a rich tech stack, we are ready for any projects, including those that have no analogs on the market. Just leave your inquiry on our website, and we will contact you to discuss our possible cooperation.

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