How to Build an Online Learning Platform Like Udemy/Coursera

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Olga Demidenko
Author, Geomotiv
Published: Nov 9, 2021

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.

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 an elearning site.

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. And now it is forecasted that by 2026 this figure will hit $18.9 billion. It means that an expected CAGR within the period from 2021 to 2026 is over 18%.
  • 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, the MOOC market is experiencing a period of massive growth that 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. 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.

In May 2020, edX also made a similar move. 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.

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 is ready to follow the trend and go for an IPO in New York, planning to get a valuation of up to $4 billion from selling its shares.

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.

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

PlatformUsersCoursesBusiness modelTech stackWho publishes courses
Coursera77M4,650+Paid courses, subscription plans, paid degreesJavaScript, jQuery, Node.js, React, MySQL, Amazon S3, Django, KafkaUniversities
Udemy44M155K+Paid coursesjQuery, Node.js, React, Python, MySQL, HTML5, Amazon S3Individual teachers
edX35M2000+Paid certificates, donations, free coursesPHP, jQuery, React, Django, Ubuntu, CloudFlare, Vue.jsUniversities and organizations
Udacity1.6M200+Paid non degree courses + free coursesPython, Kafka, Go, Amazon VPC, ScalaUniversities
Khan Academy100M+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 since 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 create 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.

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. If you want to learn how to find the best-dedicated development team, this blog post is for you.

Even if you have never had any experience working with software development teams and do not know which option to choose, you can read one of our previously published blog posts where we share our opinion on the peculiarities of different models. To find this article, please, follow the link.

How much does it cost to build online course website?

As in the case of any other software product, the only precise answer that we can provide without knowing the peculiarities of your project is “It depends”.

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. Moreover, your expenses will depend on your IT partners and the set rates.

On average, the development costs will vary in the range between $50K-$90K.

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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