If you’re building your own e-learning platform or training solution, you might be wondering how to approach the software development side of the project. There are many factors to take into consideration: clear, mobile-friendly designs, multichannel and interactive content, gamification, and more. The task ahead of you is daunting, so let’s take a closer look at the step-by-step process of developing an e-learning app and identify the top six pieces of advice for building e-learning software.

1. Start by thinking about your target audience

Before your team dives into designing and coding your app, consider who you’re making it for. It’s a common project owner mistake to get caught up in your idea and create an app you love, but users can’t understand. Shift your focus from making your app the most amazing e-learning solution and think about your target users. Who are they? What elements of app design will be relevant to them? You’re going to develop a learning aid for kids very differently than an e-learning platform for college students.

Consider through what channels you are going to reach your audience, and what devices they’ll be using. Will a web app be enough, or will you need to target the experience for mobile users, as well? If so, you need to choose between a Progressive Web App, a hybrid app, or native mobile apps for either iOS, Android or both. These are not simple choices to make. When in doubt, check in with your future users and gather feedback directly from them, or talk to experts in the field who’ve seen other companies do it and can share their conclusions with you. It’s often best to focus the early stage of the development process on building an MVP, which is a minimal version of the product that can be tested by real users. In-depth interviews are another option, but they rarely deliver a single clear answer - they only help in selecting the best from among an initial pool of ideas.

2. Keep your app easy to navigate through clear designs

The learners on your platform should easily be able to get the most out of their experience. Their technical skill level and familiarity with modern design may vary. Depending on your target users’ age, you might also need to fit font size and colour scheme to their needs. Consider also your app’s ease of use. Make sure that all UI controls (e.g. buttons) are big enough and tailored for the interactions they will be used for. Remember that UI controls should be spaced properly and big enough to tap easily on mobile devices. And always think about your target audience when working on the designs. For example, some of your users may be color blind - make sure your designs are still navigable for them.

Mobile friendliness is a big concern, as well. If you expect to have many mobile users, think long and hard about adding large graphics that take time to scroll past, and remember the restrictions of screen size. Also, try to deliver your content in bite-sized segments that can be completed during a commute or otherwise between tasks. Your design should be bulletproof for various contexts of use, at least the common ones. Think about the time, place, situations and surrounding your users might be in when interacting with your platform. How many times have you been frustrated during a commute, because an app expected you to enter a long address and gave you no suggestions based on previous inputs?

UI interaction is another crucial concern. Are your designs what mobile users would expect? Does your app require non-standard gestures (e.g. multiple taps)? Only use these when they are absolutely necessary, and make sure to help your users learn them if you do. Remember that the number of users using mobile devices to access e-learning platforms is constantly growing, and it might be worth it to invest in delivering the best possible experience for them.

3. Remember about multimedia and interactive content

Most modern e-learning platforms take full advantage of multichannel tools, and use a great variety of media in their content. Video, sound, minigames, text, interactive tasks or tests, chat, discussion forums, even live streaming and conference calls. It’s important to think ahead about how you’re going to host your multimedia content efficiently, and what you’re going to do to deliver bulkier files to users with weaker internet connection. This has a direct effect on UX - a slow app can be disastrous for your business. Luckily, there are ways to speed your platform up and be efficient about infrastructure costs at the same time.

User experience also relies on well-designed UIs that are easy to use, and on error-proof data transmission, even in the case of network errors. Your app needs to be secure to protect your users’ data, regardless of how many data formats it uses to deliver a multichannel experience. Make sure your development team know how they want to approach these issues before it’s too late.

Modern e-learning would be much poorer without interactive content. Think about quizzes you can do mid-video lecture, or a bot advisor that offers suggestions for related topics or follow-up courses. Instant feedback mechanisms can help users stay engaged even through particularly difficult lessons. Such content should be well tested before it’s deployed, as it’s very visible and can easily discourage users when it causes problems. The content itself should be easy to use by your target group and should be engaging for them, as well as relevant to what they are learning.

4. Don’t forget about the social aspect of e-learning

Social interactions can be extremely important to the learning process, particularly if your app involves collaborative learning, learning communities, or features that enable active learning. One useful tool in e-learning is the peer review, which helps in assessing the knowledge of a large group of people. Allowing the participants of an e-learning course to share ideas and thoughts can have a tremendously positive effect on how effectively they’ll learn, and how happy they’ll be doing it.

Gamification can be an element of social interaction, too. Just by adding score boards or otherwise allowing users to compare their results, you’re introducing an element of friendly rivalry, which can boost motivation and the enjoyment taken from learning. It doesn’t need to be competitive to work, either - simply by comparing how active users have been over a period of time can give them the extra reason they need to keep working hard.

5. Employ user retention mechanisms

We’ve already mentioned gamification, but it deserves to be pointed out again. Retaining the users of an e-learning platform is difficult. They have so many other things to do, after all, and learning is work. But if you introduce gamification elements and “trick” users into caring more about completing small tasks, you can help them achieve their goals and push through motivation slumps.

Other ways to boost retention and engagement include notifications mechanisms that help users stay on track with their studies. A simple reminder that they’re falling behind can go a long way towards helping the user stick to their goals. Goal-setting in itself could be a beneficial part of your app, as well as bonus gamification points for completing tasks quickly. If you need inspiration, just look at other e-learning apps out there, and think about which of their mechanisms you could improve.

Finally, if your platform offers more than one course, consider adding a recommendations system. Users who enjoy learning might be more than willing to embark on another educational adventure that matches their interests - as long as they find it. You could use Machine Learning algorithms to track users’ preferences and recommend a set of courses to them that take them further along their career path or give them joy.

6. Remember the most important features of an e-learning platform

Here’s where it gets technical. Most e-learning platforms are going to need a set of common features to be effective educational tools. You need to pay careful attention to these basic features - they will be used the most often, and if the experience they deliver to users isn’t top-notch, you might find yourself with disappointed learners and low engagement.

The list of fundamental e-learning app features:

  • Registration (with options for registering through social media),
  • User profiles,
  • Inbox (for notifications and messages),
  • Course catalogue,
  • Filtering courses (by various categories, like difficulty, time investment, price, etc.),
  • Course syllabuses,
  • Multimedia display (video, sound, text, image, etc.)
  • Video streaming,
  • Course recommendations,
  • Progress reports,
  • Certification,
  • Evaluation tools,
  • Personal dashboard (with active courses).

Aside from these, which matter quite a lot to users, you’ll also need features to help you tailor the experience of your app. Chiefly, you’ll need tools for course management (for content providers or yourself) and user management. You might also require a platform allowing users to notify you about various issues with your app. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should give you a good idea of the scope you need to prepare yourself for when building your e-learning platform.

Conclusions

Our six pieces of advice for e-learning platform creators really are pretty basic. By which we mean that they are some of the first issues you should think about when preparing to build your app. Make sure your features suit your target audience, use good design to help users enjoy your app to the fullest, provide a deep multichannel experience, use social interaction to your advantage, and make sure to create tools for retention and re-engagement. Finally, keep your focus on the main features of your app and make sure they work perfectly before launch. This approach should help you deliver real value to your users and make sure they recommend you to friends.

Ready to begin creating your e-learning platform? You need a software development team.
We can help you choose the right technologies for your project, deliver top quality UX and keep your app secure and fault-tolerant.