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How Much Does It Cost to Build an E-learning App – Project Types and Estimation

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In a current series of articles we have been discussing what goes into developing e-learning solutions. If you want to dig deeper into the topic, please read our previous article as well. 

Table of contents:

Types of E-Learning Apps

Top E-Learning Mobile Applications

Technology Stacks for an E-Learning App

Features in E-Learning Solutions

E-Learning Application Development Team Structure

How Much Does It Cost to Develop an E-Learning App

How to Monetize an E-Learning App/Platform

The Bottom Line

E-learning solutions vary a great deal. They deliver a huge variety of courses, offer a gamut of features, and may require using a range of tech, from smartphones to VR headsets. Before developing an e-learning solution, many questions must first be answered: what type of solution you want, what specialists you will need to develop it, and so on.

In this article, we’ll offer some idea of how much it will cost to develop an e-learning solution and what factors decide the price. We will also explain the types of e-learning solutions out there, so you’ll have a better idea of how complex or simple they can be and what may suit your purpose best.

Types of E-Learning Apps

E-learning apps can be categorized in two ways: by the learning approach and by target audience.

As to the learning approach, there are two groups of e-learning solutions:

Synchronous e-learning apps

This type of learning requires the tutor and the student to be present at the same time, so they can communicate and conduct a lesson together. A “virtual classroom” is a good example.

Asynchronous e-learning apps

These apps allow students to use course materials whenever they find it comfortable to do so. There is no need for a tutor to conduct a lesson and gather students at a particular time. Online education platforms like Coursera or Udemy are good examples.

Type of e-learning solutions, by approach
Type of e-learning solutions, by approach

If we are speaking about the end-user of the app, there are differences too:

E-learning for businesses

Companies utilize e-learning platforms for corporate education and skills development, monitoring progress along the way. Many businesses want to train employees on specific aspects of their jobs instead of hiring new, already qualified employees. This is better for building corporate culture, cheaper in terms of hiring costs, and profitable for both the company and the employee.

For instance, companies such as Workfusion and PayPal experience big benefits from implementing e-learning to help their employees improve their skills.

E-learning for educational institutions

COVID-19 has changed how we do shopping, work, and study. When the pandemic struck, many educational institutions were not ready to transfer courses online to keep students and teachers safe. Now all schools and universities have been forced to go online for at least part of their program of studies, which requires having certain infrastructure in place.  For example, Cambridge University has made the decision to go online until summer 2021, which would not be possible without a proper platform.

E-learning for individuals

This group consists mostly of asynchronous e-learning platforms such as Coursera. This group includes B2C platforms for personal use, providing courses on a huge number of topics, from higher mathematics, to gender studies, marketing analysis and the history of ancient Roman architecture. Any individuals who want to broaden their horizons can enroll in such courses.

Type of e-learning solutions, by end-user
Type of e-learning solutions, by end-user

Top E-Learning Mobile Applications

Let’s review some of the best solutions on the market to see what sets them apart from the competition

Coursera

Coursera is one of the most popular e-learning services out there. Providing users all over the world with educational content, Coursera managed to increase its revenue by 59% to $293.5 million in 2020.

The platform hosts a wide selection of courses that users can browse through and take for free. The subjects include physics, engineering, liberal arts, biology, math, computer science, business, and more.

Coursera provides a web app along with a mobile version to accommodate the widest learning base possible.

Top e-learning mobile apps: Coursera
Top e-learning mobile apps: Coursera

edX

Users of edX can take courses offered by such acclaimed universities as Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, and MIT. The course selection includes business studies, computer science, engineering, psychology, linguistics, statistics, and many others.

The service even provides certificates of completion for courses, which can be used as proof of qualification.

Every day, edX provides almost 500,000 users with the educational content of high quality.

Top e-learning mobile apps: edX
Top e-learning mobile apps: edX

Duolingo

Duolingo is a great example of a gamified e-learning application. While specializing in teaching languages, the app does a good job of implementing gamification techniques such as levels, goals, statistics, and awards to motivate users and keep them returning for the next lesson.

All of those features helped Duolingo secure second place in the education category on the App Store and appear in the “Editors’ choice” section on Google Play.

Top e-learning mobile apps: Duolingo
Top e-learning mobile apps: Duolingo

Technology Stacks for an E-Learning App

Now that we know the most popular e-learning applications out there, let’s take a look at the technology they are built on.

This will help you learn about the best technological solutions for the kind of e-learning app you want to develop.

Coursera

The app’s developers worked with Python and Go, as it is capable of handling millions of registered users and thousands of courses. Then the team switched to Scala.

The frontend is all JavaScript with ReactJS and Bootstrap, because of their flexibility and good performance.

edX

The backend side of things is covered by PHP, since it is well suited for web development.

The frontend is developed with standard JavaScript.

Duolingo

The backend part of this web application is developed with Python, with the frontend built on a combination of backbone.js and jQuery.

In addition, Duolingo provides mobile apps for iOS and Android, which are developed with Swift and Kotlin, respectively.

We can see a pattern here. Many companies choose to create their e-learning application with PHP or Python for good performance and build the frontend of their solutions with JavaScript, since it offers great versatility.

Top technology picks:

Frontend

Backend

Mobile

JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, Backbone.js, jQuery, React.JS

PHP, Python, Scala

Swift, Kotlin, 

The HQSoftware team strives to stay on top of the current best technologies, to provide clients with the best software solutions possible.

Our developers have worked on an e-learning system that offers the ability to easily create online courses and track student performance.

To make sure the app could support a large number of active users, we relied on PHP for the backend. The intuitive and user-friendly interface is covered by none other than JavaScript.

Now that we’ve explained what types of e-learning solutions are possible, let’s discuss their typical features.

Features in E-Learning Solutions

If you apply some imagination, you can probably think of tons of features, all of which might be handy in various situations. But let’s organize the most common ones into groups and take a closer look.

First, let’s divide all features into groups by end-user.

Features for students

Students come first, because they are the group that will use most of the platform’s features. The functionality and UX of an e-learning solution are built largely to cater to the needs of students, making the learning process efficient and the features convenient. 

Must-have features for students are:

  • Easy registration, login, and profile management for all users;
  • Efficient search through courses, lessons, tutors;
  • Secure subscription and payment;
  • Easy communication tools for questions and answers from tutors;
  • User-friendly testing modules;
  • Personalized reports for performance tracking.
E-learning app features for students
E-learning app features for students

Features for instructors

This group of users is also an important part of the e-learning audience, because every solution is built to provide communication between students and tutors in some way. Be it synchronous or asynchronous learning, a tutor is always involved at least as an author of educational content.

Important features for tutors are:

  • User-friendly registration, login, and account management features;
  • Easy educational content upload and modification;
  • Communication tools, so that students can get answers to their questions;
  • Videoconferencing tools for real-time teaching, with screen sharing and switching options;
  • Transparent tools, to receive payments from companies or students with ease;
  • In-time notifications about students’ activity.

Need a team for e-learning development?

We are ready to customize your solution or develop one from scratch.

Julia Tuskal
Head of Sales
at HQSoftware

Features for parents

When e-learning is applied by educational facilities such as schools, sometimes there is a need to develop features for another type of user: students’ parents. Younger learners sometimes need extra attention.

Features for parents are:

  • Progress tracking with visualization;
  • Class attendance tracking;
  • Convenient chat to communicate with a tutor;
  • Access to course subscription and payment management features;
  • Ability to get alerts from teachers on student issues.
E-learning app features for teachers and parents
E-learning app features for teachers and parents

Features can also be categorized by their importance and popularity in e-learning platforms. We won’t discuss login, profile management, and other default features here; we’re speaking now about educational components only. The categories include:

Must-have features

These are features no e-learning app can operate without, no matter the type and audience. During e-learning application development, you will probably spend 80% of your team’s time on these core features; the same is true of your budget.

  1. Online course catalog. The heart of any e-learning solution and always a core feature, be it a corporate education program or a solution for educational institutions. A course catalog must be a clear representation of all educational content available on the platform. It also should help users easily and quickly find the course they need, sort all content by various parameters, group courses by topics and other parameters, and so on. This is not a complex feature to develop, yet it is crucial for users.
  2. Reporting and analytics. This feature is important for offering both students and tutors insights into training progress and effectiveness. Reports can also help businesses determine whether the studying employee has met the training goal, and if he or she has complied with organizational standards. Using data from such reports, the business can allocate resources more effectively to improve particular employee skills, so that they’ll meet their monthly efficiency target.
  3. Intuitive UI. UI, in itself, can’t be called a “feature” like reporting, but it is just as important for any e-learning solution. All users of the solution, be it tutors or students, need an intuitive interface to use the solution without extra guidance, access all necessary features within seconds, and operate them with no fuss.
  4. Data security. This is essential for any solution that involves access to sensitive information, but we will mention it anyway. Both tutors and students will provide personal data, sometimes payment card data, and the solution must ensure that this data will not be violated.
  5. Certification support. This feature is very important for solutions that provide compliance and skill-based training. A certificate that recognizes a student’s accomplishment is both an acknowledgment of their efforts and proof that the learner has achieved the stated goal.
  6. Assessment engine. This feature is utilized to build quizzes, tests, and exams using pre-built templates. This feature greatly helps tutors in carrying out their routines while keeping the quality of education high. Students can get instant feedback and receive a certificate on completing the course.

Advanced features

If the audience for the app is not quite a general learner or has specific requirements, there are advanced features that can be employed. Even if your budget is small, it is better to try to include at least one most important advanced feature in your e-learning solution.

  1. Gamification. Always a great feature for boosting the learner’s involvement in the process. Gamification typically increases the attention paid to the learning process and enhances motivation, ensuring that students will learn more with less stress. For example, let students earn badges for completing parts of the course and then compare their profiles with other students. This will fuel friendly competition and motivate students a lot. AR/VR is one of the best tools for gamification, but we will talk about it later.
  2. Availability features. There is a chance that you will offer e-learning courses for students with exceptional requirements, so make the learning process easier for them. For example, inscriptions and captions can be provided for students with hearing impairments. It really matters what your students’ special needs are, and often something can be developed to meet them.
  3. Integration capabilities. This feature will allow you to integrate needed features and functionalities that are outside of your solution. Sometimes it is much easier and cheaper to integrate your platform with third-party components than to develop the same features from scratch. For example, let’s say you need a CRM integrated into your e-learning solution; it is more convenient to just “connect” your e-learning platform and your existing out-of-the-box CRM than to develop a special module from scratch.
  4. Advanced collaboration tools. With collaboration tools, it is possible to build advanced mixed learning platforms. For example, online students can be offered personal guidance as well as pre-built tools.
  5. Cloud content delivery. Having the content in the cloud is crucial for those educational projects that require several people working on it both simultaneously and asynchronously. The content will always be updated and stay available for all students, no matter what, and this feature also allows for multi-device access.
Major e-learning software features
Major e-learning software features

Extra features

Yes, you can live without them, but why not try to include some? Most additional features really come in handy and can enhance the app experience for all users:

  • AR features. AR has so many application methods that we can talk about them forever. One of the coolest examples is that AR can help students look at objects that are hard to imagine; for example, AR will easily create a 3D model of an object and allow students to interact with it. In general, AR helps when it is not enough to have just theoretical knowledge. It brings the opportunity to gain hands-on experience.
  • VR features. VR allows for placing learners into virtual environments that mimic real-life situations. For example, VR flight simulators are famous for their impact on how pilots train now — they have been using flight simulators for 80 years, and VR takes it to a new level.
  • Virtual classrooms. If there is no option to meet in person, VR classrooms will help recreate the required environment, allowing for students and tutors to conduct face-to-face online training.

Deciding which features you need for your e-learning solution is an important step to actually starting the e-learning platform development process. The features will determine what team composition will be most effective for developing the project.

E-Learning Application Development Team Structure

In this section, we will discuss what specialists you need to run your e-learning application development, their typical hourly rates, and how long you can expect it will take to develop particular features, with a rough estimate.

What specialists do you need in your e-learning development team?

A standard e-learning development team consists of:

  • Developers. These people will build the features of your solution.
  • Business Analysts. These gather requirements and help you decide on what is best for your business.
  • Team Leader. A person who coordinates all technical work inside the team and ensures that everyone is going in the same direction.
  • Project Manager. A person who does all organizational work and ensures that the solution will be developed in time and on budget.
  • Quality Assurance specialists/testers. A person or a group of specialists who ensure that the solution is bug-free and works perfectly on any required platform.
  • DevOps. This professional aims to shorten the system development lifecycle and ensure high software quality.
  • UX/UI designers. They create an intuitive and user-friendly interface for the solution, and make it look good on all devices.
  • Content creator. This person is responsible for creating educational content itself — without it, any e-learning solution isn’t worth developing. There are several options: you may have educational content already prepared for you, or will hire a competent person to do this, or you already have a tutor in your team that will develop and optimize content for your future solution. You may also buy content from external providers.

For extra help, or if you want to develop a specific feature, you will need:

  • AR/VR developers, for building immersive experience features.
  • 3D modelers, for creating content for VR or AR modules.
  • System Architects, for defining the architecture of a complex solution so that it will be easy to manage. 
Team compositions for e-learning development
Team compositions for e-learning development

Now let’s explore their rates. We will review how much it costs to hire developers from Eastern Europe, because this location is famous for the quality of development services along with modest hourly rates (in US dollars), according to Toptal and Payscale:

Developers

$25-45/h

System architects

$40-60/h

Designers

$20-40/h

3D modeler

$25-45/h

Quality Assurance

$22-42/h

Team Leader

$40-60/h

DevOps

$40-60/h

Business Analyst

$22-42/h

Now that we know developer rates, let’s discuss how much time they usually spend on typical features, and what these will cost.

How much time will the e-learning team spend on some features?

Before we start reviewing this part, here are a few things to note. The features that will be included in the solution and the time required to build them are not the only parameters that affect e-learning development costs. Here are some other factors:  

  • The complexity of the solution and the number of features
  • Whether you want to customize an existing solution or develop one from scratch
  • Whether you need a companion mobile app, native or hybrid
  • The number of third-party components you want to integrate

That noted, let’s get down to the bottom line. Here is a rough estimate of how much time the team will spend on some features:

  • User login. This is a core feature that you cannot skip, and a developer will spend around 60 hours developing it and adding login via social media features.
  • Push notifications. Building a standard push notification module will take around 40 hours, depending on your requirements.
  • Chat for students and tutors. Building a chat can take up to 250 hours, and integrating a chatbot takes additional time.
  • Video streaming. Building a real-time video lecture module will take up to 200 hours.

Roughly speaking, all these features will cost you around $22,000.

Now that you have an overall picture of how the e-learning application development process goes, let’s take a closer look at what project options you usually have.

How Much Does It Cost to Develop an E-Learning App

Common project types

These are the options that software development companies will usually offer you.

Common e-learning project types
Common e-learning project types

Develop a custom platform from scratch

This means that you have nothing but the idea, and all the software is yet to be developed.

  • Team composition: Project Manager, Business Analyst, developers, testers, DevOps, UX/UI designer.
  • Features: all must-have features, advanced and extra features optional.
  • Time required: ~2000 hours.
  • Costs: ~$70,000.

Customize an existing app or platform, add new features

This is an option for those who already have an e-learning platform and want to add a fresh touch to it — customize or build new features, or just continue developing the solution after the previous team has done their part.

  • Team composition: Project Manager, Business Analyst, developers, testers, DevOps, UX/UI designer.
  • Features: customize some of the must-have features; add 1-2 advanced features, extra features optional.
  • Time required: ~1200 hours.
  • Costs: ~$40,000.

Mobile e-learning app + AR/VR features

This option is great for adding some extra user experience to the app, which is what makes immersive learning way more effective than the traditional way. AR/VR also allows for creating some gamification features that boost students’ attention. 

  • Team composition: Project Manager, Business Analyst, developers, testers, DevOps, UX/UI designer, 3D designer, mobile developers.
  • Features: must-have features that fit in a mobile app, and extra AR/VR features.
  • Time required: ~1300 hours.
  • Costs: ~$47,000.

E-learning platform + mobile app + AR/VR

This is a complete e-learning solution that will cover all needs of both students and tutors. It has an educational platform, a mobile companion app, and features for boosting the productiveness of students and their attention to the topic.

  • Team composition: Project Manager, Business Analyst, developers, testers, DevOps, UX/UI designer, 3D designer, mobile developers.
  • Features: must-have features that fit in a mobile app, and extra AR/VR features.
  • Time required: ~4000 hours.
  • Costs: ~$140,000.

This table shows a rough estimate of time and money you will spend on every project type. The average hourly rate here is $35, working hours in month – 168.

  Custom development Customization App + AR/VR Platform + App + AR/VR
Duration 4 months 3 months 2 months 5 months
Total time: 1966 h 1172 h 1319 h 3969 h
Total cost: $68796 $41013 $46158 $138915

Note that we don’t take into account the cost of creating educational content, because it varies too much to be valued even approximately. Also, in picking one of the typical projects, note that you need to plan what features you may want to develop in the near future so that you can adapt educational content accordingly. For example, you may not want to integrate video education right now, but it’s good to keep it in mind for future advancements. 

How to Monetize an E-Learning App/Platform

There are several ways you can go about monetizing your e-learning application.

Let’s review them one by one.

Subscriptions

Basically, users pay a monthly fee to use the software. You can start off by offering a limited set of features for free, with an option to switch to a premium plan and unlock all functionality.

Another great option is a free trial — all of the features are closed, but users can be given a short period of time to try the app out. If they end up liking it, they can renew the subscription and start paying.

In-app purchases

With implemented in-app purchases, users have access to the software from the start, but they have to purchase courses in order to take them. To attract more customers, you can make a “starter pack” of sorts with a couple of courses available for free. Or just offer discounts for various activities — for instance, users can access some courses at a lower price for getting a friend to join the app.

Advertisements

You can also offer ad placement in your e-learning application. This way, the users can access all of the features for free, but they have to watch advertisements.

The Bottom Line

Now, having all this information at hand you can run the numbers and have an approximate price of the solution you want to build. Usually, it depends on the features you want to include, team composition, developer rates, and whether or not you will include expensive extra features like VR.

Educational content creation is also a costly process that needs to be taken into account. Good educational content and an e-learning solution developed by professionals could do wonders, be it for corporate education or a solution for educational institutions.

To learn more about online education, read our previous article on how to build e-learning apps

Frequently Asked Questions

What are e-learning solutions?
How is e-learning implemented?
How much does it cost to develop an educational app?
How much does it cost to build a learning management system?
How do I monetize my education app?

Read also

Improving Student Engagement With AR/VR in Education: Benefits, Applications, Costs

5 Examples of How Gamification Can Improve E-Learning

How to Create LMS for Employee Training + Case Studies Inside

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