The online education market is currently living through a real boost. Tens of thousands of different education programs are now offered in mobile app stores. Let’s discuss the benefits of using learning apps and talk about their development process.
Benefits of learning via educational apps
Students are not bound to a specific geographic location — people can gain knowledge from anywhere with access to the internet.
Students can choose learning materials in the format they’re most comfortable with. They can read materials presented in a video lecture, listen to a podcast on a topic described in a book, interact with an interactive environment to practice a skill they’ve just learned about.
Gamification engages students in the learning process and helps them not to lose interest in studying. Students accept and learn complex topics much better when the material is presented via short blocks, dynamic and fun to read through, often followed by exercises.
Practicing theory is the most fool-proof way to actualize the theory, and the digital environment provides means for that. Students can figure out how complex heart operations go, learn how to handle cross-examination in court, and see how robotic arms work in a risk-free virtual environment.
Personalization makes educational apps more accessible as well. Students can control their education, structure it as they like, go slower or faster than the class. The ability to guide the process by themselves and engage with it in a thoughtful, goal-driven way creates conditions for active learning.
Active learning is more efficient than passive; than a simple consumption of information a teacher shares in class. Control makes learning more accessible as well. Students who have troubles retaining memories — and those with, e.g. ADHD, — can use different formats to refresh their memories.
• Quick feedback
Most of the students usually don’t receive the teacher’s attention due to the lack of time, many don’t have time to ask questions they want. It negatively affects their performance, and they lag behind their classmates.
Apps make student-teacher communication easier. Teachers can monitor their student’s performance and see the dips and rises in their learning — and they can address both in the app. At the same time, students can reach their teacher via chats and ask whatever they want in established working hours; and it is encouraged.
Developing a mobile application
Now that you know the main benefits of using mobile apps in education. Now, let’s briefly look at how to develop them.
Analytics and planning
Research the market and analyze the competitors. Think about the niche you want to operate and the revenue model that will be the most appropriate for that niche. If that’s universities, for instance, licensing would often mean longer sales cycles — will you be ready for them? If you plan to build something for corporate learning — the benefits of educational apps apply to business education as well, — what niche would you like to start with?
Figure out who invests in e-learning software, what are the main investors’ most prominent portfolio companies; what the less known startups in the field are. Don’t forget to talk to people who’ll use the software: students, teachers; or: employees within the chosen tech niche; managers. Figure out what features you’ll need.
At this stage, you’ll either have to outline the main technical requirements for the future business analysis and system architecture — or write up a brief for a vendor who does educational app development. Estimate more time than you think is necessary. Plan for continuous improvement, for short development cycles, so you could change according to feedback from your testers in the middle of development.
You — or the analyst passes the schemes, the sketches, and a technical plan with business logic to a designer, and the magic starts. Designers create a detailed prototype. It becomes clear how the application will look and work, taking into account the functions planned.
There are two recommendations for this stage.
First, prioritize the features your users will need and use the most. If you plan to focus your back-end on analytics, ask designers to model the dashboard, personal teacher’s (or manager’s) cabinet for it. Figure out from the beginning what metrics you would track.
Second: hire or consult an instructional designer, a person who knows how to make e-learning truly efficient. That person would explain to you how to structure content, model feedback loops, where to allow reactions to the homework, etc. Your future app will most likely be judged according to how well it engages the student — and how well students learn with it.
It’s also really helpful to invite teachers and professors (or managers) to help you with the latter — and get them to collaborate with instructional designers. That will give you an understanding of the complexity of learning material your app will need to relay — and different ways tech can simplify this process.
You can hire engineers who will build two native apps (on Java for Android, on Swift for iOS) or one cross-platform (with React Native, Native Script, Xamarin, Flutter, etc.)
Because learning apps often include animation and other complex features — because of gamification, choose the language (or a framework) with good rendering capability and community/development environment that supports pre-built features. The latter will allow you and your engineers to save time, the former will prevent a lot of headaches.
Testing and fixing bugs
The testing stage must require user testing, right after rigorous QA evaluation. Test among organizations you’ll want to sell to. Ask teachers, if you’re building for schools or universities, to introduce students to a test version; collect feedback and let your engineers, designers, and e-learning specialists apply it. Test it again.
Launch to the app stores
When the app is tested and modified, the product team accepts the result, the application goes to App Store, Google Play for users to download. Your preliminary marketing has most likely begun with the testing stage; when you’re collaborating with first adopters from the start of product development, the launch is easier.
Follow up the launch in the stores with an advertising campaign. Use user-generated content — feedback from your first adopters — to get new institutions to try your app or get interested in it.
Remember that good learning is active and continuous, practical — so your app must create an environment for it. Prepare to iterate a lot and listen to different feedback. The e-learning app market has tremendous potential — both within the educational institution and in the corporate world. Utilize instructional design and research into learning studies properly, and you’ll be able to gain advantages out of it.