June 15, 2020

Virtual classroom software development is a complex process that requires knowledge and experience in various business and technology domains. eLearning applications are a combination of video streaming, collaborative tools, live quizzers, and many other features. In this article, we will discover how to build virtual classroom software from, what features are must-have, how much it would cost, and how long it would take.

 

In 2020 the whole world realized the true power of collaborative software. It helped us to stay connected during the times when normal office work and school teaching have become impossible.

Despite that, the learning process in schools and universities stayed mostly uninterrupted. Educational establishments across the globe started to quickly leverage learning management systems and virtual classroom software. The vast experience of online learning platforms has helped a lot in this process and we can say for sure that once the advantages of remote learning have been fully explored – education would never be the same, even when everything will get back to the normal daily routine.

Regular video conferencing applications like WebEx or Zoom don’t fit the requirements of the learning process. At first glance, they have everything that might be needed like screen sharing and the chat. But in practice, it quickly becomes obvious that such solutions don’t provide enough interactivity and control to organize effective classes online. 

Virtual classroom software is capable of not only covering all the necessary functionality but also bringing some extras to the table.

benefits of eLearning solutions

List of the Content

VIRTUAL CLASSROOM SOFTWARE AS A PART OF LMS

When you hear “Learning Management System” – schools and universities are the first things that may come to your mind. However, enterprises are the most active adopters of such applications and they’re doing that on a way bigger scale than educational institutions. The LMS market is expected to grow $15.72 billion by 2021. However, the 2020 eLearning boom will likely help it to surpass even the most optimistic forecasts.

Surprisingly, even the market-leading LMS solutions don’t include sufficient tools for the complete cycle of remote learning. According to Capterra’s research, simple video conferencing is the most demanded feature among LMS users.

Thus, every company and school that uses an eLearning application is a part of the huge target audience that is eager to embed the live learning module as soon as possible.

Despite the heavy utilization of learning management platforms, the global educational system hasn’t been ready to go fully online. The infrastructure and processes are there, but most of the eLearning applications don’t include features that can help to conduct actual classes effectively. This is a great opportunity for virtual classroom software integration.

virtual classroom software as a part of LMS

One of the key features of any LMS is the evaluation of results and performance. The effective learning process is impossible without grades. For hundreds of years, assessments helped teachers to track the progress of the students, incentivize positive outcomes, and alter the learning program if the pupil is underperforming. Automation of the evaluation process, keeping records of each student organized, and tracking learning dynamics are among the most important tasks of any learning management system. Developing virtual classroom software from scratch means either having this functionality built-in or providing the ways of collecting organized data and sending it to the learning management system for measurement. New products that ignore that are useless and won’t be able to gain any market share.

Educational software is nothing new. This is a well-established market with a wide range of available applications, competition among major players, and a lot of standards that have become obligatory for any new product that is aimed to function within this ecosystem. 

For example, a Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard created by IMS Global Learning Consortium. This is a set of procedures that specify how educational software manages the data and interconnects with third-party solutions.

If you’re planning to develop virtual classroom software it needs to include either LMS components in it or provide APIs and for the integration with the most popular learning management solutions on the market. To name a few – open-source platform Moodle, Schoology, Instructure, Adobe Captivate, and many others. 

There will be a need for a significant amount of work by both business and software development teams. Thus, eLearning features and integrations should be included in the product plan for virtual classroom software and considered as an important item in the budget.

virtual classroom software as a part of learning product

There are a couple of options that cover this must-have functionality. Each of them has a variable cost, requires a different amount of efforts and time, and amplifies various advantages for the users:

  • Native LMS module development – one of the more expensive ways of product development, which, however, will bring you an all-in-one solution that will address all needs of a target audience.
  • APIs – virtual classroom software can be developed with a set of APIs for third-party connectivity. Each organization that will try to implement an online learning application with this type of integration path – will need to do some extra coding to make it work with the rest of the applications that are already in use. While being the quickest and the cheapest way from the product development standpoint, it can be a significant drawback in the eyes of the end-users and integrators. 
  • Full third party solutions integration – the longest and expensive ways to develop virtual classroom software and support it. In contrast to APIs approach, it gives any user the ability to synchronize with any learning management system from the list of supported solutions. No coding is required. Having this option in the product means providing the users with a convenient graphic interface that enables him to connect two applications in a few simple steps having only the credentials. The UX part is the visible and the simplest part of such feature development, while all the heavy lifting is done on the back-end of both apps.

None of these options does exclude the usage of others. Having both the LMS module and the ability to connect with the other third-party applications via APIs or full synchronization will be a nice extra addition in the eyes of potential buyers. At the same time, every extra feature will have an impact on the project’s budget. APIs can be identified as an essential feature that should be in every product from the launch. Later on, fully-fledged integrations with the third-party software can be built on this foundation one by one as a part of the product’s updates roadmap.

MUST-HAVE FUNCTIONALITY FOR VIRTUAL CLASSROOM SOFTWARE

In order to define the core features of an online classroom application – let’s explore the features that are a must-have to seamlessly transfer the learning to online.

The education process is the transfer of theoretical and practical knowledge and experience from teachers to students. School or university administration, parents, educational system officials are the stakeholders of the second line since they’re managing the schooling but never take part directly. Thus we have two main participants and both of them need to have their own portal for everyday routine activities with the feature set tailored specifically for their role. These applications should be aimed at providing both parties with the tools and optimizations aimed at making their work as effective as it is possible. 

For instance, later on, we’ll be speaking about video and audio conferencing features that must be build-in into every virtual class software. It will be incomplete if it would provide all participants with similar permissions. Teachers should have way more control over the group video chat than the students. While users with the “student” permissions might have only limited functionality such as mute themselves and leave the call, “teacher” users must be capable of muting any conference member and exclude any user from the conference call at any time. This is just a simple example and we’ll be exploring this further in the course of our research. 

With those two types of users in mind, we can classify all the VCS functionalities into the following categories: 

  • teacher’s tools 
  • the tools that are used by both teachers and students with the extras for the teachers

First and foremost goes the virtual classroom itself. This is not a separate feature, but rather a central hub that combines all the controls and features in one place. It should include video and audio conferencing, a list of students that are present in the class, live quiz, interactive whiteboard, screen sharing, and all the controls for teachers and students, and many others. 

At the same time, virtual classroom software must have all the other features that enable the learning process such as post-attendee questionnaires, automated mailing of the learning materials, recording of the classes, etc.

virtual classroom software features

Thus, we can create a list of what is essential for virtual classroom software: 

  • Video and audio 
  • Screen sharing
  • Collaborative whiteboard
  • Live quiz
  • Recordings
  • Live notes
  • Learning materials sharing
  • Calendar and email integrations

VIRTUAL CLASSROOM SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

eLearning software must be accessible. This means a variety of supported devices, platforms, and even the ability to work in the networks with limited bandwidth. People get used to starting something on their PC and continue on the mobile phone.

The cloud platform is the best technology foundation for virtual classroom software development. It can be scalable, easy to customize, modular, and supports all screens. Students will be able to use it on desktops, laptops, tablets, and their phones. Modern web applications architecture can easily support high-load platforms with such advanced features like screen sharing or video conferencing. Naturally, it can be built as native desktop software, but this is not really necessary considering how functional web frameworks like React, Angular, or Vue.js are. Also, targeting some specific platforms puts excessive constraints from the business standpoint because developing and supporting four versions for Mac, PC, Android, iOS, and Web will be extremely complicated and expensive.

MVP specifications

When planning to develop virtual classroom software it is good to know where to start and reach a wide target audience as possible at a reasonable cost. The aforementioned approach with a web-based solution will be a good idea for an MVP. It can be launched on any device that has a web browser. Some of the features, like an interactive whiteboard, may not be available on the smartphones from the very beginning. However, it can provide a limited set of tools that will be quite enough for the initial launch. For example, on mobile, it can give access to the learning materials, recording of the classes, and live quiz. This will make the learning process much more convenient which will turn into a higher engagement rate. Once the product will gain sufficient user-base it can be enhanced with native mobile applications. That will improve the overall experience and transfer the full version of the eLearning platform for the phone and tablet users.

Technologies for virtual classroom software development

Fortunately, there is a wide choice of technologies for eLearning application development. We’ve explained that building a web platform is the best option now since it does not put any restrictions on the devices that students and teachers can use. So it makes sense to review web technologies as the best option for educational projects.

Back-end technologies

Java EE, Node.js, PHP, and .NET are all good options for the server-side of such an application. All of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. Scalability, security, stability, and support of a high number of simultaneous users with the video and audio connection are the main selection criteria.

All of the mentioned technologies and even Java EE with small caveats are open-source and anybody can use them in the project. All of them will be an equally good fit for virtual classroom software development from a technical standpoint. So it makes sense to have a deeper look at them from the business perspective. 

Java and PHP, for instance, are very different in terms of how expensive they’re to use, maintain, how hard it is to hire developers, etc. In the list, we can highlight two types of technologies: enterprise and community-driven. Java EE and .NET have been widely used for enterprise projects for the past 10 years and you’ll be competing with companies like Shell and Cisco for those talents. 

PHP and Node.js historically are not in such high demand by the corporate and government sectors. However, Node.js is used by Netflix and PayPal as the main back-end technology for quite some time. Moreover, those languages are very popular among web developers right now so the offer can exceed the demand. Shorter hiring time and slightly lower wages will be some of the advantages that you may get out of the current job market situation.

Front-end technologies

Fortunately, it is much easier to choose the technology for the virtual classroom software UI development. React, Angular, and Vue.js have featured great options to implement simple, functional, and interactive frontend. These JS frameworks are chosen for high usability, simplicity of integration, good performance, and productivity. They gained considerable popularity and straightened their positions due to distinct advantages.

Developing virtual classroom solutions, you need to remember that it isn’t just a web-conferencing tool. Even though video communication is the core functionality, it has to oversee certain functionality that differentiates the learning solutions. It is obvious that most classes are structured around learning materials. When the teacher and students get on the same spot, for instance, a collaborative whiteboard, it becomes the place of actual collaboration. Great performance and instant updates should be adopted on all types of devices and enable access for users even with limited bandwidth.

For example, React is on high demand and often applied along with Node.js development. It helps to optimize performance, deliver fast updates, and increase development efficiency. Netflix and Instagram are among companies that use React for the interface of their applications.

As for simplicity and flexibility, Vue.js is a good solution that is mostly adopted with PHP and Node.js backend. Developers are attracted by the logical structure, simple integration, and performance time. It is often chosen for small and medium-size projects.

Angular is suitable for the big-scope applications where it is required to reduce the load of testing and work overlapping. Due to component-based architecture, the team members work on the single parts and later can reuse them. Angular is popular among PHP, Java, and .NET developers and adopted by such companies as Microsoft, PayPal, AT&T.

Video communication solutions

It is impossible to implement advanced virtual classroom software without video communication. That is a solid foundation that enables effective and real-time interaction between involved parties. Take into account that the number of call participants varies greatly, for example, teachers in primary school should be able to start the video for at least a group of 25 whereas the college lecturers will gather over 100 students. In both cases, communication solutions have to maintain a high quality of video streaming for all the users even within the minimum Internet speed.

From a technical standpoint, the development team has to support such generic functionality as quality video and voice solutions, data exchange, collaborative whiteboard, etc. Having extensive experience in education & learning software development, EXISTEK would recommend some of the following solutions. 

WebRTC is a well-established technology for web real-time communications. It allows developers to build both basic web apps and powerful communication solutions where users can stream live videos through web browsers. This technology is available on every browser as well as has the library for iOS and Android app development. WebRTC provides APIs for accessing devices’ microphones and cameras, opening connections, and starting streaming. Users don’t need to download local clients like with Zoom or Skype and can join the class right away using their browsers. WebRTC is an open-source project and strongly supported by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others.

It is necessary to consider preventative measures to avoid technical issues like poor Internet connection, video quality losses, etc. For instance, Multimedia routing is rather efficient for video transactions as it renders video directly from the teachers’ devices to students’ ones. In order to avoid quality loss and set proper adjustments, we also apply multi-bitrate encoding. It enables access even with limited bandwidth as long as it saves Internet traffic. 

The video communication solutions could be different but all of them have to meet users’ needs, facilitate the learning process, and enable efficient interactions. At the same time, it is rather important to differentiate user roles and provide extra functionalities for teachers. Even though it is a virtual classroom, they still remain in charge of the class. Turning off the student’s microphone when it’s noisy, adding/ disconnecting/ deleting call participants, the separate chats to comment on each student’s progress would help to maximize the learning experience within the virtual classroom.

VIRTUAL CLASSROOM SOFTWARE: MAIN FEATURES COST BREAKDOWN

It is obvious that virtual classroom software cost depends on several aspects including chosen functionality, applied technology stack, and outlined requirements. EXISTEK knows from our own experience that developing educational & learning solutions requires great planning and efficient development tools to achieve final goals. We always recommend starting with a comprehensive analysis and setting the right development specifications. The simplest way to estimate virtual classroom software cost is to break down the functionality and evaluate how long it takes to implement each feature and how much it would cost. We’ve calculated the cost of each mentioned functionality and estimated the approximate development timeline. We’d like to mention that calculations are done using average software development rates in Eastern Europe whereas the price could be twice or even higher in the UK or the USA for similar development services. So let’s check the received results discussing the core features of any virtual classroom software.

Video and audio

Conducting online lessons is impossible without quality audio and video solutions as they make the basis of any virtual learning. Following the high standard requirements and equipping software with extra functionality like teacher’s tools would differentiate the visual classroom software from any other video-conferencing application. If the teacher stays in charge of the class and has all the tools to engage students, it is easy to bring the learning process closer to reality or in most cases make it better. For example, extra video call functionalities enable better class control and engagement of all the students. Even simple additions like “raise a hand” button for students or “turn-taking” and “praise a student” buttons for teachers could arrange the lessons in order.  Teacher control over the class is supported by special permissions to mute certain participants, or disable the video to block distractions. A quality video connection and its integration with the aforementioned additional features is the most complex and challenging task for the development team. Considering all the mentioned details on audio and video requirements and possible technology solutions, the development process can take up to 4 weeks and cost $25 000.

Screen sharing

It is an essential part of virtual classroom software development, as there is no guarantee that students would be able to download necessary files every time and follow along at the right place. Simple screen snaring is not enough for an effective learning process and the convenience of all participants. Advanced features are must-have for every virtual classroom software development project. Screen sharing should work like in Zoom or GoToMeeting where the presented can choose the specific application windows that will be demonstrated, choose a portion of the screen, and the screen itself for those who use multiple displays.   It is important to share different types of files like animated presentations, videos, or large-size files without uploading time. It is worth mentioning that the mentioned WebRTC is rather efficient to handle these tasks. Screen sharing is created as a part of the video and audio communication module, yet it requires extra work for the life improvements that are necessary. As for the development timeline, it could be 4 weeks with an average cost of $15 000.

Collaborative whiteboard

The learning process also involves a lot of collaboration, group activities, and brainstorming. Creating digital collaborative whiteboards produces some impressive results. It is a shared feature where both teachers and students can type, draw, delete, and blank the whiteboard. They aren’t limited to size restrictions like with physical whiteboards anymore. It enables realistic whiteboard experience, encourages collaboration, and visualizes the discussing ideas. In order to avoid any compatibility issues, this feature has to be available on any device as well as on the web and syncing in real time. Because of this, the development cost of the collaborative whiteboard can start at $7 000 and require 2 weeks of work.

Live quiz

Live quizzes are a perfect way to track how well a student retains information from the course. With the constant knowledge check, teachers will be able to support weak students and encourage slow learners. The development team has to present quick and easy ways to create and share quiz forms covering their variety like multiple-choice, true/false, matching, sequence, drag and drop, surveys, polls, or essays. Moreover, it is necessary to keep track of student progress and provide result reports for teachers, school authorities, students, and parents if we talk about under-aged learners. It is a rather simplistic feature at a first glance, but it requires functionality that will allow teachers to create the quizzes with the content that is relative to a specific lesson or subject. Also, it should be integrated with the LMS that will enable the students’ performance tracking. Bearing in mind the dualistic nature of this feature,  it can be developed at $10 000 charge and take up to 3 weeks.

Recordings

The recording brings not only the practical but educational value. Firstly, it supports tracking of teachers’ performance, course attendance, students’ participation, etc. Secondly, it ensures accessibility and maximizes learning opportunities. If the student can’t attend the lesson due to illness or emergency, the teacher will share such records on demand. In other situations, students have to fully focus on the presentation and don’t have time to make individual notes, so teachers can share the related records with everyone. The development team could spend on average 2 weeks and charge about $10 000 for this feature.

Live notes

Virtual classroom software is a place for active learning and open discussions that need to be properly completed with summaries and outlined action items. It is recommended to broadcast the live notes and support their automatic saving. The editing access can be limited not only to the teachers’ usage or shared with specific participants. The most important thing is that all notes are immediately available and no need to copy or paste them later. In addition, you can provide the ability to download live notes as PDFs, for example. The average cost to implement this functionality is up to $6 000 and takes approximately 1 week.

Learning materials sharing and creation

Besides easily accessible learning materials, they should be properly managed. Considering compliance regulations, all the files have to be encrypted, secure, and available to authorized users. Only the assigned participants can access, view, edit, upload, or download learning materials. Moreover, they will deal with different types of files like documents, presentations, audios, videos, images, and spreadsheets. It would be great to structure all the data according to the types of files, topics, sources, course sections, etc.

Moreover, the learning materials module should include a personal cabined for the mentors to upload and create learning materials by his or her own. The development costs usually start at $15 000 and take up to 4 weeks.

Calendar and email integrations

Functional integrations are a must-have stage of any virtual classroom software development. It helps to arrange class schedules, set session date and time, inform the participants, and send automatic reminders via email. It greatly supports managing and time planning as in the case of international courses. You can eliminate confusion as teachers and students receive course schedules in accordance with their time zones. Any type of integration would support an additional layer of user convenience and extra learning value. Calendar and email integrations can take up to 1 week and cost on average $3 000.

Consequently, we’ve received the following results on virtual classroom software cost and the required timeline. The development team needs to spend up to 5-7 months of work that would cost on average $80 000 – $120 000.

FEATURES FOR VIRTUAL CLASSROOM SOFTWAREDEVELOPMENT COSTAVERAGE TIMELINE
VIDEO AND AUDIO$25 0004 weeks
SCREEN SHARING$15 0004 weeks
COLLABORATIVE WHITEBOARD$7 0002 weeks
LIVE QUIZ$10 0003 weeks
RECORDINGS$10 0002 weeks
LIVE NOTES$6 0001 week
LEARNING MATERIALS SHARING AND CREATION$15 0004 weeks
CALENDAR AND EMAIL INTEGRATIONS$3 0001 week
TOTAL:$91 00021 weeks

IN CONCLUSION

Education once limited to physical institutions has changed its extensions irreversibly. The educational system is open to new learning approaches and wide adoption of technology. In particular, virtual classroom software supports adaptability and flexibility to conduct actual lessons for anyone, anywhere, and anytime. Besides advancing the learning process, it revolutionized the overall industry. Considering the details mentioned in this article, we can definitely say that integrating technologies into the learning environment is inevitable and rather beneficial.

If you have some ideas and need professional consultation, feel free to contact EXISTEK. We are an outsourcing software development company that has extensive experience in creating educational & learning solutions. You can fill in the form at our contact page or start the discussion in the chat widget on the right.