How to build an online course website from scratch and questions to answer before that

Dan Fedirko
Feb 7, 2019 · 6 min read

According to research, the global elearning market is going to grow at a CAGR of around 7.0% over the next few years and will reach approximately $331 billion by 2025. This creates a massive opportunity for business and tutors to create online courses and elearning platforms. In this guide, we will cover all the aspects of building an elearning website.

3 ways of building elearning website

There are 3 main ways you can build a website for your online course: use LMS(Learning Management System), SaaS solutions or code from scratch. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of each of them.

This will be a good choice if you want to build a website with custom features and expect a large number of students enrolled. Notice, that each part of a site will be coded from scratch, so you need a strong team of developers. Most of the online learning websites are build with the usage of PHP, ASP or NodeJS programming languages. Moreover, such a website requires a specific server and database setup. Mostly, cloud solutions like AWS or GCP are used.


  • Customization. The main reason why you would choose this approach is that you can develop literally anything you want with a help of skilled programmers. This gives you an opportunity to develop custom features that will differentiate you from the competitors and create a better learning environment for your students.
  • Scalability. There is always a desire to grow and expand, a lot of online courses transform into full elearning platforms with a range of different courses inside them. Moreover, with a growing number of students, you can to expand the servers’ capacity.
  • Ownership. One more strong point of custom development is that you own the whole system and you decide whether to shut it down or not.


  • Costs. Everything depends on the complexity of the project you want to develop, but it was never cheap to build a custom website. And it’s much more expensive than using SaaS or open-source solution.
  • Time and effort. Usually, it takes 2–3 months to build a website from scratch, not to mention continuous discussions and decision makings about your project.
  • Maintenance. Custom code requires constant maintenance. If something in the code or on the server goes wrong, you have to have a development team ready to fix it immediately.

Open Source LMS(Learning Management Systems) like Moodle or TalentLMS provide you with a ready-built platform which is ready to go after installation on your servers. All the necessary features for creating an online course and its management are included.

There is also an ability to create online courses on popular CMS like WordPress and Joomla, using themes and plugins like Sensei, LifterLMS, eMember, etc.


  • Costs. Most of the open-source CMS and LMS a free to use or cost thousands of times less than building such a system from scratch.
  • Time. As management systems, themes and plugins are already built, you only need time to install, setup and customize them. Due to that, your online course can be launched in a matter of a few weeks.
  • Features. Ready-built systems are rich on features necessary to run a successful elearning website from course content management and varies tasks types to payments.
  • Maintenance. The vendor of a management system is responsible for updating and supporting the code.


  • Scalability. Commonly, CMS are hard to scale and you are limited by its features.
  • Customization. In case you would like to add some custom features, you will need to hire specialists who know the system you use.
  • Bandwidth. Usage of ready-built systems is acceptable under 10,000 users, if you plan to have more students, you should consider the custom-build platform.

SaaS(Software as a Service) platforms like Teachable and Thinkific provide a full range of elearning features via a monthly or annual subscription. There is no installation or coding required.


  • Price. SaaS solution is affordable for any business or solopreneur. In addition, you pay as you go, instead of a large sum of money at the very beginning.
  • Time. Considering the fact that you don’t need to install any software, the online course website can be created in a few days.
  • Flexibility. Such speed in launching a business gives an opportunity to quickly change approach and strategy if needed.
  • Maintainance. The vendor of elearning platform services covers all the issues concerning code, servers and stable work.
  • Bandwidth. SaaS companies use the best servers to host your website and you can use as much space and traffic as you need.


  • Customization. Though SaaS platforms provide quite a lot of UI customization options, there is no way of editing the code of the platform and adding your own, custom features.
  • Scalability. SaaS solution is perfect for a fast start, but if you consider growing into a big platform, it’s better to start from CMS or custom development.

Questions to answer before development

It’s always a wise step to start from the end. What is the result your user gets after using your website? Is it a concrete skill, knowledge or an exam pass?

Understanding the goals and objectives of your website help to build the curriculum right and later on the website development strategy.

Mapping the elearning curriculum beforehand will help you to know what content you need to develop, how it will be delivered and how the website should look like.

So what your students should know after finishing your course or training? List topics, skills, and exercises you want your trainees to complete.

Most of the elearning platforms use blend-learning approach, which includes few delivery methods like:

  • Self-paced online courses with text and video content
  • Live webinars
  • One to one calls

Understanding of content delivery methods leads to a set of features:

  • Ability to host webinars and podcasts
  • A schedule of live events
  • Quizzes
  • Text and video content

If the process of learning is boring, it is hard for learners to focus and consume information. This leads to worse students’ progress and the success of the whole course.

Here are a few ways of keeping the students engaged:

  • Gamification
  • Community cooperations
  • Interactivity

The most popular way to keep the audience alert is used in offline lectures when the lecturer asks questions. The same approach can be implemented in elearning by asking students questions during video and making quizzes.

Another, a more interesting and complex method is gamification. We all love games because they excite, bring joy and involve. Here are some examples of how gamification can be implemented in online learning:

  • Scoring
  • Goals
  • Levels
  • Badges
  • Leaderboards
  • Educational games
  • AR and VR simulators.

One more method of students engagement is through collaboration and interaction.

It can be done with these features:

  • Forums
  • Lessons discussion sections
  • In-platform private messaging
  • Peer material sharing.

Insights about students engagement also lead to features required. Keep it in mind while choosing the way of building the website.

With this question, we move closer to the actual development of the platform. Insights from competitors research will give you an understanding of what platforms they mostly use, what features do they have, what their students like and dislike and how you can be better.

In elearning, the user experience is the most important part after the content. Wireframes usually are developed by experienced UX designers, but you can do it to on a piece of paper to have a vision of how your website should look like.

When your elearning website is up and running it’s time to consistently measure its success and performance. It can be done by measuring KPIs.

According to The Kirkpatrick Model, there are 4 types of elearning KPIs:

Image source

This model will help you know how much your students use and love your website. Moreover, it will show you the business value of a course.

Most of LMS support tracking of the Reactions and Learning metrics. However, it can be challenging to track Behavior and Results, as no LMS have this functionality built-in. There are 2 ways out: analyze it by hand using spreadsheets or develop a custom solution.


The creation of the online learning website can be challenging, not to mention the curriculum itself. But it’s worth the effort. Just keep in mind your main goals and plans and choose the right development way according to it. If you hesitate about the technical part, we will be glad to help you choose.

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