Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, education has changed forever. In 2017, only about 77 percent of US companies used online learning, but nearly everyone made the switch in 2020. And post-lockdown, 73 percent of students surveyed said they prefer a fully online format for some courses. Millions of students continue to study either fully online or in a mixed format. It’s essential to guarantee them the best learning experience.
In this post, you will learn how to improve streaming quality and guarantee the best user experience to your online learning platform clients.
What Is Streaming for E-Learning?
Streaming is the process of broadcasting live or pre-recorded content from the owner’s device to viewers’ devices. Some examples of streaming sites are Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify. Any video or audio content can be streamed. The end user’s streaming experience depends on the quality of the internet connection and many other factors including how efficiently content is delivered to a given device. In the case of effective content delivery, all organizations need to consider their encoding tech methodology, be it per-title, per-scene, or simply multi-pass encoding. And though you can’t control your viewers’ connection, there certainly are ways to improve streaming on your side. This reduces the possibility that viewers will face lags, loading errors, and other inconveniences.
Online learning most often involves live streaming. Here are several reasons:
- Students seem to do better with more active learning strategies, rather than simply listening to a lecture.
- Educators can create presentations, animations, and other types of interactive content to reinforce lessons. One study found that interactive activities are six times more likely than lecture videos to help students learn new things.
- Videos and other multimedia content keep people entertained, which can help them stay more motivated
Why Quality Streaming Matters
Competition is high in the e-learning market. Low-quality streaming can cause the image or the sound to freeze, making it difficult for students to understand the teacher. If users aren’t happy with their experience, they won’t come back—and they may tell other users to go elsewhere. Good word of mouth is essential in acquiring new clients.
Moreover, a sense of community is important in distance education. Having a chat feature is common in online courses, allowing classmates to talk to each other and to the teacher. A poor-quality live stream could prevent students and the teacher from consistently seeing and hearing each other. The magic of feeling connected through time and space disappears, leaving the user disappointed. To prevent this, you need to provide the best streaming experience for e-learning.
How to Optimize Your Streaming Experience
Your e-learning service needs to take multiple factors into account.
Proper Encoding Workflow
While it’s possible to build out your own video encoding workflow…or simply ignore the step altogether, doing so is highly inefficient and extremely expensive – either through the cost of experienced personnel to build the workflow or from CDN expenditures. This is especially true for e-learning platforms that maintain a fairly large and growing content library that students with a wide range of bandwidth requirements must be able to access at any time.
In the case of educational content, quality must be high at all times (I’ll address this later on) as students must be able to actually read or view the content that’s being presented. To address the high cost of content delivery (regardless of bandwidth), while maintaining a high level of quality, a proper encoding workflow, per-title or otherwise will allow users to better access the content.
Encoding is the process of converting a raw video file (codec) into a compatible, compressed and efficient digital format. The new compressed file is capable of distribution across the web and playback in mobile or TV players.
In addition, if you’re allowing users to download or access content offline it will vastly reduce total file sizes, download times, and space used on the customer’s device. Contrarily, if your company is streaming content, efficient encoding will similarly reduce Content delivery and Storage costs, especially if you have a large user base.
Digital Rights Management
Teaching materials often include intellectual property that needs to be protected, this is where Digital Rights Management (DRM) comes into play. In most cases, e-learning organizations will need to move their plain content to encrypted format using DRM systems that can be compatible with nearly any OS (Apple’s FairPlay, Google’s Widevine, Microsoft’s PlayReady, and the open-standards-based Marlin DRM).
To learn more about how to create DRM protected content, check out these great tutorials:
Forensic watermarking, a somewhat “premium feature” and is mostly applicable for organizations with extremely sensitive or monetized content, is embedded into the content an invisible, unique mark that identifies the creator. You can use it for marking audio, video, text, and multimedia files. For example, if you’re streaming video lectures for an online course, forensic watermarking is embedded into the content code. Another method is to place additional sounds in the video file. Users won’t notice, but you can use watermark detector software to check if someone is illegally using the content.
Forensic watermarking must be robust and resistant to hacker attacks. For example, if the format of the video is changed, your watermark should still be where you placed it. You can learn more about how to place forensic watermarking in the video below:
It’s important to note, however, that Forensic Watermarking is used primarily to track down existing content pirates but doesn’t address how an organization can protect from piracy, to begin with, and organizations should consider a DRM solution first.
You can learn more about how to place forensic watermarking in the video below:
Offline Playback & Analytics
Acceptable Error Rate
Consistent streams are critical to the e-learning experience. If a lecture freezes even briefly, students can miss critical instruction while the page reloads. This leaves them frustrated and unable to catch up. Latency may be less important in other industries that focus on-demand content, like library-based services, sports replays, or entertainment, but they’re critical for e-learning. Even in a few seconds, which is an average loading time for websites and mobile versions, respectively, users can miss important information. Poor quality steals value from your client.
Unfortunately, problems during live-streaming are common. Some that you might face are non-smooth movements caused by low frame rate, freezing pictures and blackouts caused by an error in your encoder, and poor bandwidth that leads to losing the stream. Errors can also occur if there is something missing at one end of a stream—for example, a remote server crashed or a file was accidentally deleted.
First, properly adjust your encoder settings. This helps you avoid transmission outages. Google support offers tips on choosing the right settings. You should also test the outbound internet connection to prevent losing the stream because of poor bandwidth. In the case that encoding is not the cause of your errors, the best course of action is to look into as granular data as possible to determine the cause. In addition, be sure to provide web support so users can report problems. You can use these two strategies to quickly discover, fix, and prevent bugs.
Quality vs Latency
Latency describes how much time it takes for data to travel from one device to another. Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted over an internet connection in a given time (usually measured in megabits per second). The higher the latency, the lower the bandwidth; thus, with higher latency, an organization with limited technology resources can focus their bandwidth expenditure on content quality, and vice versa (low latency = lower quality). Of course, it’s possible to address both factors, but that’s mostly relevant for Sports Broadcasting or larger enterprises with the resources to support both quality and low latency.
In the case of e-learning, where most courses are streamed on-demand and the content may contain detailed notes, it would be most beneficial to focus bandwidth expenditure on quality with an efficient encoding workflow process. While this is a generalized statement, cases may vary and I’d recommend speaking to an expert to determine the best solution for your specific workflow.
While colorful backgrounds may look appropriate for game streaming on YouTube or Twitch and help set the mood, only minimal customization is necessary for e-learning. The point is the educational content, not the background or the effects. A more customized overlay design might distract from the focus of the experience.
Many websites feature both desktop and mobile versions of their products. While the share of mobile e-learning on the market is growing, it still hasn’t reached the popularity of desktop solutions. As research shows, users usually spend twenty to sixty minutes on a desktop learning interaction, as opposed to three to ten minutes on a mobile device. Moreover, e-learning is often connected to organizations and employers that purchase courses for their teams. Of professionals surveyed, only 25 percent say their employers currently offer mobile learning.
So for now, your first priority for your e-learning application should be a desktop version, as the larger screen offers a better display for elements, like puzzles, chats, games, and PDF files.
There are different monetization models available for e-learning services, with pros and cons for each.
Subscription video on demand (SVOD) offers users access to a larger library of content. It can also provide subscription perks or offer access to exclusive materials. This model can guarantee a stable income.
Once the user has paid, they get access to their chosen course for an unlimited amount of time. They can build a more personalized learning experience by selecting the courses they want. You can monitor what’s popular and modify your offerings accordingly for your target audience.
Online ads allow you to keep the content free for users and attract a bigger audience. Ads are placed inside the videos, and users must watch them. Such ads are controversial, though, and the annoyance they cause users may not be worth the free content or turn users away from a learning platform altogether.
Streaming quality in e-learning is vital because it directly affects the impact of learning services providers on their customers. Keeping your content safe, error-free, and easily accessible will keep your users satisfied and help you grow your business.
One helpful tool to improve your streaming experience is Bitmovin. Bitmovin experts can help tailor your video encodings based on the specific type of content you have, and the profile of your end-users, ensuring the best possible streaming performance. In addition, their platform is able to reduce bit rate, deliver high-quality videos to multiple devices, and provide real-time data so you can quickly fix issues. This ensures you and your clients will have a good experience.
If you’re an e-learning service provider and would like to try out Bitmovin’s Encoding, Player, and/or Analytics for your streaming solution, sign-up for a trial today.