Try Free

How to Build the Best Streaming eLearning Experience

With the rise of eLearning, 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-pandemic, millions of learners continue to study either fully online or in a mixed format which is why It’s essential to guarantee them the best learning experience.

In this blog, I will go into how streaming is significant for eLearning, what to pay attention to improve streaming quality, and how to guarantee the best user experience for your online learning platform.

How is Streaming essential for eLearning?

Prior to video being widely adopted, eLearning platforms concentrated more on other traditional methods of learning (reading, testing, + others). Now, video on demand and live streaming have become a major way platforms engage their users, with some making it the only way users can learn. Depending on your focus, let’s define these two workflows that are currently utilized and in the process of being deployed by many services: 

On-Demand (VOD)

  1. This format is very common in online learning and is applied in academia and as well as in the flow of work for companies giving users the opportunity to access content when and where they want. 
  2. Content libraries are usually large, requiring hosting to maintain the files. 
  3. The entire workflow can be provided by LMS SaaS solutions, streaming companies or put together piecemeal by the platform.

Live-Streamed (Live)

  1. This format is common for events that just stream directly to the user and does not include 2-way communication that you’d find on meeting platforms (exp. Zoom, Webex). 
  2. Requires a stable internet connection between the video source and ingest point to keep the video flowing smoothly.
  3. The entire workflow can be provided by LMS SaaS solutions, and streaming companies.

Even with video being the cornerstone of how eLearning platforms immerse their learners in content, there is an overall arching theme that affects everything, as well as streaming, and that is the user experience while on the platform.

Why Quality Streaming Matters

As I mentioned above, the user experience on eLearning platforms is extremely important and quality of experience (QoE) is a part of how that is measured. There are many factors to (QoE), one being the application that users will access when looking to engage with content and another being the viewing experience that users will have after requesting content to play. In regards to the streaming portion, you need to make sure the playback experience is flawless, which matters more today than ever due to the amount of competition in the ever-growing e-learning marketing. Bad experiences on your platform can turn into significant churn in users and negative reviews on your service that are public for everyone to see. This can be avoided through constant testing and in-depth user/viewer analytics that report your user’s experiences and track metrics such as:

  • Player Performance
  • Video Quality
  • Stream Errors

You can see an example of this with Bitmovin’s Analytics and even try using it for free.

How to Optimize Your Streaming Experience

Your eLearning service needs to take multiple factors into account.

With QoE being the major subject of this blog and most likely the one you pay attention to the most for your platform, you need to take multiple factors into account that can improve your streaming performance:

Encoding options

When evaluating this portion of the streaming workflow, it’s always good to take into account what is the effort required to implement it, whether it gets the job done, and how much is the overall cost related to using it. If setting the workflow up piecemeal, there are many encoding options on the market, from open-source to commercial offerings, or even an LMS/LXP that will most likely already have the full workflow that can be used out of the box. While the open-source software is free, it doesn’t mean it’s cheaper, easier, or even better and will definitely take development skills as you would be deploying it on your own, however, if in a bind, it could help get the job done but is limited to the number of machines you have available to you. Commercial offerings come with more support and easier deployment capabilities for your developers as the APIs that need to be utilized will most likely be very well documented, but there is a cost to using them. A way to weigh the options is by evaluating the capabilities of each offering, your current content library, where your users are, and what you intend to do with that content.  

Taking larger libraries as the best example (VOD), means you have a significant encoding need, which will take a good amount of encoding machines to get the job done and make the content available to your users. However, depending on the service you choose, this could be done quickly through parallel encoding (mostly available with commercial offerings), where multiple machines take chunks of each file that need to be encoded and stitch them back together once the file has been completed. To do that with open source can be expensive as it requires you to own or rent (AWS, Azure) the physical hardware, however, where the optimization comes in for the workflow is in the encoding algorithm itself and if it’s possible to do per-title and 3-pass encoding. Both of these help reduce storage and CDN costs as they enable video to be optimized for content type while maintaining or increasing the quality for learners. It is a major improvement to QoE, as typically without these optimizations, viewers would experience buffering or see the content in a lower quality if in a place of low connectivity.

These benefits are especially true at Bitmovin, where our encoding tech is built to make content available fast and can help eLearning platforms reduce costs by up to 90%, depending on what type of content is being streamed through our per-title and 3-pass capabilities.

Content Protection & Digital Rights Management

Content often includes intellectual property that needs to be protected and this is where encryption or for stronger security, Digital Rights Management systems (DRM), come into play. To prevent piracy of your content or content you’ve purchased and only allow users that should have access to it to see it, eLearning organizations will need to implement token encryption or DRMs into streaming workflows. Security is a major part of this but by configuring this they can also:

  • Limit the number of devices that can play content
  • Limit how many times a user can play the content
  • Enable offline playback (Dependent on Player capabilities)
  • Control how users can interact with their content

In regards to DRMs, your packager and player must support each of the major DRMs and are heavily dependent on device, OS, and browser. Apple, Android, and Microsoft all have their respective DRMs that work in their formats. Here is a list of how those can be implemented within your workflow:

Modular Player and Offline Playback

The load time of an eLearning application and the player it’s using are another couple of factors related to QoE for learners, which is where being able to deploy only what you need makes a big difference. Like encoding, you will have multiple open-source and commercial player offerings to choose from, depending specifically on the functionality you need and devices you’d like to support. One of the features to pay attention to is the “heaviness” of a player, meaning what the player requires you to load and how long it takes for a video to load when using it. This issue normally comes up when implementing monolithic players, which are dated players that if you apply them, you’re required to add every piece even if you don’t use it in your workflow. 

The way to optimize and fix this issue is by utilizing a modular player. These are players that give you the ability to pick and choose which API you would like to implement and will not make you add anything additional, making the player lighter and decreasing load time substantially. We have verified this through our modular player, as we have seen a decrease of load time by up to 40% with companies using us, while they have noticed an increase of QoE for their users.

Additionally, another factor for the player is enabling the functionality for offline playback. As mentioned above in the DRM section, this capability goes hand-in-hand with that security feature, as the user needs to be able to download and play the video in a secure environment while in-app, offline, and without access to the original file. This is something that is not available with every video player on the market and one that can be a differentiating factor when learners are evaluating eLearning platforms. This is a feature that we built into the Bitmovin Player a while ago for the mobile “on the go” experience and it has been a definite plus for the platforms that use it.

Branding the Player

When streaming content on an app, it’s always good to have the ability to customize your user experience even on the player itself. Through colors, logos, button sizes, and more, there is a good amount you can do to make each and every experience unique and memorable. 

Even though it is minimal, how the user feels when interacting with the player makes a significant difference and one we can attest to with ours as well.

eLearning Streaming Business Models 

When understanding which is the best streaming experience for your user base, the streaming workflow is a major part of it and that’s why we discussed it at length above, but the other part is deciding how you want your content interacted with. Here are a few approaches that eLearning platforms normally make their content available:

SVOD (Subscription-based)

Subscription video on demand (SVOD) offers users access to a larger library of content. It can also provide subscription perks or offers access to exclusive materials. This model ensures there is a monthly flow of revenue. 

TVOD (Pay-per-Course)

Once the user has paid, they get access to their chosen course for an unlimited or limited 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.

AVOD (Advertising-supported)

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.

Conclusion

Quality of experience for eLearning is vital because it directly affects how learners engage with content and decide if they remain with platforms. Optimizing your content for quality, cost and reach can help maintain and grow your audience base, and ultimately your business.

One thing I’ve realized during my time in the eLearning sector and at Bitmovin is how important the right partner can be when exploring how to make and do things better and this is where Bitmovin shines.

If you’re an EdTech or eLearning platform and would like to try out Bitmovin’s Encoding, Player, and/or Analytics for your streaming workflow, sign-up for a trial today.

Video technology guides and articles

Author

Adam Massaro is a Product Marketing Manager at Bitmovin that is focused on everything about the Bitmovin Player deployments and developments.