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Creating a Next-Gen Language Product to Meet Learners’ Demands

Dmitry Krasovskiy

Ph.D., Head of Education & Learning Services
Blog
  • Business Information Services

In 2020, most of us were pushed to work from home. Since then, many boundaries have been erased, including those that restricted hiring people from other countries. Today, companies have come to realize that they can hire candidates from anywhere. Now, it’s all a matter of enabling the opportunity to effectively communicate across borders through training and tools that help improve language skills.

People want to learn new languages because they see it as an opportunity for personal fulfillment and career growth. But they want to learn at the place and at the pace that is most convenient for them: They need effective online language learning solutions that offer this level of comfort.

Typical Challenges when Building a Language Tutoring Product

A few years ago, EPAM participated in a project where we enriched a communication platform with new features to make it a 100% digital language learning product. As we see the growing demand for the digital language products, we decided to share our experience and lessons learned.

At that time, our client provided an on-demand language tutoring solution for Business English. The client wanted to modernize its teacher-student communication service to address the demand for a digital learning environment.

Here are the typical challenges we identified while helping our client build the digital language tutoring product:

  • Developing real-time communication and collaboration tools
  • Integrating seemlessly with existing systems, platforms and content infrastructure
  • Ensuring low-latency worldwide connectivity
  • Enabling high scalability and load balancing of real-time communications
  • Providing and supporting a cross-platform solution for both web and mobile
  • Supporting the full range of media devices and their management inside various browsers
  • Automated scheduling to avoid a manual labor-filled and error-prone process
  • Enabling statistics, reports and integration with reporting services

Initially, our client used a third-party product to create virtual classrooms, which made it impossible to customize the tool for language tutoring. Our partnership aimed to introduce the new bespoke version of the virtual classroom platform, provide a better learning experience and make the product globally available.

Tailored communication was hard to achieve with out-of-the-box videoconferencing solutions (for example, Zoom or Skype). Users had to install them separately because the apps were not embedded into the learning platform, which disrupted the overall user experience. Gaps in encryption also led to vulnerability. Additionally, it was hard to control communication within ready-to-use virtual rooms. There were difficulties serving content from the learning platform and creating an interactive learning experience through these apps because they were unable to incorporate widgets and tools like whiteboards, annotations or pulls and did not support collaborative editing. Last, third-party apps made it extremely difficult to streamline attendance reporting.

On the other hand, communication platform-as-a-service solutions (CPaaSs) provided connectivity but lacked the user interface for virtual classrooms. Based on the services that CPaaSs provide, learning companies could build their own communication tools, avoiding third-party plug-ins or desktop applications. Through bespoke app development, language products could be customized for a streamlined learning experience with education-specific features for the end user. Additionally, users could stay within the platform and use the browser for enhanced security. However, using CPaaS led to dependency on the communication provider and created barriers for scalability.

Building a 100% Digital Language Tutoring Product

We approached the client’s problem by trying to resolve the limitations of the desktop apps and connectivity. As a result, we developed a new state-of-the-art, real-time communication platform for language learning. We created a microservice architecture for platform scalability and security. In addition, we helped our client choose the right communication provider for worldwide connectivity and developed virtual classroom, scheduling and reporting modules customized for the client’s needs.

The client needed virtual classrooms to improve personal interaction and collaboration between students and instructors. By building the new platform, we enhanced the virtual classroom with collaborative activities made for online learning, such as drawing and whiteboard functionality, annotations and a notepad feature. Additionally, the platform supported file sharing, built-in public and private chat, and the ability to manage participants.

We designed an instructor’s personal space in the virtual classroom. Instructors used the space to prepare for sessions and manage supporting materials like presentations and image files from a common content resource repository or a personal folder, with the ability to add new files from a local device.

An automated scheduling module was built to manage the schedule, sessions, classrooms, and topics. The module provided visibility into the availability of instructors. Additionally, we developed an instructor resource page in the scheduling module that enabled teachers to view their scheduled sessions, assign themselves to vacant sessions and view the learners’ access statistics in real time.

We added an integrated statistics service that collected learner and attendance data, aggregated it for a report module and enabled the creation of various reports, including real-time tracking of learning progress.

We even developed applications for iOS and Android for the platform to provide an intuitive mobile experience. The apps shared backend services to provide deep connectivity with the platform. Once deployed publicly, students could use multiple devices—PCs, Macs, tablets, iPads, and smartphones—to learn anytime and anywhere.

Focusing on the Language Learning Experience

All these enhancements enabled our client to create a customized learning experience for students to study a language and to achieve their individual education goals at their own pace. The virtual classrooms allowed the instructors to adapt sessions to individual needs. The solution also offered a user-friendly interface and responsive design for an intuitive experience for both students and instructors. Fully integrated into users' digital learning journey, the platform delivered the right human interaction at the right time. Overall, we helped the client accelerate time-to-market and enable healthy revenue flow.

Nowadays, online language learning tools are rapidly evolving and there are a lot of new products on the market. They range from language courses to on-demand platforms to robust ML-based smart tutoring apps. When we were developing the solution , we helped the client bring language learning to the next level. These first digital language tools set a high standard for online language practice. That new standard set the stage for the robust EdTech solutions that now provide a modern learning experience that is so necessary for today’s borderless workforce. As a result, anyone from anywhere can achieve cross-border communication with the help of digital language products.

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