Training fresh IT professionals has long been one of the most important tasks for WEZOM. We devote a lot of effort to developing our own academy, where we train coders, designers, testers, and other specialists.
The pandemic and the war posed new challenges for WEZOM Academy: students desperately needed the opportunity to continue their studies despite all the obstacles while remaining engaged and motivated to work on themselves. So we brought our vision of modern education to life by creating a completely new digital platform for students and teachers.
The Academy has been developing offline in our native Kherson for many years. In 2019, we came up with the idea to create our own online courses that would allow us to go beyond the region and provide students with the opportunity to study remotely.
However, this was only the beginning. For the academy to be effective, its internal processes needed to be automated; students had to receive training courses and feedback from teachers quickly and conveniently, so they could focus primarily on their progress. We also wanted to create certain "triggers" for students that would keep them motivated and inspire them to overcome difficulties.
At the same time, teachers and tutors needed to be able to check homework and provide feedback to students in a seamless way, without unnecessary communication thresholds. This was important both in terms of convenience and time management. After all, our teachers are specialists working on real projects, and sometimes they are "torn" between practice and student learning.
Our attempts to use off-the-shelf solutions for online courses were generally unsuccessful; other people's platforms did not have the features we needed, and students did not like them. So we collected all our thoughts and formalized them into requirements for a new custom learning management system. In global practice, such platforms are called Learning Managment System (LMS).
The development of our own LMS involved solving a number of tasks:
- Implement a new personal account with four user roles: admin, student, tutor, and teacher;
- develop a rating system;
- build a new, gamified learning experience for students;
- create a grading system and different types of assignments;
- implement an internal chat for teachers and students;
- ensure the availability of different types of educational content.
The result of the development was a digital educational hub that did not require any additional resources or messengers and could work both online and offline. And of course, this hub had to be cozy and inspire success so that students would want to return to study.
Search for Solutions and Technologies
Technically, the system we conceived was a personal account with functionality for four user roles. To create it, we turned to technologies that have already proven themselves in dozens of our other projects.
The frontend was created using Next.js and Typescript. The Material UI library, based on Google design standards, became the basis for the interface.
The backend of the platform was based on the Laravel PHP framework, and the team used MySQL to manage databases.
There are no technological experiments here - all solutions for the project are practical, fast, and easy to maintain.
How we did the development
When it came time to move from planning to the technical stage of development, the team resorted to the scrum methodology, which is based on the best agile practices:
- clear distribution of roles and areas of responsibility;
- maximum detailing of tasks and clear prioritization in the backlog;
- completion of tasks in short-term sprints;
- close communication within the team.
All these practices allow you to implement a project quickly, adapting to any circumstances. If necessary, they also help make adjustments to the development on the fly.
The creation of such a platform can be considered a medium-sized project, but a small team worked on it. The developers gradually moved forward from sprint to sprint. Every week, the project manager provided a progress report to the product owner. In this mode, the product went from zero to release in about 7 months.
What have we developed?
The team implemented the concept of a comprehensive web-based online learning platform that provides the best user experience for both students and teachers. The core of the application is a personal account with four user roles: administrator, teacher, tutor, and student.
In general, the system works like this:
- Each student is assigned a teacher and a tutor.
- The administrator has the authority to manage the courses and the student database. He is responsible for uploading all the materials and linking the teacher and tutor to the course.
- The teacher is responsible for recording lessons and QA sessions where students can ask questions. At the same time, the tutor is responsible for homework assignments.
Convenient Personal Account for Students
Most of our efforts were focused on student comfort. The team has built a new UI/UX to make the experience of students at WEZOM Academy convenient and exciting. First of all, we removed everything unnecessary from the interface and worked on the adaptive design. Now students can view the course with equal comfort both on a smartphone and on a large-screen monitor.
But even more important are the new features that are now available to students right in their personal accounts:
- Viewing video lessons with accompanying textual information;
- tracking learning progress (by watching videos);
- tracking progress on practical tasks.
One of the main innovations was the integration of text chat with the teacher directly into the classroom. It is impossible to get confused in the chat; it looks like a typical messenger window. Through the chat, students can ask not only general questions, but they also have the opportunity to "tie" their request to a specific homework assignment, saving their time and the teacher's time. In addition, the student has a separate dialog with the teacher for each practice - this helps to avoid confusion and not lose important information on each topic of the course.
Competitiveness and Motivation to Learn
We have been looking for a hook that would help keep students passionate about learning because loss of engagement and motivation is usually the reason for poor progress. Our solution was to add a bit of competition to the learning process.
So now students can see the rating of their group in their personal account. It is formed based on the level of viewing video lessons, studying educational materials, completing tests, and completing practical tasks. Students can see their progress in the course in the form of visual infographics.
It may seem like a very simple motivation mechanism, but it works surprisingly well! With the introduction of the rating, students in general began to devote more time to their studies and complete the curriculum better. Thanks to gamification, the number of students who completed all their homework increased by 76%. Now, even students in the bottom half of the rankings are striving to keep up with the group. The fact that a student's progress is recorded on their course completion certificate also helps motivate them.
But the ranking is not just "competition for competition's sake": at the end of the course, we give the best students in the group the opportunity to be interviewed at WEZOM. A win-win scenario is quite possible, where the company gets a promising junior and the student gets his first job right after the course.
The ability to study without stable access to the network is more relevant today than ever. Therefore, a student's personal account can work both online and offline.
Technically, there is no difference between online and offline models. The main difference lies in the mechanism of access to lessons in the personal account. Online groups get access to all the information at once. For offline groups, the recordings are uploaded after the lesson, and students have access to them forever. Offline students have every opportunity to communicate with teachers in a format that is convenient for them.
Starting Tutorial for Beginners
It is also important for us that students spend as much time as possible directly on the subject matter and as little time as possible searching for the buttons and tools they need. Therefore, the personal account welcomes newcomers with a mini-tutorial that explains all the intricacies of the learning process and the functionality of the account in a few slides. This speeds up the onboarding process a bit, especially since students study remotely.
Our vision of online education has proven to be effective in practice, and the new WEZOM Academy platform has helped speed up learning and automate internal processes. Academy tutors were able to respond to student requests and check homework faster, so their workload decreased.
However, the best results come from attracting new students and increasing student interest and motivation. The launch of the new platform allowed us to increase course sales by 37%, and the rate of completion of courses to the end (to obtain a certificate) increased by 48%.
At the moment, we can say that a completely new page has opened in the history of WEZOM Academy, and it has not yet been written. In the near future, the academy plans to develop a mobile application that will enrich the personal account with additional features such as push notifications.
Needless to say, the opportunity to learn a new IT profession remotely can be very important today. We want this opportunity to be available to every Ukrainian—anywhere, anytime, under any conditions.