How Cloud-platform Solutions are Changing the Game for Online Education

March 19 2020
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As competition for prime careers becomes a global, borderless race to the peak of excellence, local school districts are struggling to keep pace. Educational professionals scramble to deploy 21st-century solutions across STEM-facing disciplines hampered by 20th-century funding.

This mounting demand for a graduating workforce literate in tech skills — cloud development, data analysis — is often outside the realm of traditional teacher competency. In addition, online classes without teachers are also fast becoming the norm in many places.

As budgets crumble and teacher salaries and job security diminish, school officials are turning to digital educational platforms to fill the gaps in current models, ensuring no child — or nation — is left behind.

The need for nimble, scalable curriculum platforms has led to a colossal surge in digital-education companies. The worldwide digital/online-learning market is expected to jump to $325 billion in value by 2025. Studies show digital-learning methods increase retention rates by 25 to 60%.

Educational agencies — school districts, individual schools and county boards — utilizing such programs report lower dropout rates, higher graduation rates and — most importantly in today’s global scene — higher standardized test scores.

Learning modules such as online tutorials, digital test-prep courses and individualized e-classes are rapidly replacing “assembly-line” styles of education that have dominated K-12 instructional design for the last two centuries.

Clearly, the market for e-learning startups unveils a bright future. But with swift growth comes swift challenges. Successful digital-learning companies must be willing to evolve technology solutions at the speed of change.

The Challenge

Building a successful e-learning platform — composed of tutorials, loads of written material and gigabytes of video content — is not an “easy A” course of action. With the lightning-fast emergence of STEM-skill demands, yesterday’s cutting-edge, e-learning resource can be made obsolete in a matter of one year.

Online-learning managers must maintain a robust system that can administer a kaleidoscope of resources – webinars, video modules, audio lessons, animations, PDFs and advanced curriculum innovations.

A client in the digital-education industry approached ClearScale with just such a challenge. The client markets a detailed menu of e-learning products to American school districts from grades 6 to 12. The firm offers solutions to include school/college-credit level course curricula, online tutorials, test-prep resources, tech-facing modules and strategy casting with school officials.

Initially, the client only deployed a Wordpress site to market e-learning courses and quickly outgrew the available functionality of such a solution. The client’s support site provides a platform for teaching communities as well as student support (providing resources such as videos and supplementary material, for example). Due to a high volume of visitor activity - about a half million operations per day - the client faced scalability challenges. The company needed to manage all its e-learning functions across both the marketing and support websites and needed to revamp its server structure to meet higher volume.

The ClearScale Solution

As a foundational strategy, ClearScale moved the client’s infrastructure into the AWS cloud to solve scaling issues on the support website caused by high traffic volume. Using EC2, S3, ElastiCache and CloudFront, the new solution could distribute users sessions and content across the marketing and support websites and share content between auto-scaled instances.

The ClearScale team rebuilt the client’s marketing website using Drupal CMS and included a new solution that automatically parses LMS XML files uploaded to S3. The files contain content about the client’s programs such as courses, outlines, tutorials and other files. The new feature automatically populates the marketing website with data to create course pages as well as to generate PDFs with course descriptions and outlines.

The team also created a new API for the marketing site that interfaces with the support website so that any information or updates about course materials can be easily located across both platforms.

A key part of the new website solution included the implementation of a dynamic course catalog with geolocation features, allowing the website to identify the specific city and state of each user and to show each user appropriate course and content offerings.

In addition, a new, responsive site layout can scale and render correctly across any device – desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, empowering users to easily navigate through a content-heavy catalog hierarchy.

To enable website administrators to implement customized changes to pages structures and layout, the ClearScale team integrated Panelizer, a Drupal plug-in, into the client’s CMS.

Finally, ClearScale created a support-site platform as a valuable resource to teacher communities and as a means to provide better student assistance and guidance. The solution leveraged the power of Drupal Open Atrium by deploying a portal that improves user management and content sharing across communities. The system also uses a permission system that integrates with Microsoft Active Directory and client's LMS system.

The Benefits

Today, the client boasts a totally revamped website and back-end that streamlines their core processes, improves interaction experiences and enhances conversions.

The new marketing website can easily handle the rapid development of new features and integrates with the support website. Users can access the right information in a much more elegant design layout regardless of device.

Finding the right data for the right need that also identifies the best solution by geography means higher conversion levels.

Users can now update tons of website data via the S3 service, saving time and keeping customers happy. As an added bonus, the content is seamlessly available for both the marketing and support sites, again saving time and avoiding slow-downs.

With the creation of a flexible page-layout generator, administrators can implement the right layout for any content publishing need. Displaying layout schemes that best match the content also means more and better conversions.

With support-site augmentation, the company now has a high-octane web application that fuels a new level of support throughout the e-learning process. The results save time for the students and teachers and opens the door to new remote learning opportunities.

Finally, the migration to the AWS cloud, with its many added-value auto-scaling solutions, addressed the client’s challenge of high-visitor activity overload. Faster load times, quicker data retrieval and lag-free performance again means higher quality conversion experience and happier students and educators.

The client can offer what was already a solid package of e-learning solutions to its customers and prospective customers, confident in the knowledge that their vast array of content will always be available to every teacher and student in real-time at unprecedented speeds.

Learn more about ClearScale’s work in the educational sector here. Or, find out what ClearScale can do for your company.

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