How to Start an Online School: Complete 2023 Guide

5191 Updated 01.11.2023
Vasyl Polych

Founder & CEO at Northell


Table of contents

Education is becoming a profitable business. The pandemic has changed many areas of life, and education has not escaped this fate either. Now you can study differently because getting new information and skills remotely in a year has become a habit. So the online education market in 2021 has been changing every day.

According to the Babson Survey Research Group survey, more than 30% of higher education students in the United States are enrolled in at least one distant course. The global eLearning market is expected to grow to more than $240 billion by 2022.

How to start an online school? What is the main functionality of online schools? How to start an online school monetization? How much does it cost? You will find all answers to these and lots of other questions in our new article.

What is an Online School?

With the development of Internet technologies, it became possible to share knowledge online. Online learning has opened up wide opportunities for both holders of knowledge and those wishing to acquire it. 

Today experts can sit in their living room and broadcast to an audience of millions. And people, no matter where they are, can get access to the knowledge that interests them and increase their competence remotely at a convenient time.

An online school is an information business built on educating other people on the Internet. If you are thinking about starting an online school, this article will show you how to organize high-quality online learning step by step.

Why is Online Learning a Trend?

Universities already include online courses in their curriculum. For example, in the USA, Japan and some European countries, the share of distance learning in education structure is 20-30%. If there is a high level of motivation, online training is a convenient option for acquiring new skills or even a profession.

The main advantage of online learning is that people have the opportunity to study anywhere. They don’t need to waste time on the road. People can master the program of an American university while staying in their city or traveling.

Also, by doing online learning, learners can choose the learning pace. In online learning, there are no people who already know everything in ordinary streaming audiences and always raise hands. Learners can also revisit lectures many times at a comfortable speed.

Moreover, they can choose exactly when to attend classes. People do not need to adapt to the group or teacher. They can study at any time.

In the era of life-long learning, when we need to regularly master new knowledge and skills while managing to work and live, online learning is becoming a very important tool. The distance format is convenient for advanced training, development of specific narrow skills, acquaintance with new programs, and digital tools.

The rapid development of specific skills was very useful during self-isolation. Representatives of the global educational platform Udemy note that lessons on video conferencing in Zoom and managing a virtual team were among the most popular courses in the first wave of the pandemic.

As you may know, even before the pandemic, the world EdTech market showed active growth. According to some forecasts, by 2025, the volume of investments in online education should have reached $350 billion.

According to the investor and an ardent supporter of EdTech Deborah Quazzo (GSV Ventures), the forecasts should be adjusted considering the new reality. In 5 years, the market volume may reach $1 trillion.

Custom vs Ready-made Online School

How to start an online school? Basically, you have two possible ways. The first one is to create a custom solution from scratch. The second one is to buy a SaaS solution subscription. Let’s take a closer look at both options.

Custom Online School

Choosing to develop a custom online school, you should remember that you will need to create a product entirely from scratch. You will need a team with specialists from different fields (business analysts, project managers, designers, developers, etc.). 

You can create something truly great and valuable by creating a custom online school. Customization will allow you to get more profit, scope and the ability to change and improve the product at any time.

The advantage of creating a custom online school is that you can create a product that will fully meet your requirements, desires, and personal standards. You will have the opportunity to add various functions and features that you think are necessary, change the product over time, improve it, etc.

Today it isn’t easy to find a product that will include absolutely everything you want. Therefore, if you’re wondering how to get a product that will exactly meet your expectations, consider creating a custom solution.

SaaS solution

SaaS solutions are suitable for companies that want to start using the product right away, no matter how good the product’s functionality, capabilities, etc. Choosing a SaaS solution, you will have to pay a subscription monthly or annually.

SaaS products are very limiting for you, both the owner of the online school and learners. For additional features, for example, you will most likely need to pay extra money. You will also need to pay for custom solutions.

The advantage of a SaaS product is that you immediately get a ready-made product and do not have to waste time on the processes of product creation, testing, improvement, etc.

Who needs a Custom Online School? [Pros & Cons]

Let’s now figure out who needs online schools. Firstly, in principle, online schools are needed by everyone who wants to learn something. We have identified several areas in which custom online schools are essential:

  1. Schools and universities. During a pandemic, distance education for schoolchildren and students shouldn’t be worse than offline learning. Therefore, the use of online schools in universities and schools can significantly improve the quality of distance education and learners’ productivity.
  2. Product companies. Companies from any industry that develop their own product need online schools. By using online schools for customer onboarding, they can quickly and efficiently teach their customers how to use their products.
  3. Big corporations. Large companies often employ large numbers of people. For each new member of a big team to be able to join the team, learn the company’s corporate culture, find out their primary responsibilities, etc., companies need to present all this information somehow. All information that a new employee needs to know can be entered into the online school.
  4. Industrial experts. People who have knowledge and skills in some area (music, photography, drawing, etc.) can easily teach other people using online schools.

Now let’s take a look at the main pros and cons of building a custom online school.

Start a Custom Online School: Pros

There are several advantages of online classes that are worth considering. Here are some of the most important benefits that online learners have noticed:


Learners in online classes are frequently given the option to finish lessons whenever they want before a stated deadline. That allows learners to complete their studies without losing hours at their existing employment or valuable family time. Deadlines must still be met, but your academic timetable will be much easier to adjust to your life schedule. 

What’s even better? Online courses may also be competency-based, giving you the flexibility to work ahead in subjects you know well, freeing up critical study time for other classes on your schedule for the semester.

Location independence

Regardless of which country, city or on which mainland the students are located, they can easily use the online school. Learners can also take online classes at a more comfortable time for them. The material is stored in systems, and learners have constant access to them in most cases.


Online learning allows teachers to give courses to learners in a more efficient manner. Online learning includes a variety of materials such as videos, PDFs, and podcasts, which educators may use in their lesson plans. Teachers may become more efficient instructors by expanding the lesson plan beyond standard textbooks to include internet resources.


Another benefit of online learning is that it saves money. When compared to traditional learning, eLearning is significantly cheaper.

Furthermore, all class or study materials are available online, resulting in a paperless learning environment that is both more economical and environmentally friendly.

Start a Custom Online School: Cons

We have also prepared a list of online school disadvantages:

Technology issues

Internet access is a significant barrier to online learning. While internet coverage has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years, a constant connection with adequate speed remains a challenge in smaller cities and villages.

There may be a lack of continuity in learning if learners or educators do not have a stable internet connection. That is damaging to the learning process.

Focusing on screens

One of the most challenging aspects of online learning for many learners is the inability to focus on a screen for a long time. With online learning, people are more likely to be quickly sidetracked by social media or other sites. As a result, educators should make their online lessons concise, engaging, and interactive to keep learners focused on the subject.

Teacher training 

Online learning necessitates that teachers have a fundamental grasp of how to use digital forms of learning. However, that is not always the case. Teachers may have a very limited grasp of technology. They may not even have the required resources and tools to conduct online lessons at times.

The Main Functionality of the Online School


Northell Case Study: SmartJen

How to start an online school that will include all necessary functionality for productive learning? Our team has prepared a list of essential features that will help take the online school to a new level.

Online classes

Online classes are an essential feature of online schools. In principle, this is the basis on which any online school is built. This feature should allow students to attend various classes virtually and do everything they would do in offline classes (raise a hand, answer questions, take notes, etc.)

Video communication


Northell Case Study: SmartJen

Access to cooperation tools such as live video blogs, group discussions, forums, and personal blogs will guarantee that your organization is ready to move into the future of learning.

Online Testing


Northell Case Study: SmartJen

Online testing is necessary to test students’ knowledge and assess their level of preparation. Online testing can be in the form of quizzes or regular a/b tests. To make it more attractive for learners to pass this kind of assignment, add questions with illustrations, video questions, evaluative questions, etc.

You can also add certificates that students will receive after successfully passing a test. Certificates can motivate many learners.

Analytics of student progress

With the help of analytics, teachers can get insightful data on learners’ activity and progress. You can make statistics in the form of various charts, graphs and funnels, displaying the number of students who have good and not very good grades. Also, analytics can show how many students attended specific classes, who has what grade on tests, etc. The more detailed the statistics are, the better.

Creating and managing courses

It is imperative to add the ability to create and manage courses to an online school. Teachers and people who will be engaged in this should have a convenient course builder, in which they can easily create lessons and place the necessary training content. It is also essential to add functionality for deleting, changing, and cloning courses.

Also important is the ability to add multiple content types to courses and lessons. For example, this can be text, images, screenshots, videos, audio clips, presentations, or any other file format.


Gamification elements make the learning process more exciting. In the practice of gamification, much attention is paid to the user’s emotional involvement and encouragement. For this, different mechanics can be used: the development of virtual skills, progress bars, a rating system, the development of a game character, the gradual discovery of new teaching elements and badges.

Learn more about our gamification experience: Northell’s Experience with Gamification: How to Create a Truly Engaging Solution

Game interaction with the user makes the training service alive, flexible, interacting with the user. Such online schools can delight, surprise and support.

Parent account

unnamed file

This feature is required for online schools that universities and schools use. A parent account will help parents monitor their children’s learning process and know their progress and results.

How to Start an Online School Monetization? [Tips Based on Our Experience]

How to start an online school monetization? Monetizing an online school is the definition of sources of income, that is, what the clients of an online school will pay for. Based on our experience of building online schools, we have highlighted the 2 best monetization models. Let’s take a closer look at them.


A subscription is essentially a fee for using an online school or a specific course/lesson/etc. The client pays for access to some amount of useful content/training/courses/video, which is often limited by time. The subscription can be for a year or a month.

However, the subscription may not only be limited by time. For example, it may be limited by the volume of courses or the number of visits. Most often, a subscription is cheaper than a separate course fee.

There is a scale effect in the subscription. The client gets access to a huge amount of resources for a relatively low price. The main task of the one who creates training in an online school is to keep the client on the platform as long as possible. And this is possible only if the quality of education is at a high level.

Pay for course graduating

However, you can offer some kind of activity for money. For example, it can be receiving a diploma or a certificate of completion of a specific course or an online school in general.

Many companies ask candidates for confirmation of knowledge in the form of a diploma during interviews. Therefore, more and more people are interested in obtaining a certificate or diploma after graduation.

Northell Expertise and Experience: How can we help?

Why choose Northell

Why choose Northell

Northell team has great expertise and experience in creating online schools. We know how to start an online school from scratch. Let us tell you how we have contributed to advancing online education in Singapore. The project our team was working on was called Smartjen. 

Behance SmartJen

Northell Case Study: SmartJen

Smartjen is an online learning solution that empowers students to go through their learning journeys easily, check results, and track their achievements via a customizable dashboard. Teachers can create and manage students’ lists, groups, and worksheets with assignments, track course completion, and compliance. With a collaborative approach, parents are granted access to have control over their children’s learning processes.

SmartJen came to us to improve their existing web platform by suggesting new and advanced features to make the user experience more seamless. Furthermore, SmartJen’s existing website was required to be updated and redesigned according to new design trends and best practices.

Our design and development process included the next stages: 


  • Understanding the client’s needs
  • In-depth interviews of the target audience


  • Evaluating the business logic of the web application and customers’ needs


  • High-level wireframes
  • Sitemap
  • Web app UI design
  • Website redesign


  • Web design deployment and presentation
  • Improvement of the UI/UX design features based on performance metrics and user feedback


  • Front-end development 
  • Back-end development

To inspire learning among students and simplify tutors’ efforts to optimize learning processes, we aimed to create a user-friendly and smart UX solution with human-centered essence.

So we designed a responsive web app paying special attention to convenience while creating and managing assignments for students. Our team developed the following features: 

  • Individual and group performance page
  • Dashboard with categorized data
  • Leaderboard
  • Messenger
  • Customizable Worksheet Generator

We will tell you more about each design and development stage later.

However, you can read about this project here:

SmartJen Case Study or check out our articles:

How Northell Contributed to Advancing Online Education in Singapore.

How To Create an LMS From Scratch? Ultimate Guide 2023

How to Start an Online School: Step-by-Step Guide

How to start an online school and what stages should you go through? Let’s take a look at the basic processes to keep in mind when creating an online school. 

Step 1. Test your idea

We can simply answer the question of how to start an online school. Start by testing your idea. We recommend doing this as follows:

  • Carry out a physical survey according to principle 10 pains and 10 gains.
  • Read negative reviews on your competitors. 
  • Hold a decomposition of your business plan. 
  • Try to seek expert advice from more experienced colleagues or a team who has experience in this business field.

Once you’ve tested your idea, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2. Write a Project Plan & Requirements

Next, you should write a project plan in which you should describe each process that you should organize to create a product. Remember, the more details you write in the plan, the easier it will be for you further, and the more organized the process of creating a product will be.

Next, you need to describe the requirements for your future product. Typically, such a requirements document contains the following:

  • Full project overview.
  • Main needs and goals.
  • Target audience.
  • Functional requirements and desired set of features.
  • Aesthetic aspects.
  • Non-functional details.
  • Recommendation and prohibitions.
  • Questions.

More information about how to write product requirements you can find in our article How To Write The Design Specification? [Quick Guide].

Step 3. Select Your Partner

The next thing you need to do is select a reputable vendor. Here are a few places where you can look for a company or agency that designs and develops digital products: 

  • Social networks (e.g., LinkedIn). You can find a representative of a product development company on social networks. Evaluate the profile of the representative and the profile of the company itself. See what is indicated in the experience column. The team should be experienced and skillful enough.
  • Ranking sites (e.g. On the rating sites, you can find more detailed information about the projects that the team has worked on. You will have the opportunity to find out the overall rating of the company among many others and read customer reviews. That is worth paying attention to when choosing a team.
  • Inner circle. Ask your colleagues, partners, and friends. Perhaps some of them have experience working with a good team and can advise you. Very often, companies find great teams in their close circle.
  • Northell. You can also contact us. Our team is full of experienced, skillful and enthusiastic specialists who will gladly help you create great digital solutions. We know how to start an online school without mistakes and failures.

When choosing a design and development team, pay attention to the following things:

  • Team experience. The number of years working in the industry.
  • Portfolio. The number of successful projects. Reasons for the projects’ failures. Difficulties in projects.
  • Expertise in creating online schools.
  • Feedback from previous clients.

Step 4. Define the product roadmap

Next, we recommend defining the product roadmap. A roadmap is a visual representation of a list of tasks that must be completed to achieve desired goals over the long term. Using this tool makes it easier for different departments or specialists to establish parallel execution of work on separate tasks within the project. That is, the roadmap contributes to the formation of teamwork, regardless of the project’s complexity. How to start an online school? Start it with a roadmap! 

Try to describe the most critical features to get done in your roadmap. Plan the development of those features that need more testing and those that are more important for the product. Next, write a list of the functionality that should be done second.

Thus, you will have the opportunity to gradually check the product and observe how comfortable it is for users to use its functionality, whether they have problems with logic or navigation, etc.

Step 5. Start Product Discovery

Next, proceed with product discovery. It is one of the important stages of product development. Product Discovery is a complex business process used in the development of new products in global companies. It is a clear statement of what needs to be developed to be interesting and useful to modern customers.

Personas layout

Personas. Northell Case Study

The process consists of smaller sub-processes that are closely related to each other. Product Discovery allows you to reflect the developer’s vision qualitatively, detail the needs of the target audience, and also answer key questions about the product:

  • Is it worth solving the problem?
  • Will the suggested solution work?
  • Will customers use and enjoy this solution?

If at least one question is negative, then the developers go back to basics. The process consists of detailed work on the product’s properties and long surveys of representatives of the target audience.

All this continues until all 3 answers to the presented questions are positive. That will bring a final product to the market that will benefit clients and generate profits for product owners.

Step 6. Start to build a UX Design

How to start an online school that will be intuitive and easy to use? The answer is to build a great UX. UX design is an approach to design that considers all aspects of the product from the user’s point of view.

It’s not only about the beauty and functionality, convenience and affordability of a product, but also about things like emotions. They are more challenging to design and achieve.


UX Design. Northell Case Study: SmartJen

A designer can create cool switches or individual interactions, and UX design touches all areas of use, creating a complete user experience. UX designers are responsible for defining how the user interface works. They define the interface structure and functionality and how all parts of the application are organized and related. In general, they design the work of the interface.

If it works well, then the user will have a good experience after interacting with such an interface. But if the navigation is complex or not intuitive, the user will most likely experience disgust when interacting with the interface. The main task of a UX designer is to avoid the second scenario.

Working on the Smartjen project, we were equipped with a clear vision of the product’s unique value proposition thanks to versatile users and market research.

Evaluating the problems of the existing platform, we realized how to make customers’ journeys more convenient and smooth and improve user flows. We built high-level wireframes and a sitemap.


UX Design. Northell Case Study: SmartJen

Then, we switched to UI design.   

Step 7. Start UI Design

After creating the UX design, start working on the UI design. UI focuses on all the product elements that make it compelling: colors, button styles, graphics, animations, typography, infographics, widgets, behavior, button responses, etc.


UI Design. Northell Case Study: SmartJen

The UI designer is responsible for how the user perceives the product from a visual point of view. It takes a UX designer’s scientific findings and conclusions and turns them into a specific art form. 

The successful combination of iconography, typography, color, space and texture will help the user easily navigate the finished application. 


UI Design. Northell Case Study: SmartJen

For the Smartjen project, we chose light blue and dark blue colors. After researching educational products, we noticed that these colors and shades are the most suitable for this industry.

Step 8. Do a User Testing

The next step you should take is to conduct a user testing. That is the type of research in which the test audience will use your product. This way, you will see what is working and what is not.

During testing, you should receive answers to the following questions:

  • Does the user understand how to use the product?
  • Is it easy for users to find the desired items/sections of the product?
  • Is there anything distracting the user?
  • Do users achieve their goals by using the product?

After you receive answers to these questions, correct all mistakes and shortcomings, you can proceed to the next stage.

Learn more about our UX Lab

Step 9. Build a Development Process [SDLC]

Software product development process: 7 key steps

Software product development process: 7 key steps

Now comes the most crucial stage. You need to turn the design into a real working product. We divided the entire development process into several steps. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Product Technical Documentation

During this stage, all the relevant information from the client is collected to develop a product as per expectations and requirements. The team should write technical documentation and choose technical stacks.

At this stage, the team should also define the requirements for functionality (requirements for the admin panel) and user roles (admin and super admin). The team should finalize the estimate and scope of work.


Using the documentation and architecture from previous steps, software developers write code for the components. The tasks are divided between the team members according to their area of specialization. 

Front-end developers are responsible for the client side of the application. Back-end developers are responsible for API and database development. The DevOps team works on the CI/CD process. 


QA engineers test all delivered code and carry out manual testing for developed components.

Deployment and Integration

After the development and regression testing from the QA team, the team switched to production deployment and integration. The tested version of the product is delivered to the users for beta testing. The team collects user feedback, fixes all the bugs, and implements some improvements.  


After deploying a product in the production environment, maintenance of the product, i.e., if any issue comes up and needs to be fixed or any improvements are to be done, it is taken care of by the development team.

Step 10. QA

After the development process is complete, you need to do a final detailed check of the entire product. Remember that it is better to spend time looking for bugs now than to spend even more time fixing them when the product is already launched.

Step 11. Launch

Now is the time for the market to see your product! The product launch process necessitates meticulous preparation and should be carried out systematically to guarantee that clients accept the product favorably. The following are the major steps to a successful product launch process:

  1. Target audience identifying.
  2. Unique product packaging creation.
  3. Slogan and timeline creation.
  4. Competitors analysis. 
  5. Customer onboarding creation.
  6. Website creation.
  7. Advertising.

How much does custom Online School development cost?

How to start an online school and not lose lots of money? The cost of developing an online school depends on the size of your project, the number of features, and specific characteristics. All of this should be determined during the business analysis stage to avoid burning your funds due to the wrong strategy.

There are several cost categories to consider when creating an online school:

  • Product discovery
  • UX design/UI design
  • Development
  • QA (Testing)

The location of your contractor will also affect the price. We have identified the main 4 regions that offer experienced and skilled IT specialists. Let’s consider how much money you will need for each stage separately based on the country in which your contractor will be located:

Rough project costs

Rough project costs

How to Start an Online School: Summary

We hope our article helped you answer the question of how to create an online school. We hope our article helped you answer the question of how to create an online school. If you have additional questions or concerns about an online school’s design and development, don’t hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to support you at any stage of product creation and help you create a high-quality solution.

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