The Uncanny Owl Blog
Now that Grade Hacks is live, we’re excited to tell you more about what went into it. It wasn’t easy setting up a learning platform that lets us deliver engaging courseware at negligible monthly cost!
Grade Hacks is built on WordPress. Cost and ease of maintenance were certainly big considerations as a bootstrapped venture, and we wanted to do as much work in-house as possible (at the time of writing, Uncanny Owl did all of the Grade Hacks work independently). Since Grade Hacks is a paid course, we used Woo Commerce to handle payment processing. LearnDash is the Learning Management System behind Grade Hacks. No WordPress LMS could do everything we wanted, but LearnDash came closest and Justin (the creator) was a big help when we ran into issues. We also tried Sensei but it didn’t have the functionality we needed and the Woo Themes support team wasn’t responsive enough.
Of course, WordPress, Woo Commerce and LearnDash weren’t enough on their own to create the platform that we wanted Grade Hacks to be. We turned to WordPress plugins (over 40 of them!) for things like analytics, achievements, permissions, profiles, email, spam, performance, gift certificates, and much, much more. And even then we had to customize some of the code to make everything cooperate. Updates can be a bit tense!
For the courseware, we needed an authoring tool that we could use to quickly build interactive and engaging material. We selected Articulate Storyline for most of the courseware and used assets from eLearning Brothers and several stock photo sites. By using templates and applying lesson models, we were able to build the elearning materials quite quickly.
Grade Hacks is mostly served from a dedicated server here in Canada. To improve performance for visitors, especially those outside of North America, we use MaxCDN, a Content Distribution Network with peering partners all over the world, to serve many of the static files. This approaches ensures that everyone has a great experience while using Grade Hacks.
Best of all, we created Grade Hacks in under 3 months on almost no budget. Platform, courseware, downloads, calculators, screencasts, everything. We spent a few hundred dollars on tools and assets, and our only ongoing cost is the price of hosting. If 2 people at Uncanny Owl can create a large-scale elearning program and the technology to drive it in under 3 months while working on other projects, imagine what we can do for your company. Contact us today so we can tell you!
Uncanny Owl’s first product, Grade Hacks, went live this morning. Our experience suggested that schools focused too much on teaching information rather than teaching students how to learn and succeed, so we created Grade Hacks to address this learning gap. Using interactive e-learning lessons, videos, downloadable tools, calculators, progress tracking and much more, we’ve created an engaging learning platform to help high school, college and university students reach their academic potential.
We’re offering Grade Hacks at a special introductory price of only $25 until December 31, 2013. Check out the free trial to see what Uncanny Owl can do with e-learning. Everything – from platform integration to content development and tool programming – were performed in-house by Uncanny Owl.
Uncanny Owl is working on several new projects, and as a small startup, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model certainly has appeal. By creating and launching a basic product, companies are able to assess market interest, leverage the community to shape its future into something marketable, and minimize their risk exposure. It’s an inexpensive way to test new ideas and make sure you’re on the right track.
Unfortunately, what we’re finding is that companies are overlooking the “viable” part of the equation. The “minimum” part is certainly important to limit risk exposure and test ideas early on, but if the product doesn’t focus on the “viable” piece too, you’re going to alienate your customers and potentially kill your product while it’s still in its infancy.
Without naming names (since we’re clients and want to develop industry relationships), we’ve noticed this a lot lately in the learning-related products we’re using. We’ll buy products with interesting feature sets, only to install them and find out they’re not working as expected or are missing key components that make the tools useless. When we follow up, we’ll get answers about how what we need is coming next month or it’s on the roadmap but there’s no ETA. It’s extraordinarily frustrating to be caught up in someone else’s MVP and only realize it’s an extremely limited MVP after cash has changed hands.
We discovered the same thing recently when we tried to standardize on a mail client for Mac. We gave Airmail a try first. Sure, we understood it was new, but it wouldn’t go up in the app store and get decent reviews if it was broken, right? Only after using it for a few weeks did we realize just how broken it is. Random crashes, disappearing emails, missing basic functionality in all other clients, etc. Weekly updates on their website with change logs for new betas further confirmed that the product just wasn’t production-ready. Rather than a loyal, engaged client who got in at the ground floor, we’re just a frustrated – and likely former – product user.
If the games market is a signal of what’s to come in the enterprise, a lot of businesses are in trouble. Until recently, game companies would give time-limited betas of their products away to get customer feedback and iron out bugs before launch. It was win-win: companies got valuable feedback and real-world data, and gamers got to try out the latest and greatest at no cost. Now, however, game companies (especially indie developers) are getting away with charging launch prices for customers to play around with alpha products. People are expected to pay for early access to broken, incomplete games that may be years away from launch, if they even get to that point. The scary thing is that the model has traction. What happens when more companies start adopting the model and releasing broken software is the new norm? After all, apparently everything is online and patches trump pre-launch QA.
If you’re a developer, please consider waiting until your products actually work before launching – broken products are only going to annoy your early users, and they tend to be the most vocal and have the most potential to help your product succeed. Give careful thought to whether the earlier cash flow is really worth risking your product’s long-term viability.