How can e-learning sites manage unprecedented peaks?
How can e-learning platforms confidently manage their website performance as organizations and individuals adapt to the fast-changing situation?
In the last two months, virtual learning has rapidly expanded as countries, school boards & schools themselves look for creative solutions to educate millions of students worldwide. As a result, many online educational platforms are struggling to cope with unprecedented and sudden traffic surges as learning moves online.
So how can virtual learning platforms confidently manage their website performance as organizations and individuals adapt to the fast-changing situation? Let’s take a look at how organizations have adapted to the increased demand for e-learning and some of the challenges that come along with it.
School comes home
There are few countries around the world where education has not been affected. As of the time of writing, UNESCO estimates that 91.3% of the world’s student population, or over a billion individuals, are adjusting to a new normal. 188 countries have instated country-wide closures. Others, like the United States and Canada, have announced localized closures, leaving the decision up to states and provinces.
As a result, millions of students around the world are now shifting towards home schooling, and countries around the world have coped with school closures in various way. In many cases, digital e-learning platforms have served as answers to a critical need.
- Some countries were early adopters. In February, students in Hong Kong started to learning at home using interactive apps. In mainland China, 120 million students got access to learning material through live television broadcasts.
- In Bulgaria, almost 89% of students are enrolled in e-learning & distance learning, including through broadcast lessons on national television channels.
- In Uruguay, The National Administration of Public Education has created a virtual classroom for children to carry out their activities.
- To help other countries keep up with increased demand, the small but tech-savvy Estonia is offering digital education tools for free to support distance learning.
- In the United States, PowerMyLearning, an online platform that specializes in schools with large numbers of students from low-income families, has made its team available at odd hours to support teachers and families, and increased training options. The company currently has more than 1 million registered users in more than 40,000 schools throughout the country.
How are e-learning platforms affected by surges in demand?
Since education has moved online, online learning platforms have been plagued by unstable website performance and crashes due to the unprecedented demand for their services.
According to the CEO of Edgenuity, an e-learning platform serving 20,000 schools across the United States, “all of us are trying to build capacity as quickly as we can. No one was prepared for this.”
- In the United Kingdom, schools are subscribing to websites like MathsWatch, which has seen traffic increase fourfold as many teachers log on to create homework assignments.
- In the United States, the e-learning platform Schoology crashed, affecting students in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
- In Queue-it’s home country of Denmark, e-learning websites have seen traffic increase by up to 5 times what they’ve normally experienced, and subsequently had trouble coping.
Now more than ever, e-learning platforms crashes spell disaster for everyone involved. Website managers must put extra resources to bring platforms back up, which can be down for several hours. Teachers can’t input lesson plans and students can’t access the educational resources they need. All in all, these crashes can be a major disruption of daily life.
How can distance learning websites confidently manage web performance?
Use a content delivery network (CDN)
A CDN is an essential tool to building performance into virtual learning platforms. They improve website performance, reliability, and security, and allow e-learning websites to handle more traffic.
Moving static resources to a CDN is one of the easiest way to get a bit more performance out of servers because these files takes clock cycles, bandwidth, and threads away from what web servers should be doing – serving dynamic content.
Scale up (but stay cautious)
As virtual learning platforms scramble to find ways to build in capacity and meet greater demand, many try to scale up their sites. This is a good starting point but scaling up can be both expensive and technically complex. It also isn’t a panacea for poor site performance.
Scaling websites involves much more than just increasing server capacity, and scaling can lead to problems of search, concurrency, consistency, and speed (more on that here). While, scaling up a website is a natural first step in handling increased demand, website managers must remember there are limits.
Beware of bottlenecks
Website managers might be confident that their site can support thousands of concurrent visitors, but what happens when those same number of visitors are all trying to log in simultaneously?
Even if the site can support that many visitors, the fact that they are concentrated on one page could mean the e-learning platform is liable to slow down and even crash.
The best way to understand a website’s true capacity is to run load testing, which will give more realistic data on the traffic levels virtual learning platforms can handle. It’s a critical dress rehearsal for the main website performance.
Use a virtual waiting room
A virtual waiting room lets e-learning websites control the rate at which students and teachers enter websites, on a first-in, first-out basis, without overshooting their threshold and crashing their platform. E-learning sites can also use a virtual waiting room as a safety net, kicking in in the event their platform sees sudden traffic surge exceeding their site capacity.
We at Queue-it understand the complexity of handling overwhelming traffic and the frustration of website crashes when interest is at its peak. We’ve helped and continue supporting educational institutions manage peak traffic, including Swinburne University of Technology.
Being able to manage the load was the biggest benefit of using Queue-it. It's quite a seamless experience for students.
Darren Blizzard, Application Integration Development Manager, Swinburne University of Technology