How we helped Strelka Institute revolutionise online education

2015

Vector is the online school for urban entrepreneurs — it provides courses for those who want to explore their cities, find ideas for new projects, and make them come true.

Low retention rate is the main problem of digital education as only 5‑8% of students graduate from their online courses

Challenge

Strelka wanted to change this situation by making a unique boutique product and taking a step forward as compared with similar solutions that exist on the market. To make education effective and entertaining, the Vector team used all their knowledge about viral social media.

Lean Startup

We created the product with "lean startup" in mind: having started with the minimum viable product, we moved forward iteratively.

§ 1. Consultation

Co-operation

In the middle stage of our previous co-operative project — What Moscow Wants (the site, the community) — Strelka asked us to help them create their next product.

From the very beginning, we helped the client with shaping uncoordinated ideas into epics and user stories, with goals, acceptance criteria, values and development estimations.

Plan

The plan was revised many times. We removed everything that was not critical to create the first version. We focused on the features that ensured a high retention rate:

  1. retain the user within the website (the first lesson is free; you can write longreads using the internal editor);
  2. retain the user within the community (you can see other users in your city and unite with them; all longreads are public (a lot of interesting viral material that attracts 40% of all the traffic);
  3. retain the user within the subject-matter (engaging blog and e-mail digests).

Interactive "go to the bar"
well illustrates all three theses:

§ 2. Development

SPA

We developed this project as Single Page Application using React (with goodness of es6, babeljs, autoprefixer, webpack, stylus, fluxxor, react-router, markdown-it, cujojs/rest) and Django Rest API.

Longread Editor

The most challenging part was the longread editor. We had to create something similar to Medium in two weeks. A great number of interesting longreads was published on the website as a result.

Continuous Integration

To speed up the development and get early feedback, every change in the code is automatically tested to be deployed on the test server and then transferred to the production server upon client’s approval. Also using this mechanism, non-technical specialists can quickly correct texts and typos.

Just in time

Creating such a complex content turned out twice labor-consuming than everybody originally expected. In order to launch the project by deadline the following measures were taken:

  1. during the development Strelka's students tested the first course, sometimes browsing pictures instead of actual HTML pages;
  2. once the received feedback was examined the content was revised and certain elements that we thought were unnecessary or too complex to design or implement were rejected.

Figures

  • 1000 hours of development
  • 5 months to bring the first version to life
  • 200 hours per month to maintain and develop project

§ 3. It is just the beginning!

Future

The project was launched on time; recently, a second course has been released. The principles of "lean startup" allowed us to create this admirable product in the shortest time possible.

Six months into the launch of the project, we had a thorough understanding of the audience, its needs, and an improved understanding of the business model. It became clear what steps should be taken next.

Acknowledgement

We are grateful to Strelka Institute for their confidence in our potential and for the chance to continue this fruitful co-operation.

It was a torture for developers — Whitescape (you are the best, we have been together for a long time, Roman Sedykh love forever).

Olga Polishuk, COO at Strelka Institute for Media,
Architecture and Design, Director at Vector

In general there could be a separate storyline about the development in the documentary about Vector.

Dmitri Abramov, Product Manager at Vector

Vector should be praised for the mini-revolution in the educational websites design.

Afisha.Gorod

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