Build or Buy: 5 Considerations for Tracking Student Engagement

June 22, 2022

Tracking student engagement is essential for any online learning program. 

Making sure students are attending classes, submitting assignments, and engaging with their peers can really help you determine who is on track and who might be falling behind. 

Lots of online schools track student engagement manually - collecting, aggregating, interpreting, and acting on data. Sadly, this can be extremely time consuming (not to mention prone to human error). 

For online schools lucky enough to have software engineers on board, there’s always the option to build out student engagement tracking tools internally. This is a great option especially since automating student engagement tracking can save your team a ton of time and let them focus on providing the best student experience possible. 

An alternative option is to purchase automating software. For example, the Virtually Student Relationship Manager (SRM) was built to specifically support online schools. The SRM tracks and aggregates key insights across your tools and automates personalized outreach to help course correct high-risk students before they drop-off. 

But when you have your own engineering team, how do you decide whether to build out this functionality internally or buy existing software so your engineers can focus on other priorities? Below we share a framework to help you decide what’s best for you.

Curious how the best online schools use active intervention to reduce drop-out rates and boost student engagement? Download our case study here

Build vs. Buy: 5 Factors to Consider

1. Customization

Build: Building student engagement tracking software internally gives your team 100% control over what features get built, what your team tracks, and how outreach is conducted. You get to customize the software entirely to your needs! 

This does, however, come with the responsibility of making all of the design and feature decisions, which can be a huge weight on teams across your school.  

Buy: While you can certainly shop around to find a tool that fits your needs as closely as possible, you’ll never have full control of the platform’s roadmap. While you can always give feedback, there’s no guarantee that the student engagement tracking platform will continue to build exactly to your specifications. 

2. Financial Cost

Build: When you build software in house, your school bears the entire financial burden, including paying for the buildout, ongoing support, bugs, upgrades, maintenance, and keeping up with industry trends. Not to mention the cost of software engineer salaries - this can really add up. 

Buy: When you buy software, the price typically includes all costs associated with building, improving, and maintaining the software, and with a set monthly or yearly subscription fee, there likely won’t be any unexpected price surges if things go wrong. What’s more, this cost is typically less than building in house, since SaaS orgs spread the costs across their large customer base. 

3. Maintenance & Improvements

Build: When you build software in house, your team is responsible for all platform maintenance, including feature launches and new feature builds, fixing bugs, training, and keeping pace with industry standards and trends. This may even require hiring extra staff to manage this piece alone. 

Buy: SaaS vendors manage all maintenance and improvements, including consistent product upgrades and new features. All of this is rolled into your SaaS subscription fee. Additionally, platform staff is available to assist you and your team through onboarding, training, and general customer support. 

4. Time to Value

Build: Building internally can take months or even years to start generating value and resolving your pain points. 

Buy: When you buy software, you can resolve your pain points and start getting value almost immediately. The only time invested is the time it takes to choose your student engagement platform, onboard, and launch. This is definitely the faster option when it comes to build vs. buy. 

5. Opportunity Cost

Build: Building student engagement tooling in house can divert precious time and resources away from your primary and most impactful activities: providing an excellent learning experience for your students. That said, it’s up to you to decide - are you a learning program or a software company? It can be pretty challenging to try to be both. 

Buy: When you buy student engagement software, you remove the opportunity cost since you’re able to focus specifically on your core business activities. 

So to build or buy? It’s up to you. 

If buying seems like the right option for you and you’d like to explore the Virtually Student Relationship Manager (SRM), you can schedule a demo via this link

Read Next: 3 Easy Ways to Get a Clear Pulse on Student Engagement

Laura Marks

Laura Marks is Head of Customer Experience at Virtually