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Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with John Alonso, OutStart: Innovators in E-Learning Series // Corgi Big Bark Award

Mobile learning continues to evolve quickly as mobile devices, access, and connectivity speeds continue to improve. The potential to leverage social networking in order to create a robust social learning environment, with reliable outcomes-based assessment represents a dramatic step forward, as does the "multi-screen" approach. Welcome to an interview with John Alonso, CTO of Outstart.

E-Learning Queen is happy to announce that Outstart is the recipient of an E-Learning Queen Corgi Big Bark Award for forward thinking and a commitment to innovative approaches to e-learning.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is John Alonso – I’m the CTO and one of the Founders of OutStart. I evolved into eLearning about 16 years ago. I started as a software developer, worked in multiple industries and in the mid 1990’s found myself in front of the classroom as a teacher. I did that for several years and learned a great deal. I became a video star , doing a several DVD based learning courses. This led to working on CBT’s as an author and subject matter expert, which led to eLearning. In 1999, I and a few others started OutStart. Our focus and goals where to create a company that would focus on learning and specifically on learning content. We didn’t want to be a content provider, we wanted to be enablers, to provide tools and technologies that would make it easier, faster and cheaper to create content.

2. What is the name of your company and what are its main products?

OutStart Inc.
OutStart LCMS
OutStart LCMS is the leading Learning Content Management System (LCMS) for automating the development, management, maintenance, delivery, and publishing of modular and personalized learning to enhance both learning and development teams and learner effectiveness. Available SaaS or On-Premise.

Participate is social business software that integrates social networking, collaboration, and knowledge sharing technologies, enabling organizations to more effectively collaborate, contribute and share knowledge. Available SAAS.

Hot Lava Mobile
Hot Lava Mobile is mobile platform to develop content, deliver and immediately analyze results in support of corporate communications and mobile learning. SaaS offering. LMS
Full-featured, configurable learning management system to administrate, document, track, report, and deliver learning in support of classroom, online, and mobile learning. SaaS offering. is an integrated suite combining LMS, LCMS, Social Business Software and Mobile to meet the breadth of learning and knowledge needs of an organization. Available via SaaS.

3. How has the popularity of tablets changed your product line?
Our product philosophy of single-sourcing, which at its core is about isolating presentation from content, makes supporting Tablets easy. While I’d like to claim that we foresaw Tablets in 1999, the reality is that we could not foresee what future technology trends would arrive. That being the case, we wanted to protect the investment that people made in content. Our OutStart LCMS platform allows for the creation and management of content without having to declare what the output format needs to be. This allows us to transform the content to whatever delivery device we choose. Our viewers, which are really the plug-ins that we use for transforming the content, allow us to deliver to almost any target device. A specific viewer can easily be created for different platforms, for iOS, Android, or WebOS. We also can create viewers that generate HTML5 allowing us to target modern browsers on mobile devices.

4. What do you see as the next directions with respect to tablets and elearning?
I believe that Tablets are here to stay, unlike Netbooks, which seemed new, but in essence was an inexpensive laptop with many compromises; Tablets are a whole new thing. They are the ultimate device for consuming content, they are highly portable, rugged, work for a long time between charges and have almost ubiquitous connectivity … and their interface is truly intuitive. I expect that Tablets will evolve to provide more consistent capabilities, making it easier and cheaper to target multiple devices, instead of having to build for each tablet out there. I think that tablets will become the primary device that we will consume content with, and that laptops and desktops will be relegated more to content creation devices and “power-user” devices. I do not believe that tablets will replace the pc, but they will be the key device that we see people carrying and using. This will force content developers to think of tablets as the primary target, instead of it as an afterthought or add on. I also believe that the gap between tablet capabilities and laptop capabilities will become very small. The choice will be more made on the form factor and use case, not on capabilities.

5. Does OutStart incorporate simulations and serious games?
We and our platform view serious games and simulations as a logical extension of the learning experience… a natural evolution of what can be done with rich media. 15 years ago, the state of rich media was audio for eLearning, 8 yrs ago video was becoming more common place and expected, within the next 2-3 years, consumer will come to expect much more interactive and intelligent interaction with their content. The technical challenge of incorporating simulations and serious games has been met, we have several examples of solving those problems. Unfortunately, the cost for creating these rich experiences and the skills needed to create them is the largest roadblock. While many want these things, few understand the cost of building them and the cost of maintaining them. In our current economic climate, it has been very hard to justify the expense for these things for most developers.
We have some customers who are using simulations and serious games today, leveraging their investment in them throughout their curriculum.

6. What is your philosophy of growth for tablet-based and smartphone-based elearning? Which areas turned out to be dead ends? Which areas evolved in ways that you did not expect?
I think that today we are in the middle of a hype cycle … mobile, mobile, mobile … mobile is cool, mobile is hot, mobile is the future. Yes, yes, and yes … but I believe that we are focusing on the wrong things today. The key to mobile is not the technology, it isn’t the features and it isn’t the devices … to me, and I think of the importance to the learning community, mobile is really about always having a device on you, regardless of what that device is. This is the fundamental change, and this is what will make significant changes in learning and performance support. As mobile devices mature, we will not be talking about what they can do or are capable of, we will be talking about how we have changed the way we design content. If you can count that a person always has a device on them, you can design content very differently. You start to realize that what is important is understanding context and delivering the right content for a given contextual situation.

Unfortunately, today we are focused on mobile being something different. We think that creating content for iOS, RIM or Android is the important part, yet we seem to fail to realize that the technology is evolving incredibly quickly and that creating for a given device will have a very short lifespan. I think that in 2 yrs we will look back and question why we invested in building content for a specific device.

This is also the thing that I am surprised by the most … as an industry we do not seem to learn from history or previous experiences. I see us committing the same mistakes we made 12 yrs ago when we chose to focus on specific browsers. Many people spent great deals of money building content for Netscape, only to have it made obsolete 3 years later and their content unusable. I understand that this is somewhat of a natural evolution, steps we must go through to learn and move forward … but we should be studying history and learning from it. We should really question whether assuming that all content will always be consumed by a specific device (say BlackBerry) is realistic? Will RIM be here in 5 yrs? Will their platform look the same?

7. Please recommend a book that inspired you.
I’m not a big book reader, although I am a voracious reader. I have many varied interests which means my reading list is very broad. I read many blogs on a daily basis, I’ve probably been most inspired in the last year by; – a boat related site, an accomplished yacht designer and his wife share their experiences, the writing and the approach is inspiring. Things are clearly explain, data is provided and conclusions are always supported. – is very different subject matter, I’m constantly inspired by the ideas of others, the different viewpoints they bring and the concepts I never considered. – yet another subject matter, yet similar to the design example, truly inspiring to see how people are solving problems, cheaply and effectively.

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