LMSs that kick ass – OutStart

January 23, 2009

Another Friday and another LMS that kicks ass! This week’s featured system is OutStart.

I interviewed Jeff Whitney, Vice President of Marketing.

By way of background, Jeff told me that OutStart has two flavors: Participate, their general social software solution and TrainingEdge.com, their SaaS solution which includes LMS, collaborative authoring, and social media specifically configured to support learning. OutStart acquired Participate Systems in November, 2005 and since then they’ve enhanced the system extensively and integrated it with their other learning solutions. Their acquisition included the Participate team – a group with 12 years of social media experience dating back to the mid 90s.

Most of OutStart’s implementations are within organizations with less than 5,000 learners. 90 organizations are using OutStart with a total number of registered users at 700,000. Their LMS is available in SaaS, hosted and enterprise modes with a relatively short average implementation time of 1 week.

Q: What is OutStart doing with social media integration in their LMS?

A: Jeff Whitney – To set the stage, we don’t think about incorporating social media capabilities into our LMS. Rather we see social media platforms and LMSs as two distinct systems. Each has very different objectives. LMSs control, track and report on formal learning initiatives while a social media platform enables rather than controls informal learning. The systems should be able to work standalone or in concert. This is supported in our customer base as many of our social media platform customers are successfully deployed standalone from a LMS. So we don’t believe a vendor should make a LMS a requirement to implementing a social media platform, but certainly there should be tight integration points to enable informal learning in support of formal learning initiatives.

With that said, there are capabilities that we believe are crucial to the success of a social media platform and which we have incorporated into our system. Communities, blogs, and wikis are just the start. The system should enable knowledge contribution from popular tools like MS Office and email; it should have connectors to outside information sources such as learning content, document repositories, transaction systems and the web; it should include an expertise exchange enabling the automated identification and organic capturing of knowledge from experts; provide for the clear ranking of knowledge; the knowledge should be readily accessible without having to search through different silos; and users should be able to access all the knowledge without a care as to where its located, retrieve knowledge by simply emailing the system and be readily accessible through mobile devices.

Q: What drove your decision to use social media tools in your LMS?

A: Jeff Whitney – It just makes sense to offer a social media platform to support the 80% of learning that occurs informally. We developed our social media platform separate from our LMS as many informal learning initiatives do not require the formal reporting and tracking features of an LMS. But we also integrated the solution with our LMS to support activities like the invaluable, ad hoc student-to-student and student-to-instructor knowledge sharing that surround formal learning initiatives.

Q: If you could predict what LMSs will look like in three years, what do you see?

A: Jeff Whitney – We see the LMS market splitting. Many vendors are turning to Talent Management. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but we see HR’s requirements for talent management as an important but separate requirement from an organizations learning and development requirements. OutStart is committed to focusing and enhancing our solutions to support the learning and development requirements within organizations.

Q: What difficulties are you seeing in the incorporation of social media among your current customers/potential customers?

A: Jeff Whitney – Successfully deploying social media is really a matter of having a set of proven, best practices. We’ve been deploying social media systems for years and have created a set of best practices which we proactively advise our customers on to avoid the pitfalls that can derail a project. Some of the keys include selecting a contained, but important project to get started; be prepared to launch and market the project and reward users – often times this can be as simple as recognizing people within the system for sharing quality content; and don’t forget to measure use and impact and make adjustments on a regular basis.

Thanks Jeff!

Check out other kick-ass LMSs in this series:

Cornerstone OnDemand
Meridian KSI
Element K

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