Interview with Steve Burge, founder of OSTraining
OSTraining is a successful online and off-line training company for Joomla and other open source CMS environments. OSTraining recently switched to Guru on our new, award-winning Joomla LMS and I thought it was time I have a little chat with founder Steve Burge about their highly successful transition.
1. Tell us a bit about OSTraining, how you got started and where you are now
I’ve had two careers in my life and neither was perfect.
I was a teacher initially and taught in Mexico, Japan, Australia, the UK, and the US. I loved the job no matter where I went, but the pay was awful. I always did web design work to pay the bills.
By the time I moved to Georgia, in the United States, my evening job as a web designer was paying better than my day job as a teacher. So, I started Alledia.com and built web sites full time. Thus, web design became my second career.
What was imperfect about web design? Well, after a few years and a few dozen web sites, I was spending too long in my office, staring at the screen, wearing my pajamas all day and starting to smell a little. I started to feel the urge to teach again. A friend asked me to teach a Joomla class in Chicago: I tried it and loved it. That reintroduction to teaching led to more classes in Atlanta, New York, Washington, and other cities. We kept growing and by 2010 I ended up combining my two careers and becominga full-time web design teacher.
2. What have been some of your challenges with this business
We’ve experienced hundreds of challenges, but I’ll focus on those that are specific to running an online training company. There are three things that have been a struggle for us:
- Subscriptions: We struggled for a long time to find an ultra-reliable way to process subscription payments. We went through Authorize.net, PayPal.com and at least one Joomla subscription extension. There are just so many things that can go wrong with subscriptions. We ended up going with Recurly.com which does nothing but subscriptions and it does them well.
- Videos: It’s hard to provide a reliable video stream to everyone. There are so many local glitches, connection problems and speed problems with the internet. We finally solved the problem by moving to Brightcove.com , which produces multiple copies of every video we upload. Brightcove automatically detects if you’re on a fast or slow connection. If you’re on a fast connection, Brightcove serves you a high quality version of the video , and if you’re on a slow connection, they’ll give you a low quality version.
- A stream of new content: An odd truth about video creation is that it’s very hard to do it all the time . It’s very painstaking, detailed work and everyone working in videos needs to have regular breaks where they tackle other things in the business. So, it’s been a challenge to manage our video pipeline so that there is always fresh content for our members. We’ve ended up by working with a lot of different teachers. It works well for them to do videos for a while and then go back to live teaching or web design for a while.
3. Do you think online training will be replacing off line training at some point?
Yes, absolutely. Why? The simple truth is that off line training doesn’t scale. There are only so many cities we can visit and teachers we can put on airplanes.
We’re aiming to become an “online first” company.
“Online first” means we’ll get a majority of our revenue from online training. We’re on track to achieve that by September.
4. What are some of the most common challenges your students have when learning/using Joomla?
The major challenge is that the workflow is not as intuitive as it could be. Once people know what the workflow is, they can understand it and use it easily, but the user interface often gets in the way.
We use the reminder CASh: Categorize, Add, Show to help people remember the workflow. CASh applies whether you’re adding content, weblinks, menu links or many other things:
- Categorize: Go to Category Manager and set up categories.
- Add: Go to Article Manager and add articles.
- Show: Go to Menus and add menu links.
We find that people get confused if they approach this process in a different way. Some people try to make their menu links first, which is what you do in Dreamweaver. Others forget to create categories , and this leads to a disorganized mess of articles.
5. What are your plans for OSTraining for the future?
We’re going to dig far deeper into popular extensions. We’ve just released a security course covering Admin Tools and Akeeba Backup . Anyone can take this course for free at: http://www.ostraining.com/courses/class/joomla-25/security/view/.
6. What’s missing now when it comes to Joomla training?
I’d love to see more of it. I’d love more people to give us competition. Whether we are website builders, template designers, or extension developers who are involved in Joomla in any (insert space) way, we need to be explaining Joomla to people. Most users are too busy to spend hours figuring things out for themselves. If you’re a professional working in Joomla, it needs to be part of your job to explain what Joomla is and how to use it.
7. What technology have you used for your online training?
We rely on five key pieces of technology:
- Platform: We use Joomla 1.5 still.
- Videos: All our videos are on Brightcove.com .
- Subscriptions: We process payments using Recurly.com and connect that to Joomla using a custom component.
- Newsletters: We use MailChimp to send out a packed newsletter every week. This is a key advertising tool for us. We have a huge readership who might not be members but enjoy getting the newsletters every week.
- Training classes: Guru!
8. What made you switch to Guru?
We needed a solid platform to show off our classes. Our class pipeline has become busier in 2012, and our staff is struggling to keep up with all the new classes. Guru has made that much easier. We can set up a new class in a couple of hours now, rather than it taking all day.
9. What are your favorite Guru features?
We love the ease of use. The process of adding training sessions is as easy as this:
- Click New.
- Enter a session title.
- Paste in the embed code for the video.
- Click Save.
Guru does everything else for us. It manages the class layout and teacher profiles. It tracks viewer activity and presents students with quizzes. It’s great to have all of this in one integrated package, specifically designed for online training.
10. What else would you like Guru to have that’s not on our roadmap?
The roadmap looks great as it is! It’s one of the reasons we moved to Guru.
To answer the question, I’ll suggest one thing on the frontend and one on the backend:
- On the fronted, I’d love to see a really good user profile page where people can show off the courses they’ve taken and the tests they’ve passed.
- On the backend, it would be nice to able to move course sessions from one course to another.
Thanks Steve and good luck!