OpenSesame: A crowd-sourced e-learning marketplace
Many companies are riding the wave of popularity surrounding e-learning to greater heights, but few are doing it as well as the Portland-based startup OpenSesame. The company saw that both the demand and the supply of e-learning was growing rapidly, so they decided to bring the two together and make it easier and more efficient for everyone involved to find what they need.
Essentially OpenSesame is a marketplace where e-learning providers can post their courses easily and e-learning users can pick and choose which courses they want from an incredibly broad range of e-learning courses from around the world.
Founded in 2010, the company is already on the rise, having secured $2 million in venture funding from Harmony Investments. We recently got the chance to interview OpenSesame Vice President of Community Development, Tom Turnbull, via e-mail to talk about the company's goals, growth, and challenges.
When was OpenSesame founded and how many clients and sellers has it amassed since then?
OpenSesame was founded in summer of 2010, with our public launch at DevLearn10 in November. OpenSesame is a worldwide, crowd-sourced marketplace where any person or company can buy or sell off-the-shelf e-learning courses. OpenSesame’s patent-pending technology platform serves any e-learning course to any learning management system (LMS). OpenSesame unlocks e-learning, just as Apple unlocked digital music, by making the selection, purchase, and deployment of e-learning content as easy as buying a song from iTunes.
Since our launch, we have exceeded our projections for community growth on the buyer and the seller side, amassing the world’s largest e-learning catalog, with more than 10,000 courses from 125+ sellers, and completing sales with Fortune 500 corporations.
I noticed that the CEO, Don Spear, co-founded the company Blue Tech LLC which is a pioneer in training and marketing for skilled trades. How much of an influence has this had on the vision and success of OpenSesame?
Our co-founding team decided to start OpenSesame after 10 years in the e-learning business, working with learners, professional associations and companies that connect their employees to learning and development programs.
We discovered that the one of the largest roadblocks to the growth of e-learning was the difficulty of finding, selecting and using high quality courses. The companies Don worked with at BlueVolt were eager to leverage technology to enhance employee skills, reduce insurance costs and meet compliance goals, but they complained that custom course development was too expensive and off-the-shelf courses were hard to find, often of uneven quality and still expensive.
We decided to apply the iTunes digital content marketplace model to create OpenSesame in order to connect buyers and sellers to spur the growth of the market and push the development of more high quality courses.
OpenSesame offers a wide array of training courses that give the choice of flexibility with their purchase. Could you elaborate on the different options of usage a client has of buying courseware?
OpenSesame customers can use courses in a number of ways:
�? In an LMS - After making a purchase, buyers can download a SCORM package to add to their LMS and use instantly. OpenSesame’s technology platform ensures that any courses purchased from OpenSesame work in any learning management system.
�? On the OpenSesame website - If customers simply wish to access the course themselves, they may view the course on our website.
�? On an OpenSesame portal - If customers do not have a learning management system but need to track usage of their courses, OpenSesame will create a simple, free portal for assigning learners to courses and tracking participant progress.
�? With our email invitation system - OpenSesame is launching an incredibly simple system to enable buyers to share the course with colleagues through email - no LMS or portal required! We believe this super-simple system will enable us to meet the needs of small businesses who have simple training needs but who don’t have the time of funds to manage an LMS.
One huge advantage of using OpenSesame is the ability to use any course creation tool or learning management system (LMS). Are there any restrictions or exceptions?
OpenSesame supports any SCORM-compliant course authoring tool or learning management system. Course developers can also use video to create courses. We don’t discriminate!
We rely on the SCORM standard to ensure that that when we’re talking about e-learning, we’re all speaking the same language. Standards enable us to keep our promises to the buyers and sellers in the marketplace to connect courses to any LMS. We can also work with sellers to adapt non-SCORM content to the SCORM standard through our APIs.
With the tremendous rise in popularity and accessibility of technology such as e-readers, tablets, laptops, etc.; has the OpenSesame marketplace seen a spike in their client base and demand?
Absolutely. With the growth in smart devices, increased mobility of employees and growing demand for highly skilled employees, companies recognize that investing in employee learning is an essential step towards differentiating their company from the competition.
Companies love to work with OpenSesame because they have flexible payment options, including buying seats up front, choosing courses just the courses they want to use and paying for only the courses they actually use.
OpenSesame offers over 10,000+ courses from hundreds of sellers. Are there specific guidelines or stringent qualifications that need to be met in order to list a course for sale on OpenSesame?
OpenSesame is an open marketplace, and we welcome different kinds of content focused on different topics and categories. Courses in the marketplace must be SCORM compliant (or video) files, focused on an educational or professional development topic and meet a basic quality standard. We are happy to share feedback with sellers to help them revise and develop excellent e-learning courses.
How many new courses would you estimate are added on the monthly basis?
The OpenSesame catalog has reached almost 10,500 courses in 17 months since launch, giving us an average growth of about 615 courses a month. Our sellers vary widely - some sellers have an in-depth catalog of hundreds of courses and some are subject matter experts just beginning to create courses.
With so many sellers enthusiastically joining the OpenSesame community offering their services, how many sellers do you project to be in the network in next few years?
With more than 130 sellers in just our first year, we believe our seller community will reach the thousands within the next few years. Not just because we will be working with the entire e-learning community, but because we believe that by consolidating the marketplace OpenSesame will begin to entice participation from non-standard e-learning developers like filmmakers, video game designers and animators.
With such a broad spectrum of training already offered by OpenSesame, do you plan to expand into other facets of eLearning in the near future?
OpenSesame is focused on creating the world’s marketplace for e-learning courses, with the largest, broadest and freshest catalog of e-learning courses. To that end, we are adding features to the marketplace to add make it even easier for buyers and sellers to use the site.
For example, OpenSesame developed a SCORM video player that ensures simple videos can be played, bookmarked and tracked in SCORM learning management systems. This feature unlocked a new world of content for use in corporate training and professional development, inviting new sellers into the marketplace and broadening the conversation about learning. These are the types of features and innovations we are focused on.
What are some new objectives and goals that OpenSesame has set for their bright future?
OpenSesame’s goal is to solve the pain buyers experience when shopping for e-learning courses:
1. Finding off-the-shelf courses
2. Comparing courses from different vendors
3. Purchasing courses
4. Deploying courses to their LMS
Our open marketplace, transparent pricing and flexible deployment options ensure buyers can connect employees to learning opportunities quickly and efficiently - focusing their time on the next big challenge.