Published on 2012/04/26
Purchasing eLearning: Do You Really Need It?
Deciding whether to use an external, eLearning vendor to deliver learning is a major, and difficult, decision for any employer. Photo by AndyM8Y.

This is the first article in the series, ‘Purchasing eLearning’. The series is for organizations and individuals who are engaging third party organizations to develop eLearning courses.

Engaging a third party to develop eLearning courses can be a minefield for inexperienced or unprepared organizations. Poor decisions can result in unexpectedly large costs, a timeframe that keeps on slipping, heartache and stress for your staff, and an end result that is just not right for your learners.

The key to making good decisions about who to work with and how to work with them is understanding as much as possible about your own requirements. In this series of articles we will look at what you should consider before going out to tender or approaching eLearning vendors. These include:

  • Knowing your audience
  • Knowing but not writing your content
  • Knowing your constraints and how they will impact the project
  • Understanding the characteristics of vendors

Before we start looking at these issues, there are two questions you should be able to answer confidently:

  • Is ‘training’ the best solution? There are many ways to communicate with your staff and help them learn that are not typical ‘training’ solution. These could include an internal marketing campaign, a website, documentation available on the intranet, or even changing a system that is causing a problem. Given the limited time that many people have at work, consider carefully whether a training course is the best way to get the result you need.
  • Is using an external vendor the best solution? Briefing and working with external vendors will take the time of your own staff. The reality is that no vendor will know your organization or subject area as well as you and they will need your support to get up to speed. This hidden cost is in addition to the explicit costs of their quote. If you have the capacity inside your organization to do the work, it is sensible to do so.

Most vendors will assume that by going out to tender or by approaching them you are able to answer ‘yes’ to these questions. They are selling their products and services, so they are unlikely to tell you if there is a different way. It is up to you to think about this before going externally.

When you have answered ‘yes’ to these questions, it is time to start thinking about your requirements. In the next article, we will look at knowing your audience.

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Readers Comments

Neville Lansing 2012/04/26 at 9:27 am

This is some pretty stick-in-the-mud thinking.

I realize that moving into a partnership with an eLearning vendor can be tricky, but the key word is partnership. If you don’t work with them, they can’t know what you want.

And as for not taking up eLearning…why not? The just-in-time learning ideas that you suggest are in fact part of training, and putting those resources online would make them more accessible and easier to use

    Roz Pursey 2012/05/17 at 12:58 am

    Hey Neville,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You asked ‘why not take up elearning?”. An organisation may have many reasons to take up elearning, and many reasons not to. What is suggested here is not that organisations should be discouraged from taking up elearning (which ironically my autocorrect keeps on changing to just ‘learning’ – definitely a message for us all). Instead what is being asked is that an organisation can confidentially answer that it is the path that they want to go down, and that they have thought about why.

    Is it ‘stick-in-the-mud’ thinking to suggest that organisations make a considered decision? Is it ‘stick-in-the-mud’ thinking to suggest that there may be people inside the organisation who are qualified, enthusiastic and ready to implement these projects themselves?

    I actually believe better relationships with vendors will result from organisations thinking about what they why they want to follow an learning path and thinking about what they want from an elearning project.

    Who knows? By asking whether they have people internally who can take on the project, they may find that they have someone qualified, and inventive, but with not enough time. Who better to be part of building that good relationship with the vendor?

    Just because I am prompting people to ask the question of their organisation, does not mean I am telling them what the answer should be.

James Branden 2012/04/26 at 10:54 am

I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with Neville here… it’s important to know what you want and it’s equally important to know why you want it… but there is almost always a need for services like these.

When companies place lofty training and skill-development goals on their already over-stretched HT and L&D teams, everyone suffers. The instructors are usually half-ignored, or their one-day sessions are forgotten.

You’re right that we need just-in-time learning, but we need learning professionals to design the methods of delivering the information. Otherwise you have people standing at the front of the room reading from a binder.

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