Time has rendered the question of whether a modern enterprise needs eLearning, irrelevant. Of course it does.
Once a niche product, online learning rose to a $100+ billion dollar global market, with corporate and vocational training claiming the lion’s share of this growth.
And why not? As an effective, convenient, lower maintenance, and cheaper alternative to traditional classroom learning, eLearning is the perfect fit for the modern, knowledge-based economy, and the often thin margins in which competitive businesses must operate.
It’s only natural that we see an ever increasing number of businesses adopting it for the first time or expanding their existing online training programs.
But while the eLearning solutions market offers several excellent LMS platforms, including our very own eFront, not all business have the necessary resources, skills and time required to develop their own employee training material.
This is especially true for small and medium enterprises, which may lack the necessary personnel altogether, but it can also hold true for large companies with dedicated design and copywriting departments — in this case usually because they prefer to focus these employees at their core products, instead of having them organize an official or ad-hoc training department.
Fortunately, thanks to the growth of the eLearning market, it’s quite easy to outsource eLearning content development to an eLearning consultant or firm — and there are plenty of eLearning development companies to choose from.
In this post we’ll discuss custom eLearning development services, and give some advice on how to pick the right one, and how to successfully work with them from the requirements definition stage all the way to the final results.
1) Do you really need it?
Before you proceed to outsource your custom eLearning content creation you should ask yourself whether you really need to.
Modern LMS platforms such as eFront make content creation so easy and effortless that it’s no more challenging that writing on your blog or on Facebook. And with extensive content import capabilities, you can easily incorporate any PowerPoint or Word documents that you’ve used in the past to train your employees in your courses.
This means that if your training needs are restricted, and your budget is not that big, you could forego outsourcing and assign the content creation to one or more of your more tech-friendly employees. The end result might not be as eloquent and well written as a professionally produced course, but it will, more often than not, do the job just fine.
For larger companies where money is not an issue (especially since, with eLearning being so cost effective, the costs of running an eLearning program are usually dwarfed by payroll and other operating expenses), establishing an online training department and keeping content creation inside the company sometimes can still make sense.
For a company such as Apple or a government contractor handling sensitive data, for example, where secrecy is the norm, keeping your training content creation in-house means you can have it under close guard.
Similarly, for companies belonging to the traditional education sector, like a university or other established educational institution, doing their eLearning content development on their own means that they cut out the middleman and have total control of their product.
If your case does not fall into one of the above categories, then it makes perfect sense to outsource some or the entirety of your eLearning content development to an outside consultancy. You’ll get professional results, faster than you could ever do it, and without diverting resources from your core business.
2) Choosing the right eLearning development firm
With so many eLearning development companies to choose from, you can really be spoiled for choice — and scratching your head trying to pick the right one.
The key insight (if it’s an insight) is that not all eLearning development companies are made the same. Some are just more professional and trustworthy than others, and flashy webpages or ads can’t help you determine which is which.
Fortunately, there are other ways.
First, there is the traditional way: ask around. Perhaps your business partners already use and swear by some eLearning development company. Ask them for a recommendation, and discuss their experience outsourcing their training courses with them. Ask if you can see the courses they had made, and see if they meet your quality criteria.
Then there’s always the wild wild web — check eLearning news outlets, and industry blogs for mentions and/or reviews of eLearning development firms.
Ignore paid “informercial” style content, and pay special attention to user provided experiences, in comment sections and discussion forums (keeping in mind that positive comments could still be “covert” advertisements for a firm, and negative comments could have been made on purpose by its competitors).
If you already have invested or plan to invest in a corporate eLearning management platform (LMS) then make sure that the firm knows how to produce content for it.
Look for eLearning development consultancies that have partnerships with your LMS provider. This not only ensures that they will know how to produce content that leverages your preferred platform, but also serves as a kind of endorsement for the firm.
When you’ve narrowed down your list to a few firms, it’s time to ask to see their portfolio, ask for quotes based on your particular course creation needs, and (for larger businesses wanting to order multiple courses) maybe take their services for a test drive, by ordering a smaller course first.
3) Prepare for it
Between the time you’ve made your pick of an eLearning development company to outsource your content creation needs, and the time they will start working on your courses, there’s a small, but essential, step that you need to take care of.
You need to search for, find, organize, annotate and prepare your raw material.
It could be some PDFs, PowerPoints and Word Documents spread throughout your intranet, or safely organized in your Document Management system, complete with titles, tags and descriptions. Or it could be several printed manuals and ancient hand-written notes that have to be scanned and converted into digital form.
Whatever the case, you’re the one who knows what needs to be in your training courses, and you’re the one that has access to your company’s documents, so you should prepare all these files to give to the eLearning development company.
Other stuff might not even be anywhere. If you didn’t have an informal, or semi-informal training before, either online or classroom-based, then a lot of the necessary employee training information will just be stored in your senior employee’s heads.
Of course, the eLearning development company, if they’re worth their salt, will also ask you and work with your staff, to get the information necessary for them to write your training courses. But there are some things that they won’t know about, and wouldn’t think of asking about either, unless you tell them explicitly.
At the very least, you should gather all the files and documents you have that are related to your training course, and catalogue them for the eLearning development people.
4) Be clear regarding your needs
You might not know how to write a proper training course, but you should know what it needs to cover, and you should tell your eLearning development consultants.
It’s important to be as clear as possible with regard to your needs, and especially with regard to the desired results. Corporate training after all, unlike academic learning which can be abstract and wide-ranging, works better when it’s result oriented and focused.
Some things, the eLearning content creators will be able to deduce from your existing training material (as discussed in the previous section). Others, you’ll need to tell them explicitly, and have senior employees work with them to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what they need to convey.
If you ask them to create a custom training course for your assembly line workers, for example, you’ll talk them through all the the necessary steps and procedures that an assembly line worker will need to know. This includes emergency procedures for when things go wrong, something that you might easily oversee when you describe the basic workflow.
Speaking of giving clear instructions, you’ll also need to tell the eLearning content development consultants about any other restrictions, preferences and guidelines you have for company content.
This includes proper naming (e.g. if they should refer to your product as iGizmo and not IGizmo or i-Gizmo), branding rules, including logos and colors they should use in their final deliverables, etc.
Last, but far for least, you’ll need to come up with a clear timeline (including milestones and sign-offs), and a final price for the whole endeavor.
5) Be involved
Outsourcing eLearning content creation doesn’t mean that your job ends as soon as you hand over your raw materials and course requirements.
If you want to ensure that you have your best possible result, you’ll need to stay involved in the whole process.
You should be working alongside the eLearning development company to make sure everything goes well, that the provided content matches your specifications, etc.
This doesn’t mean that you need to micromanage them, or breathe down their neck (and please don’t). It just means that it’s not a fire-and-forget affair, but an active collaboration.
In fact, professionally run eLearning development companies will be glad to keep you in the loop, in order to ensure agreement and minimize surprises at the final delivery.
Ideally, the eLearning development company should have use some collaboration platform (e.g. Basecamp, Slack, etc.), where you can share documents, read early drafts, make comments and even discuss the course creation process in real time when needed. In some cases, it might even be possible to login and check your course as it’s being developed directly in the LMS platform.
Besides the raw materials and things that you assembled for the requirements gathering stage, there will also be some stuff whose need becomes evident later, and which you’ll be asked to provide while the course is developing. An employee orientation course, for example, will often need a “message from the CEO” type introduction, which your company will have to provide.
The key here is to stay involved throughout all parts of the content creation, so that there are no nasty surprises when you finally get to review and approve the completed content.
But don’t set your content development company loose too soon: you’ll want to be able to have them make changes and improvements after you’ve seen how your course content fares when used in your training program too (e.g to better explain some hard parts).
The best relationship with an eLearning consulting firm is a long term one, where they get to understand your needs better and cater to them faster, and you get a custom content development partner whose work you can trust.
In this post we’ve examined how companies that either lack the internal skills to create their own custom training content, or prefer to stay focused on their core business, can make the most of outsourcing their eLearning content development.
Among other things, we discussed preparing for outsourcing your training material, picking the right eLearning consulting firm, and working alongside them to ensure the best results.
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