How To Choose The Right eLearning Vendor: 10 Questions In 10 Minutes

Choosing The Right eLearning Vendor With 10 Questions In 10 Minutes

Newly-weds Mark and Mindy are buying a house this year. The first trigger came last year when Mindy’s parents bought some real estate. Then, their landlord announced a hike in rent, and they decided it would be worth their while to spend on EMIs rather than rent. And so the frenzied hunt began. If you have ever bought real estate, you know it entails scouring newspaper ads and meeting numerous property dealers, viewing dozens of properties, and asking a million questions – just to make sure you get that one property you know is right for you. Looking for the right eLearning vendor is not very different from buying expensive property:

  • It’s a long-term investment.
  • You want it to be right.
  • It must be worth the money.
  • It should fulfill its goal.

In a market teeming with eLearning vendors, many without the expertise or capabilities to create professional eLearning courses, separating the wheat from the chaff –the professionals from those who make spurious claims– will be one of your biggest challenges. Unless you go about it the right way, you are looking for a needle in a haystack; but ask the right questions, and the spurious vendors will drop like tin soldiers, leaving the professional vendors standing tall. Here are 10 questions you must ask eLearning vendors before partnering with them:

 1. How Long Have You Been In Business?

The global corporate eLearning market is expected to reach over USD 31 billion by 2020. It’s a lucrative business to be in – and therefore, one that sees many so-called eLearning companies mushrooming across the globe. This is unfortunate really, because the general opinion is that a bit of graphic designing and web designing background is all one needs to start a successful eLearning business, but it is far from the case.

Should you choose an eLearning vendor who has been in the industry for long, or settle for a new player in the market? This is a tricky one: Vendors who have been in the market for several years have seen the changes in the industry and understand the current organizational needs. Having said that, the advantage of picking a new eLearning company is that these companies may be more in tune with today’s learners’ needs, and are equipped with the latest eLearning tools, technologies, and strategies. But then again, they would probably lack the experience of well-established, older firms who would have experienced teams of Instructional Designers, project managers, developers and analysts, with strategic procedures and processes in place.

2. What’s Your Experience In Corporate eLearning Development?

Teaching students is very different from teaching employees (adult learners):

Corporate eLearning is based on adult learning principles, concentrates on the transfer of knowledge and skills that employees can use to complete a particular task, involves learners (employees) in the entire process, is fast paced and career related, and benefits learners as well as the organization.

eLearning for the education sector aims at igniting the curiosity of learners to learn more on general topics that are taught at educational institutions, and benefits the learners alone.

The right eLearning vendor must have wide experience in corporate eLearning development, preferably have a background in Learning and Development, teaching, or training, with the ability to create a solution that is streamlined to meet your business goals.

3. Do You Have Any Other Services Besides Corporate eLearning Development?

A lot of eLearning vendors do not specialize in eLearning. Delve into their website and take a peek at their offerings, and you will find that eLearning is just "one of the solutions" they offer (other services may include web designing and web programming). The risk associated with such vendors is that they won’t possess a specialized team of experts qualified to cater to your organization’s eLearning needs; the end product will –at the very best– be nothing more than an online course (all online courses are not eLearning courses).

If eLearning is just a small and insignificant part of what they do, there is also the possibility that their main concern and concentration will be focused on their bigger offerings.

4. What Are The Qualifications And Experiences Of Your Team?

An eLearning team is one that possesses eLearning development skills and capabilities. The vendor’s company must be solidly backed by a team comprising eLearning professionals, developers, learning design and technology experts, and quality analysts. Each member must possess relevant qualifications (Instructional Designers would need to possess experience in Instructional Design and content development, and excellent communication, visualization, analytical and conceptual skills; courseware designers would need to be experienced in multimedia and graphics; graphic and visual designers would need to have a keen sense of designing good GUI and components), and sufficient experience to be able to understand, make useful recommendations, and develop eLearning that takes care of your organization’s eLearning needs.

5. Can You Explain How You Proceed Once You Get An Order?

A reliable company will have a streamlined process in place. eLearning projects require a lot of collaboration from all the members of the team. "Process" is essential for the creation of eLearning –it is a fundamental tool that allows everyone concerned collaborate and work together as a team, allowing the project to move from one stage to the next, seamlessly– saving both time and effort.

To be sure the eLearning vendor has a streamlined process in place, request a presentation of their process and submission of documentation.

6. Can You Explain Your Project Management Process?

The project management process calls for precision, dedication, passion, and the ability to complete the project in the stipulated time. In eLearning, it is not any different. Each project will need to be approached in a different manner but will nevertheless need a well disciplined approach, backed by a manager who possesses general management skills. The company must provide a dedicated project manager for each project.

Request for a presentation of the project management process and check for relevant certifications such as PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge).

7. Do Your Project Managers And Instructional Designers Talk With Customers? Can I Talk To One Of Them Now?

A truly professional and experienced vendor will not have a problem introducing you to his team at the drop of a hat, nor would he get the feeling of being put in a spot. In fact, if the company is as good as their website and brochures claim it to be, they would be proud to introduce you to their team.

Speaking with project managers and Instructional Designers will give you an idea of the processes they follow and their language skills. Processes must be based on sound Instructional Design principles, learning theories, and adult learning principles. Project managers, as mentioned earlier, must possess good management skills and be able to lead a team.

Ask to see a sample set of Learning Objectives from their courses – you can judge an Instructional Designer from the Learning Objectives created.

8. Are You Willing To Take Up A "No Cure-No Pay" Sample Project?

Ask for a sample project created from scratch, on a topic your employees can use. The condition: If you are satisfied with the project and its outcome, you will pay for it; but if it is something you are not satisfied with, you won’t pay. Fly-by-night operators will not agree to this. Only reputed firms that are good at what they do and have the necessary bandwidth in terms of credentials and team will agree to risk doing this for you.

9. Can You Show Me A Few Current Projects In The Pipeline?

A successful eLearning company will have at least a few projects in its pipeline at any given point in time. However, not many companies will be willing to show the projects they are working on, and you must insist on getting this information. Ask questions on the type of projects they are working on – concentrate on asking questions about projects similar to yours.

10. Can You Provide Me 3 References Right Now?

Companies that have been in business for a reasonably long time should not have a problem providing you with references –at least three companies that are reasonably well known, with at least two of them being from the same industry your organization belongs to. Once you have the references, it is important to personally call and get feedback on how their eLearning solution has worked out for them, if the vendor is reliable, the quality, pricing, and how their learners reacted to the eLearning solution.

Final Thought

A lot of business decisions are made on a "gut feeling" as well as reasoned argument. When choosing the right eLearning vendor, remember an eLearning project can be large, expensive, and it could be well advanced when you discover your gut feeling was wrong, leading to the abandonment or curtailment of your project. Ensure you avoid this predicament by asking prospective vendors the right questions and make the right choice.

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