What To Consider When Selecting An eLearning Vendor-Partner
Here is what you need to consider when selecting an eLearning vendor-partner:
Begin With Strategy
Strategy is the all-important factor that will determine the success of eLearning implementation at the workplace. A well-defined eLearning strategy would have the following elements:
- The goal of your eLearning program and the timeframe in which it is to be implemented.
- An outline of the components to be developed (this could include eLearning and mLearning courses, as well as other resources for learning and performance support).
- The periodicity of updation of the above components.
- Tools and technologies to be used.
- Evaluation criteria.
- An implementation plan.
Consider Your Capabilities – Both Current And Future
First, consider if any of the courses you have in your list can be purchased off-the-shelf. Many compliance related topics, workplace safety and harassment, and other soft skill related topics are normally good candidates for such purchasing. Other courses will have to be built to your specific requirements.
When it comes to building custom solutions, it’s possible that you have a couple of copywriters on your payroll, or perhaps a small team of Flash developers. Or maybe a graphic artist who can create some cool layouts.
But eLearning implementation goes beyond these isolated abilities. The skillsets that eLearning projects typically require include:
- Instructional Designer.
Perhaps the most important role in the project. The Instructional Designer draws up the overall design of the course / resource, by considering the goals, the learning outcomes, and the profile of the audience. This person also arrives at the flow of the course, number and sequence of practice activities, types of interactions and visuals, etc.
- Content Writer.
Takes the design forward, and fleshes out the content, writing out the practice activities, expanding on the explainer content, working on examples, etc. In many cases, the content writer and instructional designer are one and the same person.
- Subject Matter Expert (SME).
Works closely with the Instructional Designer and content writer, providing the input necessary to develop the content, and reviewing it at every stage to ensure accuracy.
- Graphic Designer.
Creates the actual visual elements to go into the course based on the descriptions provided by the content writer. They consider the branding of the organization, as well as the learners’ profile and the requirements of the course to do so.
Works on creating the desired functionality in the target tool. This person programs the interactions, and stitches the content with the visuals and other elements together to create the fully functional course.
- Quality Checker.
Runs through the entire course a few times, and “monkey tests” it, to pick out any inadvertent mistakes that might have crept through, looking for errors in programming, visuals and content.
- Project Manager.
Brings all the above resources together to ensure that the project is completed on time and on budget. S/he holds regular meetings to keep the team on track, and communicates regularly with other stakeholders to update them on progress and to manage expectations.
Apart from these six roles above, you might need others, such as illustrators, animators, narrators, and audio engineers (if the project involves audio), actors (if it involves video), etc., depending on what the project requires.
From the list above, determine the areas in which you have skills available currently. Also think of the skills you want to build in-house. For example, a medical solutions company that we worked with had a full-fledged team of 3D animators, while they outsourced the rest. These animators, besides being proficient in the use of 3D software, were also trained in the medical field. It made sense to our client, for whom this team was a natural extension of their core capabilities, and they would have been hard-pressed to find such specialized skillsets elsewhere.
Today, there are plenty of vendors who are willing to provide a-la-carte services.
Choose An eLearning Vendor-Partner
Now that the parts to be outsourced are clear, it is time to get down to choosing a vendor. The first thing to remember about this part is that outsourcing is not a one-time, do-it-and-forget-it kind of activity. It’s an ongoing process that requires considerable time and effort to be invested by both parties – you and the vendor.
Having said that, what you need is not just a vendor who will do what they’re told, but a partner who can think with you through your requirements, adding value every step of the way. At Learnnovators, we have been part of successful partnerships lasting several years.
Next is to decide whether you need a generalist or a specialist. There are vendors who can offer a broad spectrum of services, while on the other hand, there are those who are super specialized in just one area (instructional design, evaluation of learning programs, creating technical animations, production of video, etc.). Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Whatever it is, it’s better to be clear about what your requirement is.
Then there are the points to consider for selecting a vendor:
1. Experience And Expertise.
Do not consider experience just in number of years. Rather, take into account the quality of the experience; how many projects have they completed and the value of each, have they been successful, and so on. Another aspect to check in this case is thought leadership. Does the vendor have a blog? Are they present on social media? How often do they post? And what kind of information do they post?
2. Key Resources.
These are the people you will be working with, so it’s only fair to ask to see their profiles. If required, you can also have a chat with them to see how comfortable they are in their respective areas.
3. Samples Of Similar Projects.
Companies may not be able to share some of their work due to non-disclosure agreements with their clients (which is okay, since this is also an indication of how they will treat your information). However, they should have a generic portfolio that they have built over time, which should give you a fair idea of the company’s capabilities.
4. Size Of Company.
This is important to consider, especially if you’re thinking of building the partnership over a period of time, in which case you will need to be assured that you’ll get to work with the same set of people, or that the people don’t change too often. This might be difficult to promise for larger companies, while on the other hand, smaller companies might go bust. A client of ours, when they were selecting a vendor way back in 2008, was clear that they wanted to work with a company of less than 50 employees. In 2017, our partnership is still going strong, and the same team continues to serve this client.
As your requirements scale over time, is your partner willing to ramp up resources to meet them? Can they add the necessary infrastructure, and what are their recruitment processes?
6. Project Management Processes.
The maturity of a company’s processes can go a long way in ensuring smooth execution of projects. Ask specifically about how they handle various stages of a project, how they communicate, at what frequency, and what channels they use. Also check how they handle exceptions, which are bound to arise in any project.
7. Quality Practices.
How robust is their quality team? How many rounds of checks do they conduct, and what do they check for? Do they have robust checklists and guidelines in place, or is it done in an ad hoc manner?
8. Client Testimonials.
A company might have solid experience, great samples, and mature processes. But what do existing clients feel about working with them? An important factor to consider before deciding on a vendor.
Okay, this one is a bit foggy but I thought I’d still put it down because it’s a critical factor, especially for long-term engagements. Does the company use licensed software? What about content and image sources? What kinds of checks do they have in place to make sure these are not plagiarized, even accidentally? You don’t want to get into any legal tangles at a later date. At Learnnovators, we have plagiarism checks in place – for both content and visuals.
10. Transparent Pricing.
The dollar amount that you’re going to shell out is an important factor, but more important is the method the vendor uses to arrive at the pricing. Is it honest and transparent? Spending time upfront understanding this can go a long way in ensuring you don’t have any budgeting surprises later.
These, I think, are the main considerations for choosing an eLearning vendor-partner. What are yours? Please add your comments at the bottom of this post.
Learnnovators will shortly be releasing an eBook titled The Ultimate Guide To Successful eLearning Implementation At The Workplace. Meanwhile, do get in touch at [email protected] if you would like to discuss any of the above pointers, or if you need assistance with implementing eLearning at your workplace.