Outsourcing design and development of e-learning has become a key strategic initiative for many organizations because of the obvious benefits of receiving specialized services, which might not be available in-house, in a cost-effective manner. But how does one select the “right” outsourcing partner when there are numerous options from which to choose?
Well, it is important for outsourcers to have at least the basic understanding of what they should expect and how much they should really pay to fulfill those expectations.
The Name and Pricing/Value Game
While e-learning typically is restricted to content development for technology-based training, today e-learning is synonymous for any training that is delivered electronically. This includes:
So, the approach to design, development and delivery of content — and its cost —vary with the type of learning product you want to develop.
Decide Why You Need It
If, as outsourcers, you are not familiar with e-learning, it is important to ensure that you get your own objectives for development/outsourcing of training right.
The vendors have many shades of “vanilla” solutions to offer, and it is very easy to get hooked on solution ideas they put forth. These might or might not be the best solutions for your needs, however.
Training that is not based on your real needs never will lead you to realize the value of your dollar. In addition, outsourcers should be clear about the other options available besides e-learning.
Bottom line: Be clear about your objectives and insist on a training solution that really will solve your problems. This is not to suggest that you have the entire ROI worked out, but you should know what you want to accomplish.
Have a Ballpark Budget
It is important you have a clear line of sight as far as the budget is concerned. Depending on what your objectives are and what you want the e-learning to accomplish, decide what you are willing to pay for it. If the budgets are not worked out, you might pay an amount that might not ultimately give you the value you want.
It also might lead to the project not going off the “request for information” stage because vendors might suggest a solution that is too expensive.
It is important, however, not to compromise on the quality of e-learning for a low price.
Evaluate What You Have
The design, development, delivery and cost of e-learning development heavily depend on the availability and readiness of content. “Availability” means that the base content is captured and documented. If the content is implicitly sitting in the head of an expert on the customer’s side, it’s not usable from a design and development perspective.
“Readiness” means that if captured and documented, is the content ready to be modified for training delivery, or is it simply a heap of unstructured information?
Available content inversely is related to the cost of development. In addition, be ready for assistance if the content is not ready.
To leave your outsourcing partner alone in the absence of available content could prove disastrous for the quality of e-learning that can be produced.
Remember to review the vendor’s proposed budget regarding the kind of support for which you are requested and the kind of content that is available.
Test the Quality of Solution Proposed Against Your Objectives
The best learning solution is one that solves your problems and meets your objectives. How well the vendor has understood your vision is critical for getting that will work. Check thoroughly.
It is in this context that you have to ensure jargons don’t get better of you. When a vendor talks about Level 1, 2 and 3 of content, you should try to pinpoint the look, feel, depth and style of each type of content.
Typically, most customers misinterpret these as the level of “jazz” in each type of content, and that is what vendors ultimately, very conveniently could sell.
Rather, you should focus on the content’s ability to push learners to delve deep into their existing knowledge and make decisions as they learn.
The appropriate level of interactivity can be built in without too much jazz. Designers on the vendor’s side, however, will have to do a lot of legwork to crystallize content into case studies, role-plays etc. to achieve the desired result.
Remember the amount and kind of media have a major impact on the cost, as well. If the kind of learning need you have doesn’t require media-intensive solution, don’t let vendors do it that way.
Understand Where the Effort is Going
Content generation for e-learning involves effort spent on four areas. As outsourcers, you must try and understand what exactly a vendor is doing in these four phases.
Discovery really is an analysis of training objectives and available content. Here, you find the objective of the training can be in regard to information dissemination, awareness and decision making. There could be intermittent stages, as well, within each of these levels. A good estimation should take into account exactly what it would take to mold the available content into the objectives desired by the training.
Design really is the heart of the solution vendors propose. Understand the details of the design phase and how they relate to effort and cost. For example, the estimation of design work would be significantly affected by the support vendors have from clients — in terms of content, as well as domain expertise.
If you are supporting vendors with content, subject-matter expertise and reviews at each stage, cost structure will be different than when vendors are doing it all by themselves.
Understand that development is a relatively easy nut to crack and not a very effort-intensive activity, given the available tools and technology. Make sure you get a hold of the tools being used and what kind of efficiency they would accrue.
Integration typically is hosting learning content on an LMS. Again, understand that if you have asked vendors to produce industry-compliant content, you will not have difficulty in these types of integration. It might lead to additional cost later if you don’t.
It is critical for outsourcers to understand these aspects for the entire experience of outsourcing e-learning to be without tears, fears and surprises.
S.M. Nafay Kumail is assistant vice president of the Content Solutions group at Genpact and co-author of “e-Learning: An Expression of Knowledge Economy.” Anupma Bakshi is an e-learning solution architect with the Content Solutions group at Genpact. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.