If your company is considering Web-based or computer-based training, you may decide to outsource the development of this training. Choosing an e-learning design firm is a weighty challenge. Make the correct decision and you're a hero. Make the wrong move and it could cost your company big—in time, money, and results.
E-learning projects are often complex and require a lot of analysis and planning. You should answer these two questions before contacting a vendor:
- What kind of training do you need and what format will work best for your employees?
- What does the design firm need to know about your company to design the training?
These tips from e-learning vendors and designers will help you prepare for this project and make the right decisions when selecting a vendor and training format.
What kind of training do your employees need now?
Selecting training before you have assessed needs and appropriate formats is a mistake. You could easily end up with an outstanding training program that is not as effective because it uses the wrong format for its audience.
Before the design team begins work, you must identify the particular training employees need and what format will work best for them.
According to Dan Bartholomew, managing director and practice leader for KPMG Consulting's e-Learning Solutions, you must have a very clear vision of what your company needs to accomplish through e-learning.
"Evaluate and understand your population, then set goals accordingly," he said.
Bartholomew said the goals you set should be used to determine the best way to deliver the training. The training needs of an outside sales force will differ from the needs of other employee groups, for example. For on-the-spot negotiation training for sales reps, a one-hour multi-media training extravaganza—complete with streaming audio and video—won’t be effective, Bartholomew said. Instead, a just in time, 15-minute text-based course would be more effective because the format allows reps to view material on their handhelds while in the field.
What will your employees need to know down the line?
According to James Li, an e-learning designer and CEO of Leading Way, which helps clients integrate learning and knowledge management, this assessment should be done during the internal evaluation.
"The first critical step is to create a vision and a strategy. Ask 'What will e-learning mean in two to three years for my company?'" he said.
He also stressed the importance of knowing your company's technical infrastructure—server and software requirements, hosting policies, etc.
Peder Jacobsen, chief learning officer and co-founder of LogicBay, an enterprise learning company, advocated taking a team approach to the evaluation process, involving representatives from a range of functional areas and levels. Like Cochran and Li, Jacobsen recommended that companies consider looking ahead.
"Develop a strategic blueprint for moving forward, then choose who can help you get there," he said.
Jacobsen also recommended finding a firm that has an enterprise-level vision and can assist with tasks beyond design, such as promotion, marketing, registration, and management.
Assessing your technical capabilities
Figuring out what kinds of training your employees need is as important as determining what types of training formats your network can handle. Li explained the importance of understanding a company’s technical details to the design firm.
"First, perform a technical audit, gathering limitations and requirements regarding server, bandwidth, speed….Look at your hosting plans and abilities, too. Will you have internal or external hosting, or both?" he said.
The content of the training is a key part of the plan. Li said designers need to know whether content already exists or whether you will be developing it along with the e-learning system. It’s also important to know how often the content will change.
"Designers will plan differently for content that changes often than for content that is stable," Li said.
Keep the main goal in mind
The marriage of technology and training offers a number of opportunities, but Bartholomew said businesses need to stay focused on the most important factor: learning.
"Training that is technically superior, but doesn't meet learning objectives is just no good," Bartholomew said. "You might not need every technological bell and whistle, but you have to stay on goal to meet e-learning objectives and increase knowledge."
Have you considered using a design firm as part of an e-learning project? Post a comment to this article. To suggest a topic for another report, please send us an e-mail.