According to the 2017/18 Learning Benchmark Report, published by the UK-based learning innovation benchmarking organisation, Towards Maturity, 89% of all organisations use some form of e-learning in their learning and development (L&D) activities.
Once you’ve decided to be among this 89%, you must decide how you’re going to source your e-learning. There are three basic options:
- Design and develop it yourself
- Commission e-learning content that’s tailor-made to your learners’ needs
- Find – and buy – appropriate off-the-shelf (generic) e-learning content
Many L&D professionals acknowledge they have neither the time nor the skills to design and develop their own, high-quality e-learning materials.
If people in your organisation have a highly specific learning need – perhaps something that’s closely related to your organisation’s USP, strongly impacts its competitive edge and/or involves highly sensitive, security-conscious operations, you’ll consider commissioning tailor-made (bespoke) e-learning materials.
Your other option - finding appropriate off-the-shelf (generic) e-learning content – means deciding which producer/ supplier is ‘right’ for you and your learners’ needs.
Finding your perfect match
In choosing a suitable supplier, you can:
- Ask L&D colleagues and competitors; independent e-learning sector analysts (such as Learning Light) - or, indeed, anyone else - who they use and who they’d recommend. It’s sometimes – but not always – a good sign if the producer/ supplier has a long track record in the e-learning sector, along with some published case studies and/or recommendations. Of course, the e-learning sector is now old enough for you to find many producers and their workforces that might appear to be relative newcomers to the sector but, in reality, they’ve a lengthy pedigree – usually under another brand name.
- Research and network at industry events, such as the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition, or eLN
- Research the internet, read case studies, blog articles and so on – just like you’re doing now.
Once you’ve found some potential e-learning partners you’re going to need some criteria against which to evaluate them. Here are ten criteria you could use.
Ten signs they are "The One"
Your e-learning partner should offer:
- Up-to-date, relevant, ‘expert’ learning content that meets your organisation’s – and learners’ - needs.
- E-learning materials that are editable (by you and/ or the supplier) – perhaps to add your organisation’s logo/ brand to the content screens, along with some organisation-specific content. You should also be able to update the learning content to reflect, say, any changes in legislation/ regulations as they happen, and the latest ‘best practice’ advice.
- The same content in various languages, to cater - in these multi-cultural times - for organisations of all sizes and geographical spread that employ culturally diverse workforces. The content should also be ‘politically correct’ and take account of different cultural norms – such as the importance and use of the right hand in Arab/ Islamic cultures; the deference shown to older people in Far Eastern cultures, and so on.
- Materials that cater for a variety of delivery mechanisms – including the use of ‘older technology’ to deliver the learning. For example, the appearance of a course should be recognisable as the same course whether it’s accessed, say, via a laptop or via a mobile phone.
- Usability - that is, ready-to-use materials, requiring no ‘special’ set-up time or enabling software. Usability is one of two key issues for e-learning materials. The other is accessibility. Usability focuses on making software, websites and online applications or services ‘user friendly’. Accessibility focuses on making these things equally easy for everyone to use (see point 6 below).
- Materials that are accessible by all (catering for people of all physical and mental abilities), via a variety of delivery mechanisms. The learning materials should also be able to be accessed confidently by learners with varying degrees of IT skills. This should protect you from any claims that your e-learning materials are discriminatory because their delivery, structure or content prevents certain members of your staff from accessing them.
- Materials that are interactive and engaging and can also adapt to learners’ different learning preferences. This isn’t just about whether different people prefer to learn in different ways but also about the need for learners to adapt their learning style to the delivery medium and their (changing) surroundings while they’re learning.
- A learning management system (LMS) and/or learning content management system (LCMS) to manage the learning content – not least making the learning content available on a ‘24/7’ basis to all learners - as well as monitor and measure its access by learners. Ideally, the producer/ supplier should offer you the choice of hosting or having them host this LMS/ LCMS.
- Appropriate, relevant materials that are of sufficient quality for your purposes (see ‘E-learning: Ten Quality and Suitability Issues’).
- Regular contact and after-sales care and support – to ensure that the supplied e-learning materials continue to meet your organisation’s and its learners’ needs; to sort out any technical issues, and to develop/ refine the e-learning materials as required.
These aren’t the only criteria on which to base your choice of supplier. There may be other – for example, personal - factors involved.
One criterion that isn’t on this list is price. In the real world, price – along with quality and time – is a key factor in any proposed transaction. Price is a key factor where budgets are concerned.
However, learning should be about the most effective and efficient way to give people new knowledge and skills. In a corporate context, the results of any L&D activities carried out successfully should bring a return on investment of many hundred per cent – and that should last over the entire time that the learner remains working for your organisation.
So, it’s far more important to ensure that the eLearning materials you buy are of appropriate quality and are fit-for-purpose than to find the cheapest ones on the market because that’ll have a smaller impact on your budget.