As you’re probably aware, all the cool kids are using eLearning for their training needs these days. While ILT is still viable for certain situations (and will be for the foreseeable future), eLearning has too many benefits to be ignored. So, if you’ve decided your company should use eLearning, now it’s time to determine how you’ll create it. This three-part series will help you ask the right questions about building eLearning internally vs. outsourcing.
Last time, we looked at assessing whether you had the skills to build eLearning internally. So, if you made it through the last article and determined you do have the skills internally, now you need to decide whether it’s smart to use them. As is sometimes the case, just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Distinct from whether you have the requisite skills, is whether building eLearning internally makes business sense. We’re huge proponents of empowering people, including when it comes to their training, but it needs to make sense within the context of their business. So here are some questions you need to ask yourself to determine if building eLearning internally is a smart business decision for you.
Can I justify adding head count to fill skill gaps in my team?
The more training you create, the more skills you require, and the more head count it takes to build that team. Conversely, the volume and quality of training they create determines if you’re justifying the expense.
Not long ago, we worked on a project which focused on refreshing ILT materials. This included updating classroom assets to be more modern and polished, and doing an instructional design analysis of the content. Part-way through the project, a new manager came onto the client’s team and noted she could have hired a full-time person to do the “edits” for what she was paying us. This was a huge project, so that’s a fair observation, but also consider this…
ThinkingKap was providing multiple IDs and a graphic artist. The designers were providing editorial support, instructional design support, and production support. The graphic designer was creating an entirely new look-and-feel, with lots of custom graphics. That’s at least 3-4 roles for the cost of 1 head count. And, when the project was over, months sooner than a single employee could have completed it, the costs stopped.
If you have open head count, and can fill skill gaps with qualified talent, definitely do it. Just be realistic when creating job description(s). It’s not easy to find one candidate to be a one-person training department, with all the skills on your wish list. You may want to refer to our blog, How to Assemble the Perfect eLearning Team, to see the roles involved in creating courses.
The bottom line: Weigh the cost-benefit of staffing a team vs. contracting a team only when you need it. If you have budget to employ the diverse skills needed AND you’ll have enough ongoing demand to minimize downtime, internal makes sense. If you don’t have budget for all the right skills, or if training projects are intermittent, outsourcing makes more sense.
We don’t have dedicated training staff, can we succeed if training will be everyone’s secondary work responsibility?
This can be tough, but it can still work. I would argue that there needs to be at least ONE person who’s primary function (or at least one of their primary functions) is training related. This could be a manager or some other coordinator. But at the end of the day, someone needs to advocate for training. If not, it will never be anyone’s top priority (yet people will still lay blame for it not getting done).
The main thing you need to focus on here is how reliably can you count on training tasks being completed expediently? As we’ll see later in this article, it takes a lot of hours to create eLearning. If nobody is dedicated to creating training, can you ensure all those hours will be accommodated within the time-frame your “client” requires?
This is much easier if the time is coming off people you manage. You set their priorities, and you assign their work tasks. If you are relying on a bunch of people that you only have dotted-line responsibility for, this can be much tougher. At a minimum, make sure their managers are sufficiently bought into their roles as part of the training team.
The bottom line: Even without a dedicated training team, this can still work. HOWEVER, it’s critical that the willingness to set aside training development hours matches the need and the demand. If certain stakeholders view training creation as crucial, but you don’t have enough authority to ensure completing courses on time, you’re setting up for sure disaster.
How much eLearning will be needed?
I have to give it up here. I love, love, love churros, and an electric churro maker sounds amazing! BUT, I need to ask myself, “How many churros can I possibly eat, and do I really need a special machine to help me make them?” The same goes for creating eLearning.
As we said above, one of the main criteria for staffing a training team is how much you’ll be building eLearning internally. If you’re going to be consistently creating training going forward, it makes a ton of sense to employ those resources internally. But remember, head count is a fixed cost. So if people don’t have training courses to work on, what will they have to do? Just like the churro maker, if your team is effectively collecting dust waiting for the next training project, you are not spending your budget wisely.
The bottom line: Do you have the demand to support a dedicated team? If not, maybe contracting out projects to gain organizational interest is a way to build demand. As demand increases, you can plan a strategy to transition projects back in-house. Plus, if you document and learn how the “experts” handled your project, you’ll have a process model to follow going forward.
Will focusing on eLearning compromise our primary organizational objectives?
Unless you’re a “training company” or a dedicated training department, you have non-training tasks as your primary responsibility. (What?!? The world doesn’t revolve around training-related considerations? Blasphemy!) Keep in mind the opportunity cost of splitting your focus. Do you have people in your department that could add training tasks to their plate? Maybe. Do they have the skills or background to be good at aspects of creating training? Maybe. Will shifting their focus from primary business responsibilities to training tasks negatively impact their main responsibility? Also maybe.
There’s an opportunity cost to pulling people away from their main job functions. Arguably they’re more efficient and productive doing what they were hired to do. Even if they CAN create training courses, SHOULD they? How naturally do the training tasks align with their primary tasks? How often will they get pulled away? Are these employees critical to the overall process their primary function serves? Will their decreased output create a bottleneck, or can others pick up the slack?
The bottom line: Don’t compromise your primary work functions to take on a secondary responsibility. If creating training can fit into the flow without too much disruption, go for it. But if focusing on training makes your team less good at what they’re actually good at, think about finding other ways to source that work.
How long does it actually take to create eLearning?
The amount of time it takes to create eLearning is important for several reasons. Obviously, this impacts how long training requests take to be fulfilled. But it also impacts your budget (the cost of employee time) as well as whether you have the capacity to handle the demand.
Asking how long it takes to build eLearning is sort of like asking how long it takes to build a house. It depends. For the sake of this article, let’s use a commonly referenced presentation from Chapman Alliance. While there are many “levels” of training course you could create, let’s use what they term Level 2 eLearning.
As you can see by their calculation, it takes 184 work hours to create a single hour of eLearning. This is not a universal truth, but depending on the “level” of course, it’s not far off. That said, if you end up building eLearning internally, you ultimately need to create your own estimates based on your specific staff, their skills, their relative work pace, etc. For example, at ThinkingKap we’ve developed our own “calculator” that helps us create estimates for various levels of course. You should eventually do the same.
So, how long (calendar time) will it take to complete 184 hours of work? This depends on your process, how many people you assign, what percentage of their time is spent training, etc. Some of these tasks can take place in parallel. Some are prerequisite to other tasks. You can refer to our process for how we organize a project, but you’ll need to determine what works best for your situation.
The bottom line: Don’t get hung up on the specific numbers mentioned in this section. Courses of different levels and teams of different skills will take different amounts of time. But if you’re more familiar with ILT development times, then this is your wake up call. While the long-term cost for eLearning is lower than ILT, the initial creation is taxing. Make sure you account for this when assuming your team can handle it on top of their regular responsibilities.
Does our team have the capacity to handle the projected ongoing demand for eLearning?
Now that you have a general idea how long eLearning can take, do you have the capacity to meet training demands? Let’s again refer to the Chapman information to discuss this.
When determining capacity, consider the following:
- The number of training hours your team needs to create
- How many people are on your team (or available from other internal resources)
- The number of hours allocated per person to work on training projects
As you look at the tasks in the image above, several of the tasks could be performed by various people. And as we mentioned earlier, some tasks can happen in parallel. However, the 2 most important tasks, which can also represent the biggest bottlenecks, are instructional design (highlighted in green) and eLearning development (highlighted in red). These are ultimately what you’ll need to base your project planning around.
The reality is that with all the moving pieces (design, development, reviews, etc.) completing 1 hour of eLearning is typically measured in months, not days or weeks. Much of this time can be waiting for clients to sign off, but that’s a real obstacle in almost every project.
A tricky thing that comes up is the need for quick turn-around projects. The challenge is finding a way to crash the timeline. Sometimes it means that you’ll need to chunk certain tasks. This allows you to conduct portions of them in parallel to meet the deadlines. For example, one person on the team starts working on the initial design document and working with the content experts (the first 2 columns in the green highlight above). Once one module has a high-level design, it’s passed off to another member of the team to start storyboarding, while the first team member continues the design work on the next module. But what if something changes that causes a ripple, or something gets stalled in the design work? And do you have enough qualified resources to put multiple people on each task?
The bottom line: Optimizing your resources is the greatest challenge with in-house training. The struggle to balance activity with availability is real. Having enough staff for the “just in case” is likely too much overhead. This can be a situation where, even if you plan to create eLearning in-house, teaming with an outsource partner can be powerful. Whether the external partner takes a part of the process where you don’t have internal skills, or if they just handle overflow when times are busy, this can be a great option.
Does building eLearning internally support our business goals?
Part 1 of this series was about assessing existing skills in your organization. This week, part 2 helped you determine if building eLearning internally synced up with your business goals. If you think you have the skills and creating training won’t detract from your primary efforts, that’s great. When the circumstances are right, this will always be the direction we’d recommend. However, that doesn’t mean DIY is the right path for everyone. If you’ve determined that outsourcing makes more sense, then part 3 of this series is for you. Next time we’ll dive into the different types of outsource partners, and how to select the right partner for your needs.