Whether it’s painting your living room, or fixing that running toilet (don’t forget to jiggle the handle), there’s always a decision whether to do it yourself or hire a pro to do it for you. You have this same decision to make if you want to build eLearning. Now, considering that we’re a training vendor, you may think, “Obviously, you’re going to say I should outsource eLearning. Right?” Not necessarily.
You see, there’s a lot that goes into creating a great eLearning course. Heck, there’s a lot that goes into it even if it’s crappy. So strategically deciding on your resourcing matters. Before starting ThinkingKap, I was in charge of leading corporate training departments for a couple different companies. At one organization I ran a 35 person training department. At another I was recruited to start up a training department from scratch. In each case, I had to make the same decision you’re looking at – whether to outsource work or do it in-house. So, in this three-part series, we’ll look candidly at the questions you need to answer. I’ll share some of the questions I asked myself back in the day, that may help you make the right decision for your situation.
For part one, we’ll start with evaluating your internal skills.
Is there a business need for eLearning?
“When all you have is a hammer, or if you’re Gallagher, everything looks like a nail.”
As trainers, it’s tempting to feel like everything in the world can be solved with training. NEWS FLASH…not the case. As learning professionals, it’s our responsibility to help identify when training is needed, and when it isn’t. This isn’t an article about the need for Needs Analysis. But I can’t in good conscience write an article about deciding who should create your training, without acknowledging that the answer should sometimes be nobody. Staffing, process improvement, performance support, etc. could all be the need instead of training.
The bottom line: Don’t just be an order-taker. If someone asks for training, understand why. Confirm training is the right solution before undertaking the project.
Do I have access to the core training skills I need in-house?
The core roles that make up a training team are designers and developers. However, these are often difficult skills to assess, since they involve complex tasks. For example, just because someone knows a particular set of content, it doesn’t mean they know how to translate it into engaging and interactive eLearning.
Content knowledge and “training intuition” can get you on the right path, but there’s more to optimizing the learning process. Creating great eLearning is HARD! Designers need to understand how to translate solid pedagogy into an engaging online delivery.
The same goes for eLearning development. Just because you bought Storyline (or another eLearning tool), it doesn’t mean your team has developed the skills necessary to be good developers. It’s also a reality that not everyone has the aptitude to be a great developer. Recognizing this, if you’re not ready to outsource, there are places to turn for self-improvement. Something like Articulate’s eLearning Heroes is a great example.
At the end of the day, you need strong resources in both instructional design and eLearning development to maximize the impact of your courses. So, when it comes to internal resources, it’s critical to look at your team realistically. They may or may not be equipped to build eLearning internally. Or, they may have the perfect skill balance for some projects, but not for others. If your team is still learning, it may be that outsourcing a project is an opportunity to have your team exposed to or coached on skills they need.
The bottom line: If staffing these roles internally, make sure they are purposeful assignments, not just add-on responsibilities to someone focused elsewhere. Instructional designers need an educational or training & development background, while eLearning developers need technical skills, which ideally would include programming-like capabilities.
Can we perform the ancillary training tasks ourselves?
When considering the “other” training skills available to you, look first at your immediate team. Once you’ve considered them, look to other internal departments from whom you may be able to buy, borrow, or beg for skilled resources. Determining what skills you have in-house is a starting point of whether to build eLearning internally, outsource, or a combination.
Keep in mind that things which may not be in the immediate skill set of your staff, like narration and graphics, can undermine your course if done poorly. On more than one occasion, we’ve had clients who felt they could do the narration themselves. Typically, they’ve come back later and asked us to find them professional voice talent. To be fair, we’ve also been pleasantly surprised in a few cases to find an exceptional voice – you never know. Just keep in mind that amateur voice-over can be painful to listen to. Engaging narration is more than just a good sounding voice.
Similarly, bad graphics can make your course feel like a kindergarten art project. Sight is the most prevalent sense for most people, so quality graphics are key to engagement and buy-in. Not to mention, graphics aren’t there just to look pretty, they should also be supporting your learning in meaningful ways.
You may also potentially need specialized tasks like videography, motion graphics, 3D animations, etc. Some clients have access to an in-house marketing group or production team, but training may not be their forte or a priority in scheduling.
The bottom line: Make sure you take into account skills, capacity, and priority. If you have skills internally and can ensure your project will be sufficiently prioritized, go for it. If someone has skills, but the resource comes from a department that will not prioritize your deadlines, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Do the skills of my team align with organizational expectations?
Often the answer to this question comes down to creating quick, down-and-dirty training material versus professional, polished training material. While different company cultures have different expectations and tolerances, it’s not good for your course to have an amateur vibe to it. That lessens its authority. If you’re creating training, you need it to be credible. That said, different organizations expect different amounts of polish. Does your organization expect high production value from their materials, or is “this is good enough” really good enough? Typically, the more visible a course is, like those created for clients or the C-Suite, the more professional it needs to be. However, urgency and the life-cycle of the content can certainly lessen expectations.
Obviously you want your organization to look at your courses and say “wow, that was really great!” But what that means is different for every company. Plus, garnering company-wide acclaim and staying within budget are not always in perfect alignment. “How good is good enough?” and “is maintaining this production level in our courses sustainable?” are ongoing questions. You don’t want to blow all your budget knocking one course out of the park, only to set up following courses for failure.
The bottom line: Determine the production level needed to meet / exceed your company’s expectations. Then determine if achieving that is realistic with your resources. Make sure your planning includes achieving this level on all upcoming courses, not just the first one. Nothing kills your momentum more than setting a high bar and then failing to meet it the next time out.
Do we have the skills to build eLearning internally?
Obviously assessing whether the skills exist within your organization is the first set of questions you need to answer before deciding about outsourcing. That said, there are still a lot of other considerations. In part two of this article, we’ll look at whether the right strategy for you is to build eLearning internally. This will dive into questions surrounding capacity, head count, and whether focusing on training would interfere with your primary business priorities. After that, part three will look at considerations for finding an eLearning partner (if you decide to outsource) that best fits your organization.