Selecting a Custom eLearning Provider
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You are considering outsourcing some of your eLearning development. Since the success of your project largely depends on the relationship you build with your vendor, it’s helpful to meet with several vendors up front to make the best choice. Here are 10 questions you can use to guide your vendor interviews.

1. Does your team have the skills to support a blended learning initiative?

Most large-scale projects require different modality deliverables. Even if your project is not currently a blended effort, it may evolve into one over time. For example, an instructor-led course may be supported by an introductory learning video or an advanced online program for those learners needing more information. An excellent content provider will be able to make recommendations about delivery modality that you haven’t even considered yet.

2. What is included in your deliverables package?

If you’re working with a vendor to develop an online learning solution, will their package include supporting reference materials or redrawn graphics if needed? Can they help you brand the course? Develop a unique look and feel? For instructor-led learning, does your vendor provide both an instructor and participant set of materials? Handouts? Supplies for activities? How about a timing guide or pre-class instructions? Is printing included in the estimate or is it extra?

3. How long will it take and how much will it cost? What is your track record for on-time, on-budget completion?

You’ll want to understand how the vendor estimates the final cost and timeline of the project. Is it based on the length of the web-based training? The complexity? Number of review cycles? If the initial estimate sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Developing effective learning takes time and money. Of course, you need to operate within your budget constraints, but be sure to educate yourself on what commonly causes changes to the estimate.

4. How do you typically engage subject matter experts (SMEs)? How much time should they expect to spend?

Successful learning development depends on an effective collaboration between the subject matter experts and the learning developers. This can be a sore spot for the development team. Be sure your vendor has a great track record working with time-strapped experts, extracting necessary information and getting their feedback in whatever way works best for the SME. You want your learners to be satisfied with the end product, but you also want your own team satisfied with the overall process.

5. Our content isn’t 100% complete. We are still trying to finalize it. What’s the impact of that on the time and cost of the project? How will you proceed?

This is a common circumstance at the start of a project and can be the source of delays and additional cost. Discuss up front the realistic impacts to the project cost and timeline. Discuss the option of bringing in your content provider later in the process. In addition, consider the possibility that the content may not be as complete or as accurate as your experts have indicated. Once development starts, gaps are often identified. It’s beneficial to review the preliminary content with the vendor during the proposal process so that all parties can see its current state and ascertain what will be necessary to develop custom eLearning deliverables.

6. Who owns the files when we are done?

Vendor practices vary widely on this topic. Sometimes vendors treat the content as your intellectual property, but the output is their IP. Be sure you understand if your final deliverables will be shown to or used with other clients. And what are the end of project practices? Will you receive ALL files (including source files) or just a final deliverable bundle?

7. My content is likely to change in the future. Will I have everything I need to maintain the end product?

Related to our last question, if you anticipate later updates or revisions, you’ll need the source files as well as a copy of the development tool used so you can make your own updates. Otherwise you’re dependent on the vendor to make ongoing updates. That option may make the most sense for your project, depending on your team resources and budget.

8. What authoring tool do you use? What would you recommend for my content and why?

As we’ve mentioned, if you intend to maintain the final deliverables yourself after the project launches, you’ll need to acquire a license for the same development tool. Different tools also have different advantages and disadvantages, so you may wish to research them in advance.

9. What is the review process? At least 2 reviews? Who is responsible for quality control? What happens if I find a mistake after publishing?

Be sure to discuss the overall development and review process with the vendor. Confirm that there is time built in the schedule for adequate review and input. If you have multiple reviewers, confirm who is responsible for consolidating various reviews. This is a time-consuming element of the development process.

10. How do we know that whatever you create will work in our infrastructure? Track on our LMS?

Most eLearning development tools create deliverables that are compatible with most LMS systems. However, if you have a unique configuration or your LMS team has tweaked some of the default settings, your custom eLearning content may need to be revised in order to launch or track properly. Discuss the vendor’s LMS testing/launch process and allow more time in the project timeline for this stage of the process than you might anticipate.

Your end goal in using these questions is to find the right vendor for your custom eLearning development project. The first project with a new vendor is a learning process, but collaboration on subsequent projects is often much more efficient, as you establish a process, communication methods, and strategies for review and testing for launch. For more insights on how to maximize your investment in eLearning development, click here.

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