Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tips for the New Year Part 1: Outsourcing e-Learning

2009 was a tough year for most of us in Learning & Development. The economy forced us once again to do some belt tightening. It seems that every time we are absolutely sure we can’t possibly do any more with any less, we end up finding a way to do just that. But with the New Year having arrived, there is again reason to be optimistic.

Predictions indicate the economy will regain its strength. This means business leaders will be shifting their priorities from reducing operating expenses onto strategies for developing profitable growth such as driving innovation and renewed customer focus.

Learning & Development and Talent Management departments will be called upon to devise and execute the Human Resource component of these business strategies. But with these departments operating in a “leaner and meaner” mode after 2009, tactical functions such as course development and delivery are more likely to be outsourced or temporarily handled by other members of the workforce. So this week and next, Many Ways to Learn is offering some practical advice on how to approach these situations. This week’s blog entry will cover tips on how to manage an outsourced e-Learning project. Next week’s will address how to conduct a train-the-trainer session for new or occasional trainers.

Outsourcing e-Learning

Whether you are considering outsourcing e-Learning development for the first time or looking to supplement in-house development in order to keep up with demand, here are a few things that I have found to be critical to keeping a project on track:

Assign Internal and External Project Managers – In order to have the project run smoothly, you want to make sure you have a single-point of accountability with your e-Learning vendor. They should assign a “go to” person who will accept your input, answer your questions, address your problems, and provide status updates at regular intervals throughout the project. Alternately, your e-Learning vendor should have a similar “go-to” person inside your company to coordinate internal resources and manage communications on your end. Ideally, this person should be an instructional designer.

Hold a Project Kick-off Meeting – Once you have accepted a proposal and agreed to work with a particular e-Learning vendor, you should hold a project kick-off meeting. The meeting should be attended by all parties who have a role in the launch of the program. On the vendor side, this should include the project manager, script writer, graphic artist, course developer, and technical support person. On the customer side, meeting attendees should include the project manager, subject-matter experts, Learning Management System administrator, technical support person, and any other relevant parties who need to provide input to the vendor.

Agree on an Interface at the Beginning of the Project – The skin or shell in which the e-Learning program will be deployed may not be the first thing on everyone’s mind, but once development work starts, making changes to the interface could cause a chain reaction of changes to other program elements leading to project delays. Some e-Learning vendors will have preferred templates from which you can choose a particular look; others will provide a custom-designed interface. Either way may sure the look is right for your company and your culture before development begins in earnest.

Identify and Distinguish between “Reviewers” and “Approvers” – Once the project gets underway, there will be a series of milestone review points during which your vendor will need to receive approval to move on to the next stage of the project. Typically, approval will be needed for the interface design, overall concept, objectives, script, storyboard, graphics, interactions, narration, and content tests. In my experience, internal reviews with stakeholders and subject-matter experts can often be the cause of project delays. That it is why it is important to clearly identify who must approve each element before moving onto the next phase of the project, versus who are “nice to have” additional reviewers. Don’t lose valuable time waiting for input from someone who is only marginally interested in the outcome of the project.

Schedule and Communicate Your Internal Review Schedule – Expect there to be at least four reviews during the project:
  • Script & Storyboard Review 
  • Graphics/Interactions Review 
  • Narration/Audio Review 
  • Final Review
A good e-Learning vendor will provide a uniform template for collecting comments and feedback which should make this process easy. But it is important that anyone who must provide approvals is aware of the deliverable dates so they can set aside ample time for review.

Plan for Testing and LMS Integration – It is a great feeling when you have proceeded through all your project reviews and your vendor delivers the final files for deployment. However, sometimes modules that have functioned perfectly throughout the development process will act differently when published on your Learning Management System. That is why it is important to involve technical support people in your kick-off and to build steps into your project plan for testing and LMS integration.

Use Written Change Orders If Needed – Sometimes the shared vision of the concept that everyone seemed to have after the kick-off meeting does not always hold its course throughout the project. When that happens, it will necessitate changes that are above and beyond the scope of the original project. Your internal reviewers and approvers need to understand the implications of requesting large-scale changes. In those cases, you should have your e-Learning vendor prepare a written change order informing you of what new work needs to be performed, what additional costs it might involve, and an updated project timeline.

I have found that attending to these items can save a lot of time, money and headaches for all concerned. If you have additional advice to share on outsourcing e-Learning, please add your comments below.


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  2. Thanks. This is very helpful information.