eLearning Outsourcing – How To Select A Vendor?

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In my last post on eLearning Outsourcing, I mentioned the various advantages of eLearning outsourcing. Most people get the benefits part pretty easily however, identifying whom to outsource to is not as easy.  When meeting prospects, I often face this objection – “We have tried outsourcing in the past but have had a real bad experience and (hence) we are not willing to take the risk again“. What they fail to understand is that, in most of the cases, the problem lies much beneath – improper vendor selection. Sometimes they choose a vendor without proper evaluation only to end up having a bad experience – missed deadlines, shoddy output & unprofessional teams. That experience could even turn them off to outsourcing itself, which, though logical, unfortunately is not the best for their own business.

So, how to select a vendor for elearning outsourcing?
I my view, to make an informed decision when selecting a vendor, one should evaluate a potential vendor on four counts – capability, credibility, costs & continuance. Below are my thoughts on each of these.

CAPABILITY
An eLearning development vendor should have eLearning as its core (if not the primary) business. To evaluate capability you should:

  1. Review their website not just from the design but also from the content point of view. Also, check their blog (don’t disqualify if they don’t have one). This will give you some idea on their views and knowledge on eLearning.
  2. Check work samples to evaluate the quality of their output. Samples can provide insights into their expertise in learning design & development. To get a good idea of a vendor’s overall skills, check as many samples as possible – minimum being 10. It is even better to ask for samples from your domain (Pharma, Construction etc.) and of the level / type (scenario based, video based etc.) of solution you are planning.
  3. Ask for profiles of development team members who may work on your project. You would be better off to have employees (as against vendor’s contractors) working on your projects. For a small business you may even want to check profiles of the owners / promoters of the business.
  4. Understand their development processes and see how well would they work with your setup. An eLearning development process should be mature & flexible enough to accommodate the iterative nature of eLearning content development. Beware: Process written in process documents could be very different from that put in practice. Ask the vendor to substantiate the process with documents from some past projects.
  5. Ask how many projects have they delivered and how varied have these projects been. A team that has delivered large number of projects usually has richer experience to contribute to your project and can even handle unexpected situations. Additionally, large number of projects helps in smoothening of development processes by incorporating learning from past experiences.
  6. Understand their working style. Know how they communicate and collaborate with clients on live projects, their office timing, team availability during emergencies, usage of web-based system to help keep track of various projects etc.  (A web-based project tracking system is extremely helpful if you are planning to have multiple projects running simultaneously and / or will have multiple people at your end coordinating with the vendor teams.)
  7. Ask about their LMS & standards competencies. An in-house team of experts on this helps a great deal when integrating courses into new systems. You may like to check the different LMS systems have they integrated courses with and how they test and certify compliance.
  8. Finally, enquire about what all they would NOT DO. For things they don’t do themselves, do they have any partners in place. If yes, what is their capability and credibility?

CREDIBILITY

To evaluate credibility you may want to:

  1. Check how long have they been in business. In today’s economic scenario, especially the last 12-18 months, anyone who has survived 4-5 years should be reasonably stable. You may still want to do a financial review to be absolutely sure that the company is profitable and hence stable.
  2. Speak with some of their long-term customers. This should tell you a lot about how well the vendor manages its customers in the long run and if they have been able to deliver value over that period of time.
  3. Enquire if the vendor is willing to do a small, free/discounted ‘proof of concept’ project for you. It does require some efforts from your end, but, more importantly, it helps in eliminating the wrong vendors who might be looking alright otherwise.
  4. See if the vendor has won any awards or any other recognition. Not all awards are the same, but winning some recognition always adds to the credibility.

COSTS

It is obvious you seek cost advantages when considering outsourcing. However, ‘cheaper the better’ is not always the best philosophy. Ultimately, your solutions need to deliver on their promise. What you need to be looking for is the cost to quality ratio. While evaluating past samples ask for actual costs of those samples too. Most often you would be told of costs in units of ‘dollar per learning hour’. You would need to bring down the parameters to be able to compare apples with apples. Even better way would be to provide scope of work and point to a reference output and ask the competing vendors to quote on that basis.

CONTINUANCE
While you select one or two vendors based on above criteria, you may want to ensure longer term association with a good vendor. There is cost and risk involved in switching a vendor and it is best if avoided. Hence, as a final safeguard you may want to:

  1. Check if the vendor can grow (in volume of work) if you wish to increase business with them.
  2. Ask how they keep up with latest trends in their domain. Ideally you should be looking out for some signs of continuous improvement or innovation setup within the company. After all, they need to help you with cutting-edge solutions in future too.

Hope these points help you select the best vendor for you needs. If you would like to add some more tips on this topic, we would love to hear from you.

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