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Loose in the China Shop

Rethinking the Business of Learning

3 Things Your eLearning Vendor Won’t Tell You

Posted by Nathan Pienkowski, Ph.D. on March 19, 2015 at 9:26 AM

HiReseLearning vendors want to please. That can be a great thing for you, the client, in many respects. It can mean a sincere dedication to meeting your needs and making you happy. But it also comes with a downside: Vendors may not be willing to give you the real news or the hard news when it comes up.

This can cause real problems for you both down the road.

Running into complications and challenges during an eLearning project isn’t unusual, given the inherent complexity of eLearning. However, certain challenges have the potential to be so disruptive that they’ll push a project off its timeline or over its budget – or both. In those cases, you’re better off knowing about the challenges, so you can resolve them.

The trouble is, most vendors will be so focused on pleasing the client that they won’t want to deliver news about the challenges they’re facing. To be fair, vendors may not even recognize which problems are threatening to a project’s success. Some project challenges may appear to be trivial – that is, until much later in the process.

That’s why it’s important for you, the client, to proactively identify and probe around these challenges – and avoid risks before they jeopardize your project.

Here’s what your eLearning vendor may not be telling you:

“You’re not ready.”

One of the most common mistakes that organizations make is starting a training project before they’re ready.

Here’s what it looks like when you start too soon: During the initial discovery phase, before very many (or any) interim deliverables have been created, you see a lot of work happening from the vendor with involvement from your SMEs and stakeholders, yet you’re not making much, if any, progress. More and more interviews are scheduled and more and more meetings are called to get people aligned. You see hard work from the vendor, yet little progress.

If that’s how things look, chances are that the organization itself hasn’t completely aligned around the outcomes and performance objectives of the training.

How can you avoid discovering that you’ve starting too soon? In a previous post, we talked about answering four key questions before you kick off a project. Here they are again:

1.  What specific outcome does your organization hope to achieve?
2.  What workplace behaviors will be needed to achieve that outcome?
3.  Where are the biggest gaps?
4.  What skills or knowledge must a person have in order to become a master performer?

"We're in over our heads."

Finding the answers to the four questions above can be really easy. In other cases, determining each one of these items requires significant effort and is either accomplished with internal strategic work or with some form of organizational consulting engagement.

You probably didn’t hire an eLearning vendor to decide exactly where the performance gaps are and how people should behave in certain workplace situations. Yet that’s exactly the position eLearning vendors sometimes land in – and not all training agencies have the experience to perform this sort of consulting (BCL does).

No agency expects to take on a consulting role when hired to create training, and many of them will fail to even recognize when their “training” project has somehow evolved into an “organizational consulting” project.

“We aren’t the experts.”

The average eLearning vendor may be expert at translating content into a form that correlates to how people think and learn. But they likely aren’t experts in whatever topic is being trained. They’ll assume that someone in your organization has the required expertise, unless you’ve hired a vendor who comes with the expertise you need.

When you hire a vendor, you want to keep them as busy as possible from the get-go. To do this, the vendor needs access right away to internal subject matter experts, source documents, or both. Otherwise, they may hit the pause button in order to gather the information and expertise, or while they wait for you to do the gathering.

We’ve witnessed these project challenges time and again, and we’ve learned that the best way of overcoming them is to avoid them in the first place. Pair the advice above with the additional tips found in our free resource, “The Training Executive’s eLearning Playbook” – and avoid the mistakes that can lead to project delays, cost overruns, and other project-threatening complications.

Topics: eLearning Project, eLearning, eLearning Mistakes, eLearning Challenges