Top 5 tips for working with eLearning vendors

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What’s a blog without the top 5 tips? I thought it was time to post some.

The below commentary just relates to my experience in buying and selling eLearning. It’s written for people who buy eLearning products or services. Hope it’s a help. Interested in other people’s experiences or additions too!

1. Ask to meet production people

eLearning Business Development Managers (BDMs) are great advocates for learning. They’re generally not your stereotypical ‘carpet sales’ people, that is, they’re selling custom solutions which means they really listen to your needs and don’t just flick through a book of designs (carpets) and ask you to take your pick. However, they are still there to sell you… ‘yes, we can do that, exactly as you want – no, even better in fact’. Meeting the production people of a group you might do business with helps you know who it is you’ll actually be working with i.e. you will not be having a lot to do with the BDM once the sale goes through. Asking production people the harder questions will provide you the kinds of responses and communications you will have with them in future. It also helps the production team know your needs, promises and offers made during the pre-sale process – so it is not lost in translation between a sales and production.


2. Read the project plan

The number of times people don’t really read the detail is disheartening as a vendor, but more importantly, dangerous for a client. If you don’t diarise the review dates of a project and then the timelines slip at your end, the vendor can usually push back in time. It’s in most of our contracts i.e. you’re a day late with your review, and so the vendor has reallocated resourcing to another project, and quite rightly, they can’t simply kick-off again immediately. At The Learning Hook, we’re very flexible when our clients miss dates, but contractually we can push back, and if absolutely necessary, we do. Most clients completely appreciate this need at the time, but they do regret being late when it occurs. Oh, and if you do not get a project plan from a vendor, be concerned. They are either very inexperienced, not deadline driven or perhaps purposefully, don’t want to commit to anything (they may also be so cheap they can’t afford Microsoft Project – project plans in emails are not good enough!).


3. EXPECT advice

Hopefully the vendor you’re working with is someone you trust. Treat it as a partnership and be transparent in your needs so they have the right data to provide you the right advice, and make sure you ask for it. If your project manager mostly just nods and doesn’t question your own suggested approach, be concerned. You may not be getting the value for money you’re entitled to from this learning professional. Not that a vendor should disagree all the time, but this is their area of expertise and mostly, it’s not the client’s. Get them to weigh up the benefits of building with your in-house authoring tool, like Lectora, Captivate or Articulate; ask them their opinion on why SCORM 1.2 may still be a better option than SCORM 2004; get them to confirm why their quote only caters for just one browser, and why that’s adequate for your needs. They should be proactive in offering this type of advice anyway, but prompt them if they don’t, it will be insightful in your relationship with them and prompt better products/learning outcomes.


4. Test all courseware at every review on your LMS

Clients generally take the lead of the vendor in terms of reviewing the online courseware. Make sure you plan with the vendor to test your course on your LMS during the online review cycle NOT just before it goes live. Seems simple enough, but it’s easily overlooked and a lot of vendors prefer their own test sites – providing clients a test log in. They generally do this because it’s simply easier; they’re working back to 1am to get you a deliverable by the project plan date, so at the end of their own tortuous development cycle 😉 they send you a login to their test site. It could also be that it’s hard to create test accounts on your LMS. But it is so much more valuable for them and you to get a SCORM package at that point and put it on your LMS for the initial online review. Why wait until they have made all the review edits and then get the final package to find it doesn’t work… there goes the roll out! (I wouldn’t be concerned with this if you have worked on numerous courses with them for the same LMS.)


5. Give your vendor positive feedback too

eLearning production teams care about what they do. During review cycles, they generally get long lists of edits – from words to images and of course, functionaility. Throwing in some sugar where warranted helps your vendor see what you ‘really like’. The flavours that resonated within your business. This goes a long way in exceeding expectations next time, and also to implement current edits. If you have nothing positive to say – get through the review and don’t work with them again – shop around, there are plenty of great vendors around.

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