The e-learning market is a pretty crowded place these days.

Whether you are introducing e-learning to your organisation for the first time, or have already dipped your toe in the waters, it's essential to do some research into the pros and cons of different suppliers. Your aim is to find an e-learning partner that suits the needs of your organisation, your learners and your budget!

Asking the right questions can help you decide whether a supplier is going to be right for you. In this blog, we highlight common questions that clients ask the GoodPractice instructional design team. We also share some questions that we like to raise ourselves, as they can make a significant difference to a project’s outcomes.

1. How will we measure the success of the e-learning?

Measuring tape

Ultimately, the aim of e-learning is to improve performance and change behaviour. We encourage and work with our clients to identify realistic, achievable evaluation measures from the outset of each project. A good supplier will look to understand the performance outcomes you are looking to achieve, and to identify the best solution to your performance problem. Some of the questions we like to ask are:

- What does learner behaviour look like at the moment?

- What would success look like?

- What do learners need to do differently after completing the e-learning?

- What is stopping that outcome being achieved already?

- What will happen if this e-learning isn’t provided?

- Are we certain this is a problem that training can solve? E.g. is it perhaps a cultural, environmental or motivational issue instead?

We’d recommend taking a look Cathy Moore's flowchart and video 'Is training really the answer?' to help think things through in a logical way.

When talking through these questions with your supplier, you may come to the conclusion that an e-learning solution isn’t the best fit for the performance improvement or behavioural change you are looking to achieve. In this instance, a good supplier should be flexible enough to recommend a different approach if necessary.

2. How can we prove to the rest of the business that this e-learning is worth the investment?

E-learning can be expensive, but remember that it’s not necessarily an ‘additional cost’. If you’ve identified a genuine training need, what would the cost be if you don’t address it?

Another way to achieve buy-in from the wider business is to reduce the risk associated with a major programme. At GoodPractice, we advocate taking an agile approach to projects by starting with a small group and producing a minimum viable product for them relatively quickly. We also use a mix of qualitative feedback (what the group tell you) and quantitative feedback (the performance results of the group) to help shape the expansion of the programme.

3. How much time and input will I, as the client, need to invest to make this a success?

time"

Regardless of whether you are purchasing off-the-shelf or custom e-learning, there will be a certain level of input needed in order to increase the chances of your e-learning succeeding. With off-the-shelf options, you’ll need to think about how you will launch and promote the new offering, and also how you’ll organise analysis and reporting.

If you are interested in bespoke, customised e-learning, this generally requires more intensive input. A good supplier will want to work closely with you and your internal subject matter experts throughout the design and development process to ensure the content meets the needs of learners and overall performance objectives. At GoodPractice we advocate a collaborative, performance focused process.

4. How can we integrate (or blend) this e-learning with our face-to-face offering?

Many clients are looking for a solution they can effectively blend with existing programmes. Others might be worried that e-learning is going to replace all of their face-to-face training. When we are faced with this questions, we encourage clients to think about e-learning and 'face-to-face' as different solutions to different problems.

For example if a client wants to reach a wide audience quickly with an intervention that learners can use when they need it, then in that case an e-learning solution is probably the best option. If however a client is looking for detailed feedback on behaviours that might prove difficult for a suite of e-learning to interpret, then face-to-face is probably a better option.

For a true blended solution, we encourage clients to consider the entire learner journey. Can you provide digital resources before face-to-face training to make sure that time spent ‘in the room’ is truly effective? What can you provide, after the face-to-face session has ended, to make sure that learners retain their new skills and have support when they need it?

5. What are the minimum technical requirements my organisation needs to have in place for what you are offering?

It’s tempting to embrace the latest tech, but is your organisation equipped to deliver e-learning that is at the cutting edge? Are your computers equipped with sound cards? Do your learners all use the latest internet browsers? Do your IT restrictions prevent videos from playing? Are mobile phones widely used for work?

There are good reasons, both technical and cultural, for having these restrictions in place. But we’ve found that they are often not identified until well into development. You supplier should encourage you to run an audit with your IT department early on to identify the tools you can (and cannot) work with.

And three more tips (because we are generous!)

If you’ve got some good responses to the questions outlined here, you can take the following steps to give you an even greater insight in your potential suppliers capability and experience.

1. Ask to see their work

It goes without saying that you should ask your potential e-learning provider about other clients they’ve produced solutions for, and to share plenty of examples of their work with you. Ask them about the sorts of challenges they’ve helped organisations with, and if they’ve worked with organisations that are similar to yours. Take a good look at the examples they provide. Do they focus on improving performance, or are they simply delivering information that will soon be forgotten?

2. Talk to some of their clients

Ask the supplier to put you in touch with some of their clients who’d be willing to chat to you about their experiences. This is a great way of gathering some additional insight, and expanding your professional network at the same time.

3. Ask for a design mock up

Depending on your decision-making process, you may need buy-in from internal stakeholders. Potential suppliers can help do this by providing a mock up of the design specification or a prototype of the e-learning. Seeing how the e-learning could look can be a powerful tool to garner support.

Have we missed anything?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and musing on this - what questions do you think are important to ask e-learning providers? What questions do you ask? Tweet us @GoodPractice @Stefania_Scott and @RossGarnerGP

Image credits

Measuring success: Flickr user Manitoba Coupon Maven (accessed November 2017). 
Time: Flickr user Evan (accessed November 2017).