The Dilemma of L&D: Buy or Build?

In 2020, decisions for L&D leaders were less about buying or building and more about temporary solutions based on the critical need for training continuity.

Now as we shift away from crisis management and focus on the current and emerging trends, we see that L&D budgets are expected to grow and an urgency toward closing skill gaps with reskilling and upskilling initiatives. The LinkedIn Learning 2021 Workplace Report validated that in the new normal, skills that leaders need to effectively manage dispersed and hybrid teams require a heightened commitment to developing soft skills like leadership, Emotional Intelligence, creativity and communication.

When an inventory of training assets reveals gaps that need to be filled, L&D leaders are tasked with filling those gaps which, ultimately, leads to the question of how: Buy or build?

Should L&D Leaders Buy Or Build Curriculum?

When training needs have been identified, you have options to choose from to determine how to provide the solutions to your learners. Although the decision of whether to partner with a provider is a big one with high stakes, the typical fork in the road when looking at a build or buy solution doesn’t need to be complicated. It comes down to evaluating the needs of the project against your internal capabilities. Here are four factors you can assess individually, and then consider collectively, to get you started.

Content Expertise

Depending on the topic, your need for content and subject matter experts (SMEs) will vary, but a successful learning program is anchored in the right combination of both. If the subject matter is specific to your organization and you have access to internal SMEs that can support the project, it’s likely that internal SMEs are going to be the primary drivers. If the content you need is related to a specialized area of knowledge or requires professional certifications, partnering with an external provider can bridge that gap.

Key Question to Consider:

  • Are there internal SME’s that are qualified to provide the required source content and guidance for the project?

Design Expertise

It takes a village to create personalized, meaningful and engaging learning, and the skills and expertise within L&D teams will be different in every organization. Generally, the roles involved in learning design and development would include instructional designers (ISD), e-learning developers, graphic designers, media producers, script writers and quality assurance/copy editors. To determine whether you can build internally or if you might want to partner with a provider, start by assessing the capabilities of your team for the specific offering. For example, you might have a team member with deep skill in instructional design and storyboarding, but they lack experience with e-learning authoring tools. In that case, working with an external partner to outsource the module development phase supports your team and the final deliverable.

Key Questions to Consider:

  • What design and/or development skills are required for this deliverable?
  • Which internal team members have the necessary expertise?

Delivery Expertise

The roles of the facilitator (and producer) in a virtual classroom format are paramount to delivering a successful virtual learning experience. In addition to learning how to manage the technology side of the platform, the techniques for engaging learners in a virtual setting are unique to the modality. Internal facilitators that have experience in the traditional face-to-face (F2F) classroom setting will need to learn and master a new set of skills. Working with a partner that can provide virtual facilitation support (or train your internal facilitators to facilitate virtually) can help ensure consistent program delivery and successful outcomes.

Key Question to Consider:

  • Are there internal facilitators who have the expertise to deliver virtually?


Deciding whether your internal team has the capacity to build a solution is a function of urgency, timing and resources. Your team might be experts in the content and perfectly capable of doing the work, but they have other priorities. Many of our clients’ internal L&D teams are focused on providing the technical or role-specific training that supports the critical needs of their business. In other words, the must-have skills and knowledge that enable employees to perform their job safely and successfully. In scenarios like this, it can be more cost-effective and productive to outsource development of training that is outside the scope of internal specialization, but also a priority.

Key Question to Consider:

  • Are there internal team members who have the capacity to support this deliverable?

Application Challenge:

  1. Think about a program or offering you need to provide to your learners.
  2. Use the following checklist to assess your internal capabilities and consider your options.


                                         Capability Checklist

Do You Have Internal …? Yes No N/A
Content Expertise/SMEs
Design Expertise
Delivery Expertise
Build Internally
Partner with a Provider