The disruptions we experienced in 2020 reinforced the critical role that L&D plays in equipping and enabling the workforce to meet current and emerging business needs. As organizations redefine their talent development strategies, many are looking to outsource custom learning development to accelerate and enhance their offerings.
With the abundance of training and content development providers available, the search can be daunting. So, how do you find the right learning partner? Depending on your needs and goals, the specific capabilities you seek will vary, but there are a few essential criteria to look for that can serve as benchmarks during your selection process.
Criteria 1: Industry Visibility
When researching potential providers, assess their visibility and longevity across the industry. Reputable, best-in-class providers will have established track records with notable clients that demonstrate they have been successful partners for an extended length of time. Endurance in the business of custom learning development is a key indicator that a provider is agile, innovative, responsive and able to consistently exceed client expectations.
Review their website, marketing collateral and social media posts to get a sense of who they are—their culture, what they value and how they contribute to the L&D community. Do they share expertise via thought-leadership, publishing, webinars, blogs, etc.? You can get a very accurate indication of an organization’s commitment to supporting L&D by evaluating their response during COVID-19. Ask potential providers to share how they supported the learning community and their clients during the lockdown and shift to distributed workforces. Did they provide any content, training or free resources to help them navigate?
Client testimonials and industry recognition and awards that distinguish a provider’s products and services are reliable indicators of a responsive, dedicated partner. Review potential providers’ client lists and ask for referrals and endorsements.
Industry Visibility Checklist
- Longevity/track record
- Industry recognition and/or awards
- Strength of clients and geographic reach
- Contribution to L&D industry/thought-leadership
- Client testimonials and referrals
Criteria 2: Expertise
In this category, the information you are looking for should answer the question, “What can they do?” The focus here is on learning as much as you can about the depth and breadth of their expertise with custom projects of various scopes and deliverables. Every custom project is unique but an experienced provider should be able to provide an overview of capabilities, demos and examples that demonstrate their expertise in designing and developing custom blended-learning solutions. At a minimum, they should be skilled using adult-learning design practices and emerging technologies to develop in the core modalities—instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training, e-learning, microlearning and gamification–-that can be consumed on the learner’s preferred device.
Custom development is about creating meaningful, actionable learning so your provider should have extensive experience working within your specific industry and with global learners, from the front line to the C-suite. By applying this transferable knowledge and expertise, design teams can work with you to create immersive role- and industry-specific case studies, simulations and application activities that are relevant and relatable to your learners.
When a large-scale ILT initiative will require facilitation support, look for a provider with an internal network of expert facilitators. Ideally, you would expect to see a robust team of facilitators with extensive certifications, subject-matter expertise and master-level skill in training virtual synchronous sessions across global audiences.
As the need for accessible and more inclusive learning continues to increase, it’s also important to work with a provider that has the capability to design for Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance.
- Industry experience
- Learner audiences
- Facilitator network
- Design for 508 compliance/WCAG
Criteria 3: Approach
This criterion targets the information you need to know to assess “how the work gets done.” This includes how they work internally (their design process, project team members, project flow, etc.) as well as how you would work together. The right provider should be able to describe a collaborative design and development approach, including when and how your SMEs and stakeholders engage in the process.
An essential first step toward a successful solution is an understanding of the business needs that are driving the request for custom training. During discussions with a potential supplier, they should ask questions about your training needs, goals and learners. If a supplier does not ask discovery questions or they propose a solution before gaining alignment, it’s a red flag.
Depending on the custom deliverables, you should expect a dedicated team of specialists that would be engaged in the project throughout each phase. In addition to a project manager, the team could include a combination of performance consultants, instructional designers, graphic designers, media producers, script writers, e-learning developers and quality assurance/copy editors.
The most successful custom learning providers prioritize collaboration and responsiveness and have experience partnering with cross-functional SMEs and stakeholders in marketing, sales, training, HR as well as external vendors. Additionally, effective partners don’t see sustainment as an “add-on” but as an essential element of learning and behavior change. Be sure to ask potential providers how they build sustainment and reinforcement into solutions to ensure that learning is a journey and not an “event.”
- Design process
- Needs assessment
- Project team
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Sustainment strategy
Considering the investment in time, money, resources and the critical need for a custom solution to achieve targeted outcomes, choosing the right provider is a big decision. We hope the criteria checklists prove to be a helpful resource during your search for the perfect custom learning partner.