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Top 5 Challenges of eLearning Outsourcing and How to Avoid Them

Access to experienced eLearning professionals, as needed, is a major benefit of outsourcing your eLearning development.  But as with all types of outsourcing, it’s important to understand the potential risks and challenges of working with an external team.  With the right knowledge, you can implement strategies to avoid pitfalls and get the most out of your eLearning collaboration.  In this article, we’ll look at 5 potential challenges of outsourcing your eLearning development, and how to sidestep them entirely.

1. Problems with Project Management Control

Clearly defined project management responsibilities and communication guidelines are critical to the success of an outsourced eLearning project.  Outsourcing means that the eLearning provider takes over a large part of the project management.  However, they should still facilitate oversight of their processes and progress.   Your eLearning provider should include review meetings in the project schedule and deliver regular progress reports.  Review meetings give you input into the early stage development, ensuring the final product meets expectations.  Regular progress reports allow you to quickly identify any impacts to the project schedule and communicate these to appropriate stakeholders.

It’s also important to clarify who is responsible for managing internal tasks.  This includes things like coordinating input and feedback from SMEs, arranging testing of the final product, and obtaining approvals or sign-offs.  While your eLearning provider might be able to assist with some of these tasks, assigning an internal project manager is usually necessary.  This person can also serve as a single point of contact for the eLearning provider, allowing you to streamline communications and effectively manage decision-making and approvals throughout the project.  It’s essential that these internal tasks are accounted for in the project schedule as well.

2. The Final Product Doesn’t Meet Expectations

One of the major risks of working with an external team is winding up with eLearning that doesn’t meet your requirements.  Maybe it doesn’t reflect your organisational culture, or it fails to address your learning objectives.  To avoid these possibilities, it’s important to establish and maintain clear communication with your eLearning provider.

The project brief and kick-off meeting are opportunities to educate the provider about your organisation and the project requirements.  An effective eLearning project brief would include:

  • Information about your organisation
  • Your business goal or purpose for the eLearning
  • Your learning outcomes
  • Your audience
  • Preferred delivery method
  • Technical specifications
  • Schedule requirements
  • Who to contact for further information

If the eLearning provider is developing a proposal based on the brief, the proposal should be detailed enough for you to ascertain whether they are on the right track or require further guidance.

Once the project is underway, regular review meetings give you the chance to monitor progress and guide development.  Early stage reviews are the best time to flag content or ideas that aren’t meeting the mark, so it’s important to include all internal reviewers in these.  While it can be tempting to wait until you have a working version to show people, it’s much more efficient to make changes to a storyboard.  A wide range of early feedback goes a long way to ensuring the final version meets everyone’s expectations.

3. Potential for Budget Blowout

Managing budget creep can be a significant challenge when outsourcing eLearning development.  Again, clear communication between your organisation and the eLearning provider is key to avoiding this risk.  From the outset, the provider should be upfront about what is and isn’t included in the quote, and together you should agree on a process for communicating potential price variations.

Before engaging the provider, carefully review their terms and conditions.  These should specify the project inclusions and the types of work that would be charged as additions.  Look for things like the number of revisions included at each stage of the project, and the percentage of the project that can be changed at each revision.  If the terms and conditions don’t specify these details, discuss them with the provider before work commences.

It’s also a good idea to clarify how and when potential variations will be communicated.  Ideally, the eLearning provider should agree to notify you when a request would be considered additional work before that work commences.  This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether the additional cost is acceptable and avoid a nasty surprise at the end of the project.

4. You Can’t Update the eLearning In-House

The ability to update eLearning in the event of organisational or procedural change is essential.  Nothing is more frustrating than spending time and money on a sizeable eLearning project, only to have the content superseded within a couple of months.  If your in-house team don’t have the resources or experience to update your eLearning, you’ll need to rely on the eLearning provider to make changes.  In that case, it’s worthwhile discussing potential costs and timeframes prior to starting the project.

The eLearning provider might offer a maintenance or support package that includes a set number of changes or updates over a given period.  For instance, their quote might include two content updates over the first 12 months.  If this service isn’t offered, it might still be possible to obtain indicative pricing and timeframes.  While you can’t know in advance what changes might be required, the eLearning provider should be able to give you rough estimates for things like changing a minute of content, updating text on a single slide, or tweaking deployment setting in your LMS.

5. Unforseen Technical Issues

As with any digital product, there are numerous factors that can impact functionality and deployment. Outsourcing means the development team will be unfamiliar with your organisation’s digital environment. Providing them with right information can reduce the chance of technical issues holding up deployment.  As mentioned, the project brief should contain the technical specifications required for the eLearning resource. This might include:

  • Device types used by learners
  • Physical locations of eLearning access (e.g., office, learner’s home, a third party site)
  • Standard connection speeds at learning sites
  • Internet browser typically used at your organisation
  • Platform eLearning will be deployed from
  • Audio options and capacities

If you have an internal IT department, they should be able to assist you in gathering the necessary information.  It may also be worthwhile putting the eLearning provider in touch with your IT department or LMS vendor to further discuss relevant specifications.

While there are several potential challenges of outsourcing your eLearning development, you needn’t let these deter you.  With the right information and processes, you can easily avoid the pitfalls.   Above all, good communication from your organisation and from your eLearning provider is the key to a successful collaboration.