Working with a Learning and Development vendor – What to expect

So, you just decided to outsource some of your learning services. Now, how can you go about finding a learning partner that will help you in a way YOU need it? What is it like to be working with a Learning and Development vendor?

The answer depends on what problem you aim to solve by engaging a learning ‘vendor’. For example, do you need to fill a short demand surge for time-consuming audit work such as combing through course source files, on the lookout for Flash files that will no longer work at the end of 2020?

Or, are you in need of a learning and development specialist with the in-house capability to support a roll-out of a performance support strategy? Such a project could encompass the design and development of learning solutions with video-production, animation, all project-managed and blended seamlessly into your organisation over a longer timeframe.

What is the desired level of effort you are willing to put into the relationship with said learning provider? Are you comfortable briefing vendors on every detail of your requirements, such as the branding and eLearning guidelines or the accessibility you need for each project, or do you prefer to have a counterpart who can think ‘with you’ and ‘just knows’ and confirms with you as required?

As you can see, finding a learning provider who fits your organisation is not as straightforward as typing a question into Google and expecting the silver bullet to drop out – especially if you’re seeking a long-term strategic partner you can trust with internal network access. Over the years, our clients have shared their stories with us about their complicated journey in finding a learning organisation with whom they are comfortable to form a long-term relationship. A few key points have crystallised out of those conversations, and we’d like to share with you what we have learnt:

There seem to be two distinct kinds of learning providers; let’s call them the ‘Vendor’ and the ‘Partner’, and each is characterised by what it is like to do business with them.

The ‘Vendor’

When you are working with what we would call a ‘vendor’, your working relationship will feel like ‘us’ and ‘them’. There will be many questions about your organisation or your past learning programs to go through before you can pick up some steam with a project – such as reporting requirements, branding, digital guidelines, business culture, operational pain points, etc.

Working with a Learning and Development ‘vendor’ – You will need to check a lot, and every time

Engagements with your vendor are transactional. You will brief every project in exact specification detail according to what you want to do and how you need it back for your systems and stakeholders, e.g. the expectations on accessibility, platform compatibility, tone of voice, audience personas, and even the version of SCORM.

During the project, you will need to be involved in checking every detail and ensuring every deliverable is achieved on time and to the expected quality. If you have a more significant project, you are likely to go through administrative delays. A small content variation, timeline change, couple of added screens may be leveraged as contract variations to recoup the vendor’s margin following underquoting in order to win a project to keep their staff employed.

Now, let’s see what working with a strategic ‘learning partner’ entails. It is not a secret that this is Liberate Learning’s preferred way to work with our clients, it is how Liberate Learning was born:

The ‘Learning Partner’

In this kind of working relationship, you will be in it for a longer-term, and knowing that your vendor partner understands your business, you have more reliable support that does not feel like coming from ‘the outside’. They have your long-term needs at the front of their mind and are deeply entrenched with your organisation’s tacit knowledge and way of operating – formed over numerous years.

The learning partner’s project managers have YOUR best interest at heart and can support you, and sometimes constructively challenge you, to find a perfect solution in your problem context. They can validate your team’s initial answer, add value, and refine it. You can trust that they know what questions to ask and what needs to be done, without bombarding your stakeholders with ‘tick the box questionnaire’ enquiries. The end stakeholders and subject matter experts should not be able to determine who is employed by the partner and who is employed by the organisation. The partner will, however, also be confident to gently push back on requests that are not practical or not recommended industry best practice, and recommend alternative solutions. The learning partner isn’t focused on short term wins and understands a successful project is going to be measured in months and years to come, not days or weeks.

Your strategic learning partner will take pride in their work with you, and are willing to put their name against it because they value their brand as much as yours. The partner will offer unwavering warranty and support without any hesitation and follow up with you down the track to see how the solution is performing against its initial intended impact.

What are you looking for in an eLearning provider?

What do you value in working with learning and development vendors, and what do you value in working with your strategic partners? Please leave us your comments below, or find us here.