Cheri Thompson

Article Summary:

What you need to consider when you choose an eLearning Custom Development Company.

Evaluating eLearning Custom Development Companies

Most people are shocked when they learn the cost for customizing eLearning content. According to a recent survey of buyers and sellers of custom content, investments can range from $14K per finished hour (for no frills) to $100K per finished hour (simulation)¹. Why so much you ask? There may be many reasons, but the bottom dollar is vastly contributed to one word.... Customization. Essentially, the only use for this development is within your organization. It is not reusable or resellable and has no value to others.

So why not go with the standard development from products that might already exist? This might be the answer for you; however, consider if this is the best solution for your end user? Often, those who invest the dollars for customization have proprietary or legacy applications for which there is nothing pre-existing or they've tried standard eLearning and their users avoided it like the plague. Unfortunately, because of the latter, eLearning has often been given a bad reputation.

With the marketplace full of standard and custom eLearning developers, you are in a prime position to acquire the best development for your investment. Below we're providing key factors you should look for when evaluating custom eLearning providers:

Thorough Needs Analysis
While I'm certain you know your organization better than any outsider, we generally bring a fresh perspective, an unbiased approach, and the wealth of our experience (and lessons learned) from similar implementations. Even if your organization has already completed the Needs Analysis, the prospective developer should validate this information.

A Strong Instructional Design Process
Once users get over the bells and whistles, will they walk away with the needed instruction? While animations and simulations make for good interactions, nothing compensates for solid instructional design. Determine the design methodology the developer follows (i.e. ADDIE, Bloom's, etc). Ask about the latest book or article they've read on the subject.

Solid Project Management Skills
Request a project plan, determine if your requirements can be met in the alloted timeframe, and make sure they work the plan. I can't recount the number of instances where the project plan wasn't maintained. A good framework was laid out, but in the marathon race to meet deadlines, the plan was often neglected. Two recommendations: Insist upon a dedicated project manager to oversee the entire project and develop a risk contingency plan. The project manager should not also have to develop, and the contingency plan should outline the course of action for those uncommon occurrences that could impact deadlines or cause project delay.

Documented ROI
Your organization is making an important investment and you should be shown the expected return on your investment, which could be over a multi-year period. Primarily, this should tabulate an itemized listing of upfront and recurring costs.

Experience and Satisfied Clients
In this area, you really do want the "been there and done that" folks. You can probably find someone in house to provide "page-turners", but keeping users engaged while learning can be more challenging. Find out how this was accomplished with previous clients, and if not, determine why not.

Request Sample Pages of Your Content
Most of us have well-developed portfolios; however, determine what the provider can do with your content? You'll lose some prospects with this request because to develop a few pages of sample content could take up to 8 hours or more. Those who are willing to invest the time and effort and provide the goods on time should move to the next stage of evaluation.

Test Plan
Look over the providers test plan. How will testing be conducted? By whom? Hopefully, not the same authors who developed. After internal testing at our site, we recommend a small test group from the user community (user acceptance testing) prior to rollout to the general population. The focus here is less on content and more on validating links, connectivity and expected outcomes. If the project is too large and time consuming for the group to go through each page, dedicate a few people to different sections, but make sure each page is reviewed.

Post Implementation Strategy
After the successful implementation, who is responsible for maintaining the content? The provider or your staff? Most providers have a strategy for ongoing support, but make sure it meets your needs. Thirty days may not be enough time for an adequate number users to have completed the training. Did you request knowledge transfer to your staff? If so, make sure this is done. And finally, in the provider's close out report, there should be a section for lessons learned, because regardless of how many times they've done this before, your organization is different and there will be lessons learned.

Cheri Thompson is President of eTrainers.org, an Education, Training and Coaching firm. eTrainers.org has been customizing learning solutions for individuals, schools, corporations and government agencies for over 15 years. We specialize in designing creative solutions that are economical, interactive and engaging. Visit us online at http://eTrainers.org

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