A number of factors impact the decision to develop eLearning in-house or to outsource to a vendor. There are many points along the continuum from in-house to outsourcing.
Even companies with in-house eLearning teams may find advantages to outsourcing some eLearning initiatives, or perhaps even particular portions of eLearning development.
Growing and maintaining an in-house team to design and develop eLearning incurs many costs, including those involved with hiring, training and retaining a team with highly specialized skills. It involves investing in technology, software and other assets to support the team, the selection of which requires expertise in itself. Also consider ramp-up time and costs incurred during the learning/maturing cycle. In many cases, outsourcing may be more cost-effective and result in a better quality end product.
Engaging an eLearning vendor enables you to leverage their expertise and to scale your design and development capacities up or down on short notice. When selecting a vendor, many factors need to be considered in the selection process. Beyond technical expertise and stated costs, consider how differences in location, time zone, language, and culture can increase the difficulty and expense of managing a project, and how these might impact the overall success of the final product.
Let’s first examine the various roles involved in eLearning design, development and deployment.
With eLearning development, there are three key roles that are typically assigned to in-house persons: the stakeholder, project manager and subject matter experts.
The stakeholder owns the project and gives direction for the desired outcome. This role does not require expertise in eLearning. The stakeholder may be the manager of the line of business that requests the project. The stakeholder designates a project manager who will be responsible for the detailed planning and execution, for overseeing the daily project activities and maintaining rapport with other team members. In some organizations, the Project Manager may be the stakeholder.
One or more subject matter experts (SMEs) are essential to the success of any eLearning project, and may be involved to different degrees. SMEs are individuals within the company who are specialists in subjects that are consequential to the organization. They may include those who provide other training in the desired subjects. SMEs guide the team with relevant content and information, and may ultimately be involved in approving the content.
The actual eLearning design and development roles may be handled in-house or may be resources provided by an outside vendor. An advantage of outsourcing these roles is freeing your own time and resources to focus on core competencies or critical priorities.
Instructional Designers are eLearning professionals who are knowledgeable about learning theories, instructional design principles, and adult learning styles. They know how to use various components and techniques to optimize learning. They work closely with SMEs, interface and graphic designers, multimedia specialists, and the development team. The design experts provide the blueprints from which developers will build the eLearning application.
Visual Content Developers
Typically there is a team of experts who specialize in developing visual content such as the application interface and navigation, static and animated visuals, and video. They are skilled with the tools and technologies for producing instructionally effective visual components.
eLearning Developers are experienced in using standards-based authoring tools and are knowledgeable about the tools and technology available for integrating the various components of the eLearning application. eLearning Developers also contribute to identifying the best authoring environment for the project, the client, and future maintenance of the developed application.
Audio Narrators have the skills and talent to deliver narration that adds learning value to the visual content. They need to be fluent in the selected language, have comfort with the subject matter, and know how to apply appropriate modulation and nuance to enhance the listening experience. If the eLearning application needs to be localized for different audiences, skilled translators and narrators are needed for each target language.
These professionals are responsible for identifying the technical requirements for development in regard to the deployment infrastructure, error-free deployment, and responsive delivery of the eLearning application. They have expertise with the industry standards and systems required for successful integration within online Learning Management Systems (LMS), online help systems and online knowledge systems.
Who should consider outsourcing what parts of eLearning efforts? Here are some examples.
Consider outsourcing eLearning design if any of these apply:
- You have sound subject matter expertise but no experience in eLearning design.
- You have learning design standards and a design team in place but your eLearning needs outpace your available design resources.
When outsourcing eLearning design, look for an eLearning vendor with instructional design expertise and one who understands your business, culture, and challenges.
Consider outsourcing eLearning development (or some of its components) if:
- You lack the resources to develop a project.
- You have a basic development team in-house but need professional visuals, interactions, or learning objects to enhance a course.
- You have a full development team in-house but current development needs exceed your resources
Consider outsourcing LMS configuration, implementation and management if:
- You are establishing a new LMS implementation
- You lack the technical resources to manage the environment
- Your LMS management and maintenance activities exceed your resources
In summary, when outsourcing all or part of your eLearning initiative, it is important to select a vendor who has the technical competence, content development experience, and instructional expertise in the principles of learning.
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