Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your eLearning Vendor

Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your eLearning Vendor

Questions to Ask Before Choosing Your eLearning Vendor

Outsourcing eLearning for an organization is not just investing into a project/course, it is much more than that; it is like investing in their internal reputation, because if they land up with a substandard product they will lose both money and reputation in the eyes of their peers.

However we don’t see organizations spending enough time to qualify right vendors.

As an eLearning Solution Specialist, I attend to many enquiries across the globe and majority of them start and end with discussions about the cost.

I don’t think it is a good practice of qualifying a vendor only on the cost parameter, especially when you do not have extensive knowledge on current trends/practices and relevant skill sets.

There are some other areas to focus on when selecting an eLearning vendor. Here is a checklist that can help you.

1. How long they have been in this business?

This will help you to know whether the company has reputable amount of eLearning experience or not. It does not mean that that you need to disqualify the others just because they have less experience, but the longer the better!

It is recommended that the vendor should have been in this business for a minimum of 5 years dealing with large organizations.

2. Is eLearning their primary business?

These days many software and technology companies are adding eLearning to the list of their services. They are also offering/spreading themselves with a wide range of products and services under the umbrella term of “eLearning”.

So you need to make sure that they are qualified and experienced vendors with eLearning as their primary area of business.

3. Do they have any references?

Ask for 3-4 references and find out the details about the vendors project management, type of  projects handled and how long have been they working together.

Try to identify whether they had any problems or concerns with the vendor.

4. Can they provide samples?

Ask for some samples (May be a Storyboard or a final course sample). Samples demonstrate their past projects and also their level of expertise.

See if their demos can help you assess whether their capabilities can reach your needs or expectations. If it doesn’t, then ask if they have can provide other materials that can better demonstrate their expertise and experience.

5. Do they have a defined development process?

It is very important that the vendor should follow a well-defined eLearning development process optimized for best results. eLearning involves design, development, testing and delivery.

The vendor should understand the importance of these crucial development steps and define/document them in their process.

6. What is their level of technical expertise?

Before asking this question, try to get some knowledge on general eLearning software development landscape using research.

Find out whether the vendor has experience in developing SCORM/AICC compliant courses, Learning Management Systems (LMSs), Cross Platform Tools and Authoring Tools.

7. How willing are they to invest in a proof of concept?

Asking a vendor to create a proof of concept (may be a rough Storyboard or a prototype) on a ‘No Obligation Basis’ is an excellent strategy to qualify a right vendor.

Vendor’s willingness to create the storyboard/ prototype shows his level of commitment and confidence.

8. With what type of information is he ready to start?

Find out what information/inputs does the vendor need to start the course development. Can they create accurate content for your need? Can they create an outline and course out of your raw material? Can they assist you with creating interactive courses out of your PowerPoint or do they need the final storyboard from your side?

This information will let you know his level of expertise in areas of content creation, instructional designing, graphics and course development.

9. How much time is he demanding from you?

As you know, your SME (Subject Matter Expert) cannot spend time in Instructional Designing and course development, because it is not their primary job. They can just get in for reviews and approvals.

So the vendor should not submit incomplete work and ask the SME to fill in the gaps. They should conserve the time of the SME.

10. What is the cost to quality ratio?

Instead of focusing only on the cost, find out what is that you will get for your investment, evaluate the cost to quality ratio.

If you are clear with the scope of what you want, you can also seek quotes/cost estimations from other competing vendors. Many times small companies offer a lower price for the same scope and quality.

Vendor screening and selection is the first step to get into working relationship with a trustworthy partner.

Even if you are about to invest in a small course/project of only USD 1000, I strongly recommend you to get the answers for all these 10 questions, especially if your company is serious about eLearning and may want to invest more into it. This will be a foundation for your future projects when you scale up. Remember there are always difficulties working on large projects, so a well-researched partner, with whom you have already been working will always be an advantage.

Hope you have found this checklist useful. Do share if you want to add more questions to it.

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  • I would also suggest you ask the following:

    – When the project is over, who owns the source files? The vendor or my organization?
    My organization, for example, turns all files over to our clients once the projects are finished. They’re THEIR files now. They don’t have to pay us additional for them.

    And I would also follow these recommendations for working with a vendor:

    – Get everything in writing.
    If the sales person makes promises over the phone – make sure the promises are in the contract. During development, always keep your design document and other guidelines up-to-date with anything the vendor promised they would do.

    – Put protections in the contract for you!
    If the vendor supplies the contract, make sure you are protected. Are there cancellation and privacy clauses for you, or just them? Are there late fees if you don’t pay on time, but no penalties if they don’t deliver on time?

    – Keep a single point of contact.
    Negotiate for a single project manager and try to interview that person before the contract is signed. The sales person may be great, but might not be the person who will be helping you day in and day out.

    – Keep ownership of copyright, data, and source code.
    For an LMS project, make sure you will always have access to your completion records. For custom-developed courses, make sure you retain copyright and negotiate to keep the source code.

    – Manage changes on your end.
    The farther into a project you make changes, the more expensive it will be for you. Take the time to conduct thorough reviews on your end so you can request needed changes. (For example, make sure the marketing department sees the interface when you are in prototype phase instead of when you are ready to launch. Make sure the subject matter experts see the content in storyboard phase instead of when the online draft is posted.)

    – Have regular progress updates.
    Whether you use written reports or weekly conference calls, take the initiative to stay on top of the milestones.

    – Make payments milestone-based instead of time-based.
    If the contract has calendar-based milestones, you could end up paying for deliverables that haven’t been delivered! And always hold the last chunk of money (10% to 25%) until EVERYTHING is delivered. (Be good to your vendor, though. If there are long schedule delays that are your fault, find a way to pay the vendor for completed work.)

    – Be a good customer.
    Customers tell horror stories about vendors. But vendors tell horror stories about customers! Be respectful of their time and efforts by honoring your end of all the agreements. Be realistic when expecting them to make changes and corrections because you’ve changed your mind or you missed something. Look for win-win moments as much as possible throughout the process.

  • srujan

    Excellent points Nick! There should be an ongoing communication with the project manager (single contact point) regularly about the status and quality of the course, so that there are no last minute suprises