I recall many years ago when I was finishing my basement and I felt comfortable doing much of the work myself. Rough carpentry was fairly simple, running conduit was easy, attaching lights was not hard, screwing drywall was quick and forgiving. But there was one thing I would not tackle, drywall finishing. I recall watching the contractor putting on the mud and carefully scraping it away until it was perfectly smooth. As I watched him I commented how good he was at this and I’ll never forget his response: “Hey, I’m a professional, I do this for a living”.
That comment has stuck with me for years and I often quote it because it is true of most of our professions. We are all expert at something, but no one is expert at everything. So when I was looking to start an e-learning program for a large distribution operation, I researched the options and made a few quick decisions.
➤ I knew I did not want to buy and host the LMS (Learning Management Software) that runs the courses. That is very expensive to buy and maintain and would require IT resources I just did not have.
➤ I knew I wanted mostly custom built courses, supplemented by a few off the shelf ones for the simpler courses. I wanted our team members learning our SOP’s exactly how we had written them.
➤ I knew that to be effective I needed to roll out 6-10 courses per year. This was based on the need to train about one hundred new team members each year.
The decision that puzzled me the most however was how to build the individual e-learning courses. During my research I found many companies that offered software that was easy to use and resulted in exceptional courses that employees would love. Some offered webinar tutorials on how to use the software, yet others would have a trainer visit to tutor us on how to build great courses. I even sat through a few demos on how easy it was to use the online tools to make these courses. It all sounded so simple and perhaps the most attractive part about these “build your own” courses was the price tag. I thought I had it figured out: how to build reasonably good courses in-house at an economy cost.
Next, I asked the software vendors for a few references, which they readily gave me. I contacted them and asked them a bunch of questions and to share some of the courses they built so I could see the results. These references sealed the deal but not in the way I, or the vendor, expected. Here is what I found:
➤ The courses took from 100-200 hours each to build depending upon the complexity.
➤ They thought they had internal resources technically savvy to do this but found the learning curve was pretty steep and it took months to get competent with the software.
➤ We all want video in our training (it is a powerful tool) but you need someone trained in videography or the results look like homemade YouTube. One sample I viewed was actually filmed with their phone and you could tell.
➤ Writing the script for the course was unexpectedly difficult.
➤ But one comment that made the decision for me, and was universal among all the references. “Building your own courses takes more resources than you expect”.
In summary, it took longer than they thought, was more difficult than expected, and the results were mediocre. So I decided it was not the direction for me.
Then I remembered my drywall contractor and his comment about “leaving it to the professionals” so I started researching e-learning companies who would build courses for me. Here is what I found:
✓ They required no technical expertise or IT resources from me.
✓ They write the script after interviews with my team about how to do the job our way using our terms, tools, procedures, etc. Jointly we edit the script until it is exactly what we want
✓ They use a videographer and professional equipment that comes to my facility to shoot video of my team following our SOP’s.
✓ They provide a “rough cut” of the course that we critique and adjust to meet our needs.
✓ The final version is professional, entertaining, and includes interactive activities that engage the learners.
✓ When completed, the course will run on their LMS that employees will access through a simple Internet link.
I expected all of this to be crazy expensive because of the professional skills they provide but what I found was amazing. They are so efficient at this (because they have done so many) that courses can be completed in weeks following a structured timeline. They will lead me through the steps, set up the conference calls, the script reviews, site visit, ask the necessary questions in order to design a course the way I want it to be done.
So when I compared the costs of creating mediocre e-learning courses in-house to paying a professional to design and create high-quality courses that they host on their software, it was basically even. That made the decision easy.
Eight years and about 80 courses later I still look back to the day I made the decision that was guided by a simple drywall contractor:
“Leave it to the Professionals”
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