Part III: So You Want To Hire an Online Learning Development Company…
“How long do you anticipate the training will be?” is one of the first questions that learning development companies will ask you when you begin seeking cost estimates. But you’ll need to know more than if it is going to be two or eight hours of training. You'll also need to outline what the training will cover, if it needs to be broken into sections, if any of it will be taught in-person, as well as how long it should take the average person to get through the training. The more complete an idea you start out with, the fewer development bumps you'll face along the way.
If you're thinking about working with an outside curriculum development company for the first time, you may feel without a clear direction to start moving. But have no fear! In this series of posts, we're breaking the preparation process into five steps. The first post (Part I) gave a high-level overview of all the steps. The second post (Part II) focused on Step 1, getting your curriculum and/or source material together. If you haven’t read either of these two posts yet, we highly recommend you do so before beginning this one.
In this post, we'll talk about Step 2, what it takes to come up with a solid outline of the scope of the training. But let’s be clear upfront: This means more than creating an outline of what needs to be covered (although building that outline is a part of the step). Here are some specific things you’ll need to gather, create or clarify before you can have a strong outline of scope.
For many people, starting with learning objectives is the easiest way to turn an ambiguous idea for a training program into a more focused, actionable plan. The term “learning objectives” may sound daunting, but it actually refers to the specific information or skills you want all people knowing or being able to do once they've left the training.
Sometimes, developing learning objectives is straightforward, especially training that is based on new policies, procedures or regulations that mandate what the training must cover. But other times, it takes more thought—especially if you're creating "soft skills" training or a program to reinforce company culture. In either case, developing a list of what skills or information need to be communicated to the learner will provide a helpful blueprint for building the program.
Estimating the length of a training program can be one of the most complex tasks, especially if you haven’t done it before and don’t have strict regulations for how long the training needs to be. Let's discuss the variables of determining the proper length of training so you'll understand what's involved. The program length might be something you'll hold tentative until you get a chance to talk through it with prospective development companies. But here are some questions to help you determine the total length:
1. "How long do you have your learners?" Depending on whom you're training, you may be constrained by the amount of time you have access to them. For example, with call center employees, you may be able only to hold rotating training sessions of a half-hour, because those employees can’t be away from the phones for much longer. Or if you’re putting together an in-person workshop before a conference, you may have a rigid timetable determined by the conference organizer. Remember, if your training will be required for employees (whether they are your company's or your client’s), they must be compensated for their time. This can be a significant factor in keeping training as brief as possible.
2. "How will the training be presented?" It may not be a popular fact among classroom trainers, but online training is significantly more time-efficient. Our rule of thumb is that it typically takes between 25-50% as much time to cover the same material online as it does to cover it in person. Plus, you reduce possible travel time for the learners. This is not to say that all training should be given online. But understanding how the training will be delivered will significantly impact the time you’ll need for it.
If you like the idea of the efficiency of online training but feel that there's some material that needs to be covered in person so participants can demonstrate or interact face-to-face, consider creating hybrid (or blended) training: Learners first take some of the training online and then come together for a shorter time in person.
3. "Can the training be broken down into 'blocks'?" If you've read the first two questions and answered, “It depends on…” or “For some people it will be this way, and for others it will be that way,” then your program may be a good candidate to be turned into segments or "blocks." Look back at your learning objectives and think of each one as a Lego® block. Some might be shorter blocks that won’t take much time to cover, some might be medium length, and some might be long.
By looking at the segments that way, you may be able to add them together to come up with a total length. But when you develop and implement the training, you may want to keep each objective as its own “block,” so that you can give the whole training to one group as a series of 15-30 minute “blocks” and another group as two 4-hour “blocks.” This gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility in how to deliver the training. Knowing that this is a possibility will help a learning developer grasp the scope of your project.
One thing any training developer will need before they begin is an accurate understanding of what they are responsible to deliver. The list of final deliverables will be driven largely by how the training will be presented (online, in-person or hybrid). You may not need a student handbook for online training, and you definitely won’t need a SCORM-compliant online learning package for an in-person workshop. So take the time to list everything that you will need. Here are some common examples to get you started:
Student handbooks or student guides
Worksheets or activity sheets
Takeaway quick-reference charts
PowerPoint slides or other presentation files
Instructor handbooks or guides
Quizzes or exams
Test grading keys
Video or image files, if your learning developer is producing them
Electronic packages compliant with your LMS
Instructor training presentations or packages
Copies of policies or handbooks that you are required to give each person
Certificates of completion
Once you have a list of what you’ll need, the learning development company will be able to give you a much more accurate cost and time estimate.
Identifying and clarifying the scope of your training can be one of the most difficult parts of preparing to build your program. But with a little bit of work assessing the key areas of the project’s scope, you can easily begin on the right foot.