Selecting a vendor to help you design eLearning content, or redesign an existing eLearning web site, can be an overwhelming task—especially if you don’t have extensive knowledge of current practices and skill sets. To help you establish a framework for comparing and evaluating vendor strengths and weaknesses, we’ve compiled a list of essential questions to ask during the selection process.
1. What skills does the vendor bring to the project? Will they fully complement and supplement the skills that you have in-house?
Tip: Make sure that between your in-house team and the vendor’s team you have strengths in each of the following areas:
Covering all of these skills at a depth to provide good quality typically requires a minimum of three people.
2. Can the vendor work within my budget? Can they ensure effective interactivity at a low cost?
Tip: This is likely to be one of the most important factors in your selection, so be sure to let vendors know the range of your budget so they can propose something appropriate. Explain your goals and vision to vendors, and ask if they have experience producing effective products within that budget. For example, a company that has produced only high-level, graphically sophisticated training content for large marketing or advertising efforts might have difficulty working within the budgetary constraints of an internal project to create eLearning for a business application.
3. Can the vendor educate you about choices you might make and help you clarify your business goals and performance objectives? Can they help you determine the best solution to meet your needs within your time and budget?
Tip: When you interview vendors, determine if they genuinely listen and if they are able to share recommendations and alternatives. For example, do they clearly present the options available for technical design and visual design? Do they discuss advantages and disadvantages of different methods of creating and presenting information? Do they arrive with a solution they want to sell, or do they first listen to your needs, understand your technical environment, and gather information on your learning objectives and audience?
4. What project management experience does the vendor bring to your project? Do they have an established and refined process to guide their work?
Tip: A complaint sometimes heard about vendors is that they “require a lot of management.” When you hire a vendor, you should be getting something off your plate, not adding something to it. Listen to their comments about project management, and seek reassurance that they can handle what’s necessary while regularly and clearly reporting to you on the project status.
5. Whether your project involves information design or redesign, how will the vendor ensure that the site or content is usable?
Tip: Look for a discussion about usability testing, site assessment, and experiences with usability on other projects. Be wary if the talk turns to costly bells and whistles that may not contribute to the project goals.
6. When addressing learning, how will the vendor handle meeting performance goals?
Tip: Ask vendors if they have instructional designers available for the project if their involvement is required. When discussing learning, listen for whether the vendor talks about performance analysis or gap analysis. If they don’t have that skill area, ask how they develop learning objectives and how they design student practice opportunities.
7. How does the vendor keep up with the training/eLearning field?
Tip: Look for the degree to which vendors say they learn by trial and error (we all do some of that!) versus training, education, and participation in professional organizations. What books, authors, and experts do they rely on?
8. How responsive, accessible, and flexible is the vendor? Do you like the team? Would you want to work with them daily?
Tip: Note whether vendors respond promptly to your messages and emails in an informative and courteous manner. In addition, look for indications that they are willing to collaborate and lead whenever appropriate.
9. How do they design a project?
Tip: Ask vendors to describe their project process. For example, does it follow an established instructional design methodology? Does it link up with your business application development process?
10. Check out references—actually make the calls.
Tip: Ask previous clients about responsiveness, project management, and what surprises they had (good and bad). Remember that on large projects there are always difficulties. Find out how the vendor handled recovery and communication about the issues. Did they make things right for their clients on past projects?
We’ve developed a checklist based on these 10 questions. To print the checklist and use it as you compare eLearning vendors, see this eLearning Vendor Comparison Checklist.