Working with an e-learning agency is a great ROI

25th November 2022

We are delighted to announce that our head of e-learning, Tamar Elderton-Welch, is back with us. In her first week back, she has written an excellent new article on why it is worth using specialists for your e-learning. Nothing keeps us busier at Marshalls than clients who try to develop content in-house, and then get in touch with us saying “this has been on my to-do list for two years now!”. Building bespoke and customised content is one of our specialities, so there are really economies of scale for us.

With the large numbers of courseware options available in the market, the ability of companies to  develop their own learning solution has never been more tempting. In 2021 alone, there are over 20 different authoring tools, offering easy-to-use, flexible templates that have the potential for delivering impactful, great looking courses. With such powerful tools available, it begs the question of many organisations, why use a middle-man?

Budget conscious L&D departments, will naturally be tempted to create their own courses in-house. However without the expertise of a dedicated Instructional Designer, Graphic Designer and Development specialists, organisations may find it much harder to drive learner engagement and thus achieve their course aims. In this sense, the financial gains are undercut by weakened learner response or even antipathy towards online learning, making it much harder to reach these learner bases.

So let’s talk about some of the benefits an e-learning agency can offer to ensure you deliver the best learning experience possible.

1. Exceptional Learner Experience

There is a lot more to course design than meets the eye, that’s why Instructional Design as a discipline is the predominant factor in the success of a training course. Good Instructional Design means that your e-learning course not only covers the important themes and subject matter but is designed in such a way to maximise learning and actually changes behaviour.

It is not simply enough to put the information on a page and hope that learners will assimilate it. In order to achieve your course’s aims, an Instructional Designer will take into consideration the learner’s environment (will it be noisy and distracting), the delivery platform (mobile or PC), define the learning objectives, consider the cognitive load (balancing the right amount of information for the learner’s needs), and engagement (using interactions, simulations, scenarios and videos to affect the learner).

Not only that, but they will be able to advise on the appropriate learning delivery solution to get your message across to your learner base. For example, for certain subjects (and learner demographics), a blended solution of traditional face-to-face classroom learning with an e-learning component, is preferable.

A good Instructional Designer will also be able to advise on the most appropriate technology for your needs. With the burgeoning of new technologies in the EdTech space, such as Virtual Reality (great for options like training simulations, engaging with the social learning and training that requires face-to-face interactions such as customer relations/anti-bullying and other cultural/social learning), Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence, guidance on which options would be best for your training needs is vital.

2. Accessibility

With one in five people in the UK having a disability, accessibility should not just be an after-thought when designing training. In fact, it is now a legal responsibility for organisations to ensure their online learning meets the government’s requirement of WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.

This requires more than merely captioning video and screen content and requires considerable thought in terms of the design, layout and functionality of each screen. Text must be accessible to JAWS readers and contrast levels and even keyboard controls must be considered so that all set-up types are accommodated. Therefore, accessibility must be part of the design process from the very beginning of the project as it’s impossible to effectively retro-fit a course in this manner once it has been built.

Ensuring your learning meets the required accessibility standards is something that a dedicated e-learning agency will be able to guarantee.

3. Hosting, Tracking and reporting

If you’re intending to create a compliance course, for example Anti-bribery and Corruption, then under UK legislation you have a legal obligation to demonstrate that you have trained your staff on the policy and ensured that it is understood. You can develop an e-learning course using authorware, but without a Learning Management System (LMS) to track the completion rates of users, it becomes very difficult to prove that employees have successfully completed the training.

An external supplier will ensure that your course is SCORM compliant and hosted on an LMS, so that HR departments will be able to track, who has undergone the training, their score and the completion status. In organisations with a large number of employees to train, the reporting function of an LMS becomes even more important.

4. Testing, testing…

So you’ve built your course, it’s looking really great and ready to be unleashed upon the world. Unfortunately for you, you realised that the assumptions you’ve made regarding the technical specification are not correct and that many of your learners cannot view that animation you embedded. Not only that, but many of your learners do not have access to speakers on their work PCs and so cannot hear the commentary, music and sound effects you’ve sourced.

This is a common issue to those who have attempted to build their own course, as many assume that if it works on their PC, then it will work for others. Sadly the QA and testing that is required to ensure that the course is compatible across multiple browser types and mobile/pc platforms is time consuming and laborious. By working with a dedicated e-learning company, the Lead Developer will ensure that your course will be thoroughly tested on a range of devices, browsers and operating systems to meet the agreed specification for your organisation. Not only this, but they will be aware of the latest technological trends and potential pitfalls of various delivery methods and be able to advise accordingly.

5. Looking good

In the culinary world, there’s an old saying that a person ‘eats with their eyes’ first. If a dish doesn’t look good, no one will want to try it. The same is true of the online experience. If your online training doesn’t have that level of polish and accessibility considerations, learners will make assumptions about the value of the learning. A graphic designer will be able to present your carefully produced content with the style, refinement and professionalism, that your audience expects. A good e-learning provider will be able to offer graphic design services built-in.

6. Specialist knowledge

When you engage an e-learning agency that is known for its thought-leadership, you benefit from a wealth of specialist knowledge and resources to ensure your content is well-researched and reflects the current understanding and compliance regulations. Not all e-learning agencies are able to offer this, however there are some (including ourselves) that are well-known for our sector and community networks that share the latest research and best practice on a range a subjects (for example Diversity and Inclusion).

7. Value for money

The range of expertise and disciplines that e-learning companies have under one roof, (including, designers, developers, industry knowledge, translation facilities, instructional designers and project managers), means that in terms of scales of economy, using a dedicated e-learning supplier is a valuable and cost effective proposition.

Sourcing even a few of these areas of expertise individually costs an organisation far more in terms of time, efficiency and budget. So unless your organisation is lucky enough to have some of this in- house expertise available, you will most likely have to outsource some or all of these to help you build your course. A reputable e-learning agency will be able to offer all of these capabilities as well the latest industry knowledge and challenges which an individual working in-house may not be aware of.

Faced with these challenges and risks, it is no wonder that most organisations choose to work with a dedicated e-learning agency. The ability to make home-grown courses on a shoe-string budget has an obvious appeal and certainly is a way forward for small businesses as an accompaniment to their one-to-one training. However for larger organisations that need effective, well designed training, the value of a dedicated agency is hard to dismiss.

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