7 things effective buyers of digital learning always do

By Carole Bower November 30, 2015

chalk diagram of money, quality , time triangleLess is more, as we all know – which is tough when you charge by the hour. But this also makes things difficult for buyers of digital learning.

For some time now, learning has been getting shorter, more nuggetized. The trend has been to compress and dilute; a trend we’ve often discussed on this blog and in our insight papers. But meanwhile, the standard pricing model of the digital learning industry remains to cost bespoke elearning solutions according to study time – i.e. by the hour, or half hour, of learning. It’s all about the amount of content delivered. And nothing about the impact.

It’s crazy. We all know it’s crazy. This pricing model fulfils the textbook definition of a perverse incentive. While learning designers know in their hearts that less is more – that compression adds force – it’s in their financial interest to make courses as long as possible. So the better they get at designing learning, the shorter the learning lasts – and the broker they get.

Luckily, the buyers of digital learning are increasingly realising that there is less value in creating long courses: the notion that you pay more for more content doesn’t resonate with them anymore. But this gives them, as buyers, a huge problem. Because although the traditional, duration-based model, as everybody knows, is pants – it is at least simple. And there isn’t anything equally simple to replace it.

As a result, buying decisions are getting harder.

In this post, I offer a seven-point checklist to help simplify that decision – and make sure that you are getting the best possible value from digital learning; the win/win we all really want.

Value versus cost

I feel for the buyers, I really do.

As a supplier I know how frustrating it is for our clients when, enthused by our brilliant ideas, they ask, ‘how much will that cost?’ and we answer, ‘it depends’. We’ve all seen the exasperated look and sigh that follow these words.

And what does it depend on? Too many variables: how we will use audio, visuals, simulations, video, actors, source material, etc. So much so obvious. Less obviously, perhaps, the cost/value equation also depends on how close we can get to the business to understand the business goals, and to the learners to understand their needs. And here’s the rub: getting under the hood of the client’s requirements is needed to be able to come to an accurate price, but much of this exploratory work (on larger software projects often included within the project and called a ‘discovery phase’) is not done until after the project has commenced. However, ‘I don’t know how much it will cost until we’ve started working’ is rarely accepted as an adequate tender response!

It flows from this that the buyer who is able to give a clearer brief in terms of project aims and target learners will achieve a more accurate costing and – ultimately – better value. Think of the ‘money/quality/time’ triangle so beloved of project managers: if all you focus on is ‘how long’ and ‘how much’, quality is bound to be the vertex that gets pushed. Focus on quality: focus on outcomes.

It helps to recognise up front that digital learning is difficult stuff to cost.

Given that so much of it is intangible in nature, how is the average learning buyer able to make a judgement on best value for money? How, when looking at different tender responses, can they see and judge innovation? How can they compare one supplier’s response with another – when the solutions offered are so different that it’s like comparing apples with pears (often said) – or so similar that you can’t get a fag paper between them (equally often said)?

The answer is to spend more time on the brief, perhaps with the aid of an external consultant, or maybe to separate off the design phase; and most importantly, to work with people you can trust.

Creating value

With a well briefed in, well specified project, and a good working relationship with your learning partner, it is possible to focus on getting the maximum value from your budget – which often means, with digital learning, trying to see not how long you can make the learning but how short.

When it comes to working with quite complex messages, if you spend time focusing on the delivery of that message, i.e. using visuals, condensing and filtering the content, creating infographics and explainers, you can deliver more in less time.  Naturally it takes more learning design time to do this than to take content in its raw form and drop in into a series of slides or screens – however more time spent planning will always yield something much more relevant.

One content type becoming very popular with our clients is using video explainers for learning. An explainer takes a concept or message and then presents it in the most impactful (and time-compressed) way. When designing these, if you spend more time on the content up front and work really closely with learning designers and visual designers you achieve a much better result.

Often where budgets are tight we’ll be challenged to deliver something for less money and you might wonder why with modern technology at our fingertips we can’t just quickly repurpose source content to produce a snappy narrated animated video (without spending time getting under the skin of the business problem and the learner needs). However the cost versus value question comes up again here – the result might appear to be the same on the surface, but won’t ultimately deliver the same results. It might not be memorable, or relevant: it might even confuse the audience rather than enlighten them.

So in summary, while it is easy to commoditise learning and build courses based on a price per hour and bronze silver and gold template metrics – ultimately this approach will have a negative impact on learning effectiveness and learner engagement.

Where we are given the opportunity to understand a problem properly and when we can spend time with the learners, we’re much more likely to produce something with more value to the business.

7 things effective buyers of digital learning always do

  1. Take time at the design stage
  2. Understand the problem you are trying to solve
  3. Do not focus on the content – keep focused on the business goal/problem and how to address it
  4. Ensure Learning Designers and SMEs understand the difference in their roles
  5. Involve learners
  6. Buy a solution to the problem you are solving not just a product
  7. Work to reduce learning time

Case Study

A leading global telecommunications company came to Lumesse with content that, in its raw form, would have equated to around two hours of learning content.  We spent time at the outset understanding the business needs and the needs of the audience. The result was a video explainer that was only about twenty minutes in length and still delivered all of the key messages.  As an organisation that works in partnership with our clients and is not afraid to challenge their thinking, we didn’t suggest they create a massive beast of a presentation/course, we worked hard to understand the problem they were trying to solve and to give them a solution that was completely relevant to their users and made an impact on their business.

The real value to the client’s organisation was that, by stripping out irrelevant and unrefined content, they were able to reduce the overall learning time – which delivered huge value to the business.

When considering the cost versus value question, the industry is beginning to understand that less is more.

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