August 19

Training Content Development: Why Doing It In-House Will Cost You More Than You Think

We’ll get Jane to do it! Ah yes, poor Jane. It’s her own fault really. That’s what you get for being on top of everything all the time and being brave enough to correct the CFO on her grammar. Jane has just been assigned the rather monumental task of creating the content for a new training programme. The rationale for giving the project to Jane is obvious: it’s cheaper to do it in-house than outsource the project . After all, outsourcing is synonymous with “expert”, which is a six-letter word for “expensive”!

The problem is that Jane’s boss is a little fuzzy on the details of Jane’s job description. Does Jane really have the time to do this project and still keep up with all her other work? Also Jane’s boss hasn’t seen Jane’s CV since the day he hired her. Jane’s never done something like this before. She’s hardly a subject matter expert and while she’s a grammar curmudgeon of some repute, even she wouldn’t consider herself a professional writer. And while she has a working knowledge of Powerpoint, one of the requirements of the project is that the content be distributed via the company’s Moodle-based learning management system and created using an open-source authoring tool. (Quickly Jane, google what a “SCORM package” is!)

While giving the project to good old Jane seems like a no-brainer, the outcome could be end up costing the company much more than if they had contracted an external content provider.

Free Isn’t Always Free. There is now a plethora of free authoring tools that a company can choose from to create training content for their learning management system. But how long will it take and how much money will it cost to learn how to use that free authoring tool. While Jane may be a quick study, Jane has to squeeze in time to teach herself the authoring tool between the 50 phone calls, the two meetings, and the three hours of must-do-right-this-instant stuff that Jane has in a typical workday. Maybe if Jane was being distracted by her real job, she could learn how to use the authoring tool in just few hours, but with all her other responsibilities getting in the way it could take weeks for Jane to find her feet.

Drop the Ball Pay the Price. Even if Jane gets a handle on the authoring tool, where is she going to find the time to actually research, design, write, and collate all the content for the new training course? But wait. Surely Jane had all her work reassigned so that she could concentrate solely on the training project? That would be a “no.” Spreading herself too thin, Jane starts shirking some of her primary responsibilities. Deadlines start getting missed, things get overlooked, and Jane is dropping balls everywhere. Jane starts to see the training project as a distraction to getting her real work done. She de-prioritizes the project and actively avoids working on it. Abandoned under a whole stack of more pressing issues, Jane keeps asking for time to complete the project. Three months later the content for the training project is going nowhere, fast.

And Now for a Little Work-Avoidance Behaviour. Most think that procrastination is a form of laziness, but the root cause of procrastination is a lack of confidence. If you don’t have the skills, knowledge, or experience to complete a project, you will actively try and avoid working on it. Jane being the A-type personality that she is, would rather take on more responsibility, if it would help her avoid working on a project that she knows she can’t confidently follow through on. Many in-house projects get stalled for months by work-avoidance behaviour caused by a crippling lack of self confidence.

Now Say that in English. There is more to good training content than dotting i’s and crossing t’s. It has more to do with translating the abstract goals of the business into a concrete language that learners can understand. Jane is used to proofing quarterly reports whose readerships includes several uni grads and a couple of MBAs. But the abstract language used at the management level often comes off sounding like a foreign language to frontline workers. Jane only knows how to write for one type of reader. What distinguishes a professional writer is their ability to anticipate the needs of their readership. Professional content providers are able to adjust their style to more effectively communicate ideas and knowledge. They are also well practised in brevity, and willing to forgo text if an idea would be better expressed using a visual form like an org chart or a table. Poor Jane spends six weeks writing up a dense, 120 page training manual (double-sided, single-spaced!). She knows it’s too long, but she just doesn’t know what to cut. Much of it is unintelligible to its target readers, and there is just too much content to be distributed on the company’s learning management system. Thousands of dollars have been spent on what has effectively become an expensive doorstop.

Jack of All Trades. Master of None. Unless your stock-and-trade is creating training content, you should be outsourcing the task to a training content provider. Many business applications are available for download for free. But what is “free” really? How long would it take you to learn one of these applications up to the level where your business is deriving any real benefit. There are free apps for designing and maintaining websites, running email marketing campaigns, designing logos, and reconciling finances. But would you fix your own busted water heater on your own? No. You would employ a plumber. To derive genuine benefits from any business application, a business will have to engage the services of some or other expert at some point. Doing it later rather than sooner is just false economy.

If you want a training programme with content that will effectively modify the behaviours of workers in your business, don”t make poor Jane do it. Outsource it to training content provider that can develop your training content from scratch in much less time than if Jane had to suffer through the whole exercise.

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