Information-Development Purchasing Guide

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Nicole Cerimeli, nSight, Inc.

 In an eight article series for the e-newsletter, CIDM will be discussing buying tips for typical services and products that you, as an information developer, might be interested in buying.

This is the seventh in our e-newsletter series of purchasing guides for purchasing information-development products and services. In this issue we look at training development and instructional design.

Training Development and Instructional Design

Training development refers to the creation of courses, tutorials, workshops, or other learning modalities (whether classroom-based or online) and associated materials for the purpose of transferring knowledge to a specific population, usually for a particular purpose. Typically, training is developed either by a subject matter expert (an expert practitioner of the material to be learned) or by an instructional designer who specializes in structuring material so that it may be more readily learned. Instructional designers use specific methodologies to design, create, and evaluate learning. Instructional designers often work in conjunction with a subject matter expert.

What’s Available

A vast array of training development services is available to help you create your courses and programs. A Google search for “training development” or “instructional design” will bury you in results. Fortunately, these services can be boiled down to several categories to help you sort through the options and make a good decision. For every training need, you are likely to find a solution that fits into one of these categories.

Training Development and Publishing Companies

Among this group of service providers are the 800-pound gorillas of the learning industry—Cengage and Pearson—as well as smaller but still venerable, companies like Skillsoft and Element K. The larger organizations develop training and publish a wide variety of off-the-shelf courses and books. Both Cengage and Pearson have a major stake in textbook publishing for the college and education markets, while Skillsoft and Element K primarily focus on the business market.

All of these companies have some focus on e-learning. Their courses are developed with an internal, proprietary authoring tool and have a consistent look and feel. You can buy courses ready made or purchase custom development services for courses specific to your needs. If you opt for custom development, these companies will use existing course materials—to keep customization costs down—and adapt them to your needs, if at all possible.

Multi-service Training Agencies

The companies in this category hire, manage, and deploy training developers, instructors, and instructional designers to meet your training development needs. In addition, they work with copyeditors, graphic designers, and a variety of professionals to provide complete development services. Clarity Consultants, nSight, and similar companies will assess your training needs and hire training developers, instructional designers, editors, or other learning professionals who are appropriate to the task. These companies usually select learning professionals from a stable of developers who work for them on a consultancy basis. They can often provide considerable project development and project management support.

These learning brokerages typically develop a proposed training package that defines the course or learning product to be produced, specifies the learning professional(s) who will be involved, and enumerates the development process and deadlines. These companies are more likely than their training development and publishing counterparts to produce a variety of learning products using standard desktop publishing and e-learning tools: classroom-based, print-based, online tutorials, workshops, and more.

Training Developers and Instructional Designers

This category consists of individual and small group consultancies who hire themselves out to develop learning products. Often regionally or locally focused, training developers and instructional designers may work for the brokerage companies as well as directly for clients who need development services. They also use standard desktop publishing and e-learning tools to create a wide variety of learning products including print-based, classroom-based, and online materials.

Features That Count

Needs Assessment

No one can develop training for you if they don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. Providers should always do some sort of needs assessment to help you clarify what must be done and how it may best be achieved. Needs assessments can be formal or informal, depending upon your circumstances. If you are using training to solve personnel or organizational problems, a formal needs assessment (which may involve interviews, surveys, and site visits by the provider) is preferable. If you are trying to inform or improve skills, an informal needs assessment will probably do the trick.

Instructional Design Methodology

Developing training isn’t simply a matter of deciding how to tell learners what you want them to learn. It is a complex process that first considers how the human mind absorbs information and puts it to use. Training often fails because it is based on what somebody thinks learners should know, without any regard for how the learners actually come to know things in the first place.

This requirement is where instructional design comes into play. There are a variety of instructional design methodologies. They all start from models of human cognition and describe how learning should be built to best serve how people actually think and learn. The most commonly used instructional design methodology is called Instructional Systems Design (ISD). It is also known as ADDIE, which stands for the process that it involves: Assessment, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

Choosing to use a method such as ISD is not an academic matter. The correct instructional design ensures that the correct needs are being targeted in the correct way.

Program Evaluation

It’s annoying to spend time and money to develop training, only to be disappointed in the results. Even if you’re initially satisfied, remember that the information you’re teaching and the reasons why you’re providing training will probably shift over time. Evaluation of the program—after it has been run for the first time—should be a key component of your training development package. Typically, two components are evaluated: learner satisfaction with the program and the extent to which the training achieved its stated objectives. These evaluations are done formally, often by means of surveys, but they may also include onsite observation and testing.

How to Choose

Don’t let price be the sole determining factor when making decisions about training. Inexpensive training development can be great, and expensive training development may produce lousy results. Your best guide is to consider a mix of quality and price.

Sample the Goods

Whether you decide to go with the 800-pound gorilla or your friendly neighborhood instructional designer, spend time with samples of their products. If you are seeking to develop online training, look at the courses they have developed. Do you think they’re effective? Do you like the look and feel? Is course navigation clear and intuitive? Must courses be viewed via specialized software, or can they be played through universally available programs like Flash or the media players installed by default on most computers?

For classroom-based training, ask to see course evaluations and outcome studies for courses developed in the past. In some cases, program evaluations by supervisors or department heads can give you insight into the quality of the material. Finally, ask for evaluations of the materials by the trainers who deliver the courses.

Responsiveness and Inclusiveness

You need to decide the extent to which you want to be involved in the training development. Larger companies will work with you to design the training development project and contract and will then go to work. Typically, they request your approval at stated intervals in the development process.

If you want to be more involved, ask yourself the following questions about your provider:

  • Once you’ve signed a contract for $5,000, $50,000, $150,000, or more to develop training, do you have access to the project manager or account manager?
  • Is your role in the process clearly defined?
  • Are there formal approvals along the way so that you can intervene to prevent the project from going off track?
  • Will your subject matter experts be consulted regularly throughout the development process, and will they take part in the approvals?

Updating and Revision

No training product has a very long shelf-life. Over time, all training needs to be revised and updated. Your training developer should make some provisions for updating and revision in the overall development proposal. This service will cost you extra money, so your agreement should allow you to invoke this option when it is feasible for you. Since the developer has already spent much time with your materials in the original development stage, updating should be available in a cost-effective and timely manner.

Making Your Decision

No matter how complex your training needs, it is important to find the partner that best suits your subject matter, the people you plan to train, and your budget. Big service providers and publishing companies are great for standard types of training, large projects, or training that must be rolled out over an enterprise-level organization, while independent consultants may be a good choice for small or specialized projects. Multi-service training agencies are versatile and able to customize both large and small projects, with the ability to bring in specialized expertise or work closely with your own subject matter experts. Whatever type of training development partner you choose, be sure that you are involved in the process to the extent that suits your needs and your comfort level.

Nicole Cerimeli is VP, Technical Communications Services at nSight, a technical and educational content development and publishing services firm located in Burlington, MA. nSight offers public workshops and custom on-site training programs on writing, editing, design, and production for effective print and electronic publications.

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