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What to Look for in an E-Learning Vendor

August 1, 2003
Related Topics: Training Technology, Featured Article

Below is a checklist for choosing potential e-learning vendors and also for creating an effective RFP.

A Checklist for Potential Vendors

1. Has an established track record.

2. E-learning development is their main business (not a sideline).

3. Gathers all the information before recommending specific media recommendations for the project. Demonstrates state-of-the-art technology in current projects (even though it might not be appropriate for yours).

4. Works with a variety of authoring/development products.

5. Uses the current releases of the development products they recommend.

6. Provided demos to illustrate sound principles of instructional design.

7. Their definitions of terms such as "interactive" and "engaging" agree with yours.

8. Their idea of what constitutes great material agrees with yours.

9. Recommends nonproprietary technology that is commercially available.

10. Development team possesses all of the skills required for the project.

11. The team members that will be assigned to the project have worked together before.

12. Provides good customer support (from your own pre-project experience and from the experience of the vendor’s references that you interview).

13. Can convince you that they know all of the proper steps to complete your project to your satisfaction.

14. Pricing is in line with other quotations (Be careful of the ultra-low bid to get the foot in the door or the ultra-high bid that accompanies claims of a superior deliverable).

15. Is in the custom e-learning development business where each project’s design is unique to achieve specific objectives (as opposed to being a commercial developer where a "generic" design is applied to all projects).

16. The vendor is flexible. They are willing to do just some of the work (e.g., you do the storyboard design and content development and they do the programming).

17. The physical location of the development personnel is not an issue. Remember, you are developing written communication and graphics. All are easily transmitted as e-mail attachments or via overnight delivery of a CD, regardless of where the vendor is located.

18. The vendor is willing to work at or near your facility, if necessary. If you insist on the vendor being on-site, consider the occasional on-site meeting. Even with travel costs factored in, a "right-priced" vendor can still be more cost-effective than a local provider.

19. Has or has access to video- or Web-conferencing facilities if a "face to face" is required over a distance.

20. The vendor does not insist on retaining any rights to the program. If they do, look elsewhere. Future "rights" entanglements can be costly.

21. The vendor is willing to provide maintenance services for the program.

22. The vendor is willing to design the program and use development tools that will minimize maintenance charges.

23. If subsequent translation to additional languages is anticipated, the same vendor can at least design the project to minimize the effort required for translation. Ideally the vendor can also provide the translation services if required.

Creating an Effective RFP

Your RFP needs to include the following information:

1. The size, geographical distribution and makeup of the intended audience.

2. Estimated e-learning course duration based on estimated traditional training.

3. Intended purpose of the training (product launch, ongoing training, classroom supplement, etc.).

4. The intended platforms (LAN, Web, dialup, CD-based, both Web and CD, existing standards or requirements, etc.).

5. CD quantities required (if applicable).

6. Packaging design needs if a CD is required (artwork and content creation for the CD, mailing envelope, etc.).

7. Identify if high-bandwidth elements are required via a slow dialup connection (indicating a need for a hybrid CD solution).

8. If an Internet implementation is required, indicate that IT has been contacted to insure necessary bandwidth availability, willingness to support plug-ins and/or external hosting (if necessary).

9. Indicate the desired course completion timeframe.

10. Indicate the degree of desired on-site presence of the vendor (initial meeting only, periodic review meetings, all development on-site, etc.).

11. Need for a "pay and play" Web-based solution (do you want to sell per-student access to the course via the Internet)?

12. Desired outputs (tracking and reporting). Do you just want completion information or full tracking of responses by date and time?

13. Identify what resource materials already exist (user guides, system specifications, product literature, etc.).

14. Describe the e-learning experience level of the group issuing the RFP (no prior experience, some experience, etc.).

15. Indicate the perceived needs for graphics, photographs, animations, audio and video. Do any of these elements already exist?

16. Will the product initially or eventually need to be translated into other languages?

17. What are acceptable timeframes for client reviews (three days, two weeks, etc.)? This is a significant factor in meeting the desired development timeframe.

18. Will vendor assistance be needed with implementation (technical startup, course administration, promotion, etc.)?

19. Who will be maintaining the program (you or the vendor)? An "easier" but "less powerful" tool may be appropriate depending on the situation.

From THE AMA HANDBOOK OF E-LEARNING: Effective Design, Implementation, and Technology Solutions. ©2003 AMACOM, Published byAMACOM Books Division of American Management Association. 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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