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Managed learning: how to get it right

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16th Nov 2015
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Joanne Casson summarises research findings on the secret of success in training outsourcing.

Outsourcing training activity, commonly known as managed learning, is a growing phenomenon. According to the global learning portal TrainingIndustry.com, the number of organisations now supplementing their in-house training capability - by contracting out selective assignments to an external provider - is at a five-year high. Yet uncertainty still exists in the L&D industry about what managed learning involves and how organisations can gain maximum benefit.

A recent study showed that the majority of organisations use a managed learning provider to source, book, administer and evaluate generic training programmes and to manage their training suppliers. Importantly, however, these organisations also retain their own internal training capability. Typically, anything bespoke to the business - such as induction, apprentice or new product training - or any core business-related technical training gets delivered in-house.

A key advantage of managed learning is that cost savings can be achieved by buying training more efficiently and by adopting a stronger negotiation approach with training suppliers. In some cases, higher quality and more effective training can be delivered and L&D teams can gain access to external learning expertise, freeing up time to provide support in other areas and better evaluate and control the training activity.

But a third of L&D teams were not getting these benefits. What seems to be of paramount importance is the relationship between the managed learning provider and the L&D team. In fact it was concluded that choosing the right partner and maintaining an effective working relationship is actually the secret to success in managed learning.

Choose your provider with care

A good initial relationship can be undermined by factors such as poor project management, staff turnover, lack of trust, low proactivity, deteriorating service levels or an inability to deliver the anticipated results. 

The participants in the study outlined ten 'lessons' that they’d learned from their experience of managed learning. Their recommendations for anyone considering this approach include practical advice such as:

  • Be very clear about the organisational requirements;
  • Define the scope and expectations;
  • Ensure you understand exactly what you want the provider to do;
  • Make sure you understand how they work;
  • Know what management information you want.

However, the participants universally said that success largely depends on whether or not you’ll be able to work effectively with the provider’s project team. Their advice is to make sure you have confidence in the people who will manage your account. Invest the time to establish an open, honest and productive relationship with them. Help them to better understand your processes, systems and culture.

This is important because the managed learning market includes a range of different providers with different strengths. Organisations therefore have a responsibility to choose their provider with care.

Chemistry, in terms of personal relationships with the people you’ll be working with, was seen as the most important factor when choosing a provider. So look for people you can work with, who fit your culture and values. One participant said: “We don’t want to work with people who are constantly trying to feather their own nest.”

The other key attributes to look for, according to the study, are: credentials (do they have a demonstrable track record?); the ability to add value across the training life cycle; training expertise (consider the quality of the training that they can provide; are they up-to-date with best practice?) and technology expertise (can they exploit and apply the benefits of technology?).

Part of the problem in choosing a partner is that some providers will make spurious claims (for example about how ‘cutting edge’ they are) or they’ll make promises they can’t keep. Several participants in the study told us they thought they had agreed to work with a Learning Management System or an online booking system that was more flexible than it turned out to be. Test out the capabilities and systems of your proposed provider and ensure they’re easy to use and that they work effectively. Otherwise, you’ll have to adapt your processes to fit the system, rather than the other way around.

The good news

The flipside of our study, of course, is that two-thirds of the L&D practitioners were happy - or at least content - with their managed learning provider. In the main, evidence shows that the right choices of partner are being made.

If you’re trying to determine whether supplementing your training capability with external expertise is the best way forward for your organisation, the free report on our study highlights some important criteria that you should consider. Regardless of whether you need a little or a lot of help to meet the learning needs in your business, these insights should help you to procure and implement a beneficial managed learning service.

Joanne Casson is a managed services expert at learning and development specialist Hemsley Fraser. She can be contacted at [email protected] 

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