eLearners: Is Your Content Really Driving Business Results?

A whole decade ago (time has flown by quickly in our ever-changing industry) … I wrote an article for HR.com titled “Five Places to Find Money for Your New eLearning Program.” Back in 2003, the learning world was scrambling to pull together budgets to digitize classroom content. The article focused on taking a hard look at your overall content portfolio to surface (and cut) underperforming learning programs and reinvest some of your savings in eLearning content conversion. I think back to that article … and that it’s still so valid for many clients who continue struggling to get on top of their budget for content development and delivery.

Most companies buy, create and maintain hundreds of hours of content each year — a financial investment which, in many cases, can’t be directly tied to business results. And worse, many still have to force learners through that content with continual reports and reminders. Learners are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of content available to them, but learning departments keep pouring more money into “product development.” Content development is the largest expense in a learning department. Yet most companies can’t easily pull together an accurate accounting of their content development costs in order to assess where the money is going and be able to make strategic financial trade-offs within their learning department.

Delivering Cost-Effective Content to End Learners

Delivering content to end learners is the next biggest expense in any learning department — this includes learning management system (LMS) costs to manage and track content consumption. Most learning leaders I speak with have only a vague idea of what they spend on content development and delivery, and very few have a process to annually review what was produced, who consumed it and whether that product should continue to be offered. By and large, annual planning focuses on trying to get on top of the business demand for even more product … and then begging for the budget to meet that demand.

So, a decade later, and a decade all the wiser, why are we generally seeing little progress when it comes to how we govern our learning investment? What’s getting in the way of ensuring that our hard-fought learning budgets are invested in wise ways? Learning departments are run by some pretty savvy people who’d likely never settle for letting their own investments sit in an underperforming stock or mutual fund, so why aren’t these same leaders regularly reviewing their learning investments and looking to shift dollars to areas of higher return?

This is what I hear from clients:

1. We don’t have the time to perform a strategic audit of our learning content and overall learning function.

Most learning clients I work with report being swamped by just “keeping the lights on” — running compliance programs, trying to get courses working in an LMS and getting reporting out, trying to manage internal demand for learning resources, and, as an afterthought, trying to maintain content built in previous years.

2. Even if we had the time, we admit we wouldn’t know where to start in assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of our learning function.

Well — okay, they wouldn’t use those words exactly because no one readily admits to not knowing what to do, but also because too many learning leaders still don’t think about their practice in terms of running a business function to be effective and efficient. Of course, we all strive to deliver impactful individual programs – on time and under budget — but rarely do we look at the overall efficiency of our learning operations.

3. An audit sounds scary, and people around here wouldn’t support any cuts to training. 

An internal review of your learning governance practices and content inventory doesn’t have to be scary or painful, and we actually don’t suggest you call it an audit! All you are trying to do is separate out where your money is working well for you and where it’s not. Then you can create a one- to three-year road map to move training dollars to areas where that money can be more effective.

Your resulting road map can entail everything from making immediate decisions to archive some course offerings, changing delivery methods for some courses, replacing expensive courses with other solutions, and reviewing learning policy and curricula assignments to ensure that the right people are getting the right training. It should also include reviewing contracts with all learning vendors and mapping a timeline to renegotiate pricing and services long before each contract comes due. Finally, a good learning operations road map needs to include a comprehensive technology plan. Whether you need a plan to move your global enterprise to one talent management platform, reduce down to one LMS vs. several systems, or just need help assessing your current LMS operations and associated IT spend, we can help formulate that plan.  

If you still think an audit sounds scary, consider the alternative — keep your resources running over capacity only to deliver more programs that may miss the mark, continue with inefficient manual processes, and budget even more money to maintain old content and systems. Hmmm … perhaps telling your boss that you want to kick off an internal audit is starting to look like a smart conversation to table.


Perform a Learning Governance Health Check

To help you think through that conversation even further, steal back a few minutes of strategic thinking time from your jammed calendar — grab a coffee and read through our Learning Governance Health Check. Think about areas where your learning function is running smoothly and those areas where you might be exposed to financial or operational risks.

Then call us. We’d love to hear about the parts of your learning function that you’re ready to whip into shape — and love to know what exciting, impactful learning you plan to launch with the found savings! We’ll openly share our experience in helping clients with this journey and help you see your path forward.

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