Learning and development teams have a large number of duties, and limited time and resources with which to do them. Content creation is only one of these duties. However, content creation is also the most time-intensive task, requiring the greatest range of talent. Using off-the-shelf (OTS) content is an established, credible way to get up-to-date, professional learning materials, freeing your internal teams to focus on other tasks. Understanding the value OTS content brings to the table, as well as its limitations, can help you think strategically about your training programs.
Whether designing a new training program or simply searching for the right eLearning tools for your existing program, quality content is the first priority. But it is not the only one. Today, more than ever, learning organizations are coming to realize that effective training is so much more than creating some content and hoping it “sticks.”
To illustrate, take what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists as the typical duties of a training and development specialist:
- Asses training needs through surveys, interviews with employees, or consultations with managers or instructors
- Design and create training manuals, online learning modules, and course materials
- Review training materials from a variety of sources and choose appropriate materials
- Deliver training to employees using a variety of instructional techniques
- Assist in the evaluation of training programs
- Perform administrative tasks such as monitoring costs, scheduling classes, setting up systems and equipment, and coordinating enrollment
We would also add to this list of duties such as monitoring new regulations and training requirements, keeping up with existing employee training renewals, and demonstrating the value of training to the C-suite. That makes for nine general duties, each of which involves its own set of tasks. Notice that content creation is only one of these.
In other words, learning organizations are being stretched thinner and thinner, having to do more with less. With so many important tasks to monitor and complete, there’s a danger that quality of instruction and of service can suffer. Those that succeed are the ones that find sound ways to free their bandwidth, allowing them to focus on tasks where their specific expertise is truly needed.
So why aren’t more companies using OTS content? Having talked to many L&D experts, we’ve heard three main reasons:
- In-house teams, it's argued, know the company and the business best, and so are better positioned to create content
- Some people worry about the quality of content offerings available
- In many cases, the internal team might appreciate the need for OTS content, but has been unable to prove its value to decision makers
This makes the use of “off-the-shelf” (OTS) content that much more important. OTS content can allow a team to immediately deploy needed training quickly and professionally, expanding its offerings without expanding head count (or overtaxing current resources). This is especially the case for smaller teams that need to focus on core tasks and might not be able to keep up with best practices in instructional design or recent developments in content areas (for example, keeping up with compliance laws for a compliance course).
A classic study of CLOs found that 31% listed “communicating and measuring value” as their #1 challenge. As one CLO stated, “My biggest challenge is convincing senior executives of the strategic value of learning.” The second-biggest challenge? Resource constraints (28%).
Each of these is a legitimate worry, but each can be addressed by appreciating both the value OTS brings to the table and the various ways it can be deployed in a successful training program. Once you are able to find quality OTS content from a reputable, full-service vendor, it will free up your internal team to focus on those areas that most require their internal knowledge, leading to more effective training overall.
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