Buying eLearning content is easy, but shopping for content can be a nightmare. There are so many options and factors you need to consider to ensure you’re getting the right content for your organization. Then there’s a fear of buyer’s remorse.How many times have you made a purchase to find yourself regretting it down the road? It could’ve been a new car, a computer, new furniture. How did you make your purchasing decision?
Couch-hunting is a great analogy here. If you’ve ever purchased one, chances are you didn’t just stroll into the first store you saw and buy the prettiest or cheapest model on the floor. You considered your purchase from every angle. If we are willing to put that much thought into a couch for our home, why wouldn’t we put that same thought into buying eLearning content for your employees?
Using couch-hunting as our guide, let’s look at some best practices for buying eLearning content:
What categories of content do you need?
You wouldn’t walk into a furniture store and tell the salesperson “I need a piece of furniture” without specifying what you needed (a couch, loveseat, or sofa sleeper). Likewise, you don’t just “buy content” without having a specific category in mind.
So your first question when buying eLearning content should be “What categories do I need now?” You might consider what categories you will need in the future as well. Here are some common categories of eLearning content that businesses purchase:
- Communication Skills
- Compliance Training
- Customer Service
- Professional Productivity
- Selling Skills
Does it make an impression? (Memorable visuals)
College students across America buy the standard “functional futon” for their rooms every year, but there’s a reason they don’t hold onto them into adulthood. They’re ugly, they’re unwieldy, and they represent a time in our lives when we just couldn’t afford better.
Video content is the same way. If you’re using voice over PowerPoint, you have the eLearning equivalent of a futon. On the other hand, a video that uses thoughtful visuals will be more likely to grab and hold a viewer's attention. For example, are there unexpected and surprising design elements? Creative and professional-looking graphics? Does the video feature live people to keep the presentation personal and relatable?
It doesn’t matter if a topic is boring, detailed, or abstract (or all three). Just as the perfect taupe couch can really bring together a room, memorable visuals can really pull your information together, even if the topic is less than sexy.
What size do you need? (Microlearning)
An acquaintance of mine once went through the nightmare of returning a bed to the store because the king-size mattress he purchased was too big for the room. (Try getting dressed in the morning with only 5" of clearance around your bed!)
When buying off-the-shelf eLearning content, as with furniture, size matters. There is a scientifically proven optimal length for training videos, and any content you are considering should be around that length. (For example, the microlearning content we create here at ej4 follows these guidelines.)
How easy is it to get it in the door? (SCORM/AICC compliant)
Ever try to get a 47" wide couch through a 38" door? Ever wonder why they didn’t just make couches in standard sizes to fit through doors?
In essence, this already exists in the eLearning industry. It’s called SCORM compliance. (AICC is another standard in the industry as well). When a video is SCORM/AICC compliant, it is already compatible with a host of Learning Management Systems (LMSs). This means you can be confident that your video content—as well as student materials and exams—can be accessed and tracked no matter what system you are currently using (as long as it, too, is SCORM/AICC compliant).
Another “fit in the door” issue has to do with file size. Large videos can take up a lot of server space. When we provide content to our clients, we send pointers to videos instead of the actual video files. This means less room taken up by the content on your servers, plus you are guaranteed to have the most up-to-date versions available at all times.
How current or fashionable is it? (Updates)
Just how important are those updates? Very. If you’ve ever laughed to yourself because someone had a floral-patterned couch straight out of the ’70s, you now know how employees feel when they see your outdated content. (Was the woman in that customer service training video wearing huge shoulder pads?)
A good content library should be updated regularly. We update both our content and our graphics, both by adding new courses and by refreshing older ones, all at no additional cost to our clients. Our instructional designers lead this process, so each video is created in line with the latest theories of adult learning.
Also pay attention to how you are informed about updates. Are you notified when a video is refreshed? Or when new content is added? Does the vendor make it easy for your administrators to incorporate those changes, or is it always a hassle? These are all things you need to consider, too.
Does the couch have high-quality, structural integrity? (Expertise)
With your couch, you may be looking for a sturdy foundation of solid wood and not particle board. Are you looking for a cushion with goose down, fiberfill, or maybe foam? Don’t forget about the quality of the upholstery when you consider leather, velvet, microfiber, etc.
Similarly, the design and structure of our off-the-shelf training content is based on adult learning theory, instructional design, and proven science and research:
- Science of Microlearning: Research shows employees are interrupted every 11 minutes so our courses average 7:12.
- The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve: Describes the theory that the human brain has a decreasing ability to retain information over time. This is why we offer training reinforcement which is a series of quizzes days, weeks, and months after the training event with our LMS, Thinkzoom. (And we include Thinkzoom for free when you buy our content!)
- Saccadic Bilateral Eye Movement: Research showed participants had superior memory recall when they made a series of horizontal saccadic eye movements during the memory encoding phase or the learning event. This supports our graphic design style and the pace at which the artwork changes on the screen.
What unique attributes does the couch include? (Features)
Modern couches can come with a surprising variety of features:
- Separately reclining sectionals
- Hideaway tray tables
- Built-in charging stations
- Insulated cup holders and coolers
Our employee training videos also come with a variety of features for your modern learners:
- Downloadable student materials to support real-life application
- Multiple languages in closed captioning and transcription
- Exam at the end of each video
Can you try it out? (Previews and trials)
You would never buy a couch without first seeing it in the showroom, sitting on it, and perhaps even stretching out. Showroom salesmen know that folks like to try before they buy.
Which is why it’s weird that many eLearning content vendors do not provide free content up front, either through free videos on their website or free trials. Here at ej4, we offer both: We have 32 full courses you can view for free right on our website, plus a free trial with full access to our library. You can’t get more up front about your eLearning content than that.
Does it work with the rest of the room? (Blended learning)
When you buy a couch, you do so knowing it isn’t the only piece of furniture in the room. It has to fit with the pieces that are already there. The same goes for training: eLearning content has to “fit” with other kinds of training and instruction you plan on using (instructor-led courses, webinars, and so on).
One way to ensure this fit is to have actual training professionals help develop content, guided by the latest theories in adult learning. This is the approach we’ve taken, and we have found not only that it leads to better content, but instructors themselves appreciate and use the content much more because they see the benefits of blended learning.
If you’re curious about how blended learning works in general, or about how ej4 lends itself to a blended approach specifically, I highly recommend downloading our free eBook on Blended Learning.
Does the free trial come with strings attached?
I once had a pushy salesperson sit me down and ask dozens of questions before he would even let me wander the showroom—and even then he insisted on “guiding” me through the options. I hated that experience, because the salesperson was trying to control the way I shopped. It’s bad form, but a lot of content providers do just that.
By contrast, we use a quick-and-easy form to start your trial. (Compare to some of our competitors’ forms which ask you to fill in no less than 10 fields and require you to speak to a sales rep before your trial begins!) No credit card is required, and you have access to all of our videos.
In fact, you get an entire trial website built for you the moment you click “Start My Free Trial.”
Who can you call if there is a problem? (Support)
Have you ever had something delivered and the company makes a point of giving you the customer support number? How awesome is it to know you can speak to a live person?
We try to capture that feeling, too, through personal support. We make sure each client knows the name, phone number, and email of their assigned learning consultant. Behind them is an entire team that helps support the client through the complete process, from decision-making to implementation and all through the contract period.
To give you an idea of how far we take this idea: We’ve gotten on conference calls between a client and their LMS provider to help straighten some issues out. We provide our own LMS, Thinkzoom, but the client was committed to their current LMS, and we were committed to them. So we lent a hand to make it work.
So ask: Who can you call when you are having an issue with your content? How far are they willing to go to help you?
Can you have it tailored to your needs? (Custom content)
Any store can sell a couch, but the best stores have the means and the willingness to customize a piece to exactly fit your requirements. While that might be a rare need when it comes to a couch, it’s a common need when it comes to training content.
Many eLearning content providers offer standard libraries but will not customize any content—or, if they do, it comes with an outrageous price tag. What happens, then, when you need a video on your company’s history? Or that has safety tips specific to your industry? Or that uses case studies from your own sales team to drive home the sales process to new team members?
Ask about custom content, and remember, it should still be SCORM compliant!
Checklist for buying eLearning content for your LMS.
There’s a lot to consider when in the market for eLearning content. This handy checklist will help make things easier:
- What categories of content do you need?
- Does it make an impression with memorable visual and creative design elements?
- What size/how long are the videos? (Is length determined by the science of microlearning?)
- Are the videos SCORM/AICC compliant?
- Are the videos up-to-date, both in their look and in their information?
- Can you try it out? Are there previews? A free trial? Both? (If neither, why?)
- Can you use it with current training in a blended learning environment?
- What’s involved in starting the free trial? What will you have access to?
- Who can you call if there is a problem?
- Can you get custom content made? Will it be SCORM compliant?
Want to take this checklist with you? Bookmark this page or download this handy PDF below!
- If you are also shopping for a new Learning Management System, check out our blog "Buying an LMS: The Complete Feature Checklist to Make the Right Choice." We give you another handy checklist!
- Download our full course lists in our Business Skills and Workplace Compliance libraries.
- Think about how your training content and LMS work within the full learning ecosystem. Learn more in our ebook on "The Learning Ecosystem."
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 28, 2018 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.