In L&D the quality of content is vital in order for outcomes to be effective, but where does this content come from? Is it developed in-house, in partnership with third parties or outsourced completely, and how might this impact outcomes?
Although ‘formal’ learning interventions are no longer the most predominant method of developing employees, they still have a place in the L&D arsenal and ensuring a high level of quality is essential when it comes to running effective professional development programmes. The input people receive can have a dramatic effect on the outcomes at the end of a learning event, and this is directly influenced by the skills of the trainer running a programme, the method(s) of delivery, and the content being used. It is often assumed that content is the most straightforward element of this ‘success triangle’ but a lot of organisations still struggle to get it right, and this frequently comes down to where the content is coming from.
Who’s responsible for content?
There are many options when it comes to the actual development of content; you may choose to design it in-house, buy it ‘off-the- shelf’ or even have it designed for you. The decision will typically come down to what the content needs to cover and who has the expertise to create it, as this will be the most important factor to consider. Often we instinctively feel that designing the content in-house is the best option, as it allows the business to retain control and ensure it aligns with the style, tone and values of the organisation. But in reality this isn’t always practical or even advisable. There is little value in having the L&D team create content on something they have no experience or knowledge of as this will not enable high quality content to be produced. In addition some organisations simply don’t have the resources available within their L&D function to design everything in-house, and there will undoubtedly be times where specialist knowledge is required that is not present internally; topics such as health and safety are common examples, but there are many other areas where a business may have to bring in outside expertise in order to run or inform a learning event. The challenge then is to try and find an outside provider who can supply or create the right content for your audience.
However, one of the most common mistakes businesses make, especially when it comes to bespoke programmes, is to place the responsibility of content solely in the hands of the external experts. While an outside party may have extensive knowledge of a certain topic, what they won’t normally have is the insight into how this information applies within your business. Linking the content to the context of the business is an absolutely vital aspect of successful learning. If the knowledge being conveyed is presented in a purely theoretical or abstract way, then how can you expect learners to appreciate and connect with the key messages, and more importantly, how can you expect them to apply this knowledge effectively back in the workplace? The answer is you can’t, which is why context and relevance are so important in L&D.
A further challenge facing L&D teams in the current climate is that content is now being pulled in from the various digital resources available. Both learning providers and employees themselves are turning to these resources to find information they need, and this is posing a significant challenge in terms of quality control.
Building a partnership
The ultimate responsibility for ensuring content is high quality and relevant to the business and its employees will lie at the door of the organisation, but partnering with those who have expertise in required topics may be an important part of this process. The solution relies on being able to develop a genuine partnership with a provider, to ensure that where outside support is required, it is provided in a way that actually helps you meet your objectives, rather than just cosmetic solutions that look good but don’t really have any impact.
It’s also important to do this internally as similar challenges will arise when different departments are working together to create content. An L&D team may be asked to develop content on a certain topic, but perhaps don’t have the actual knowledge to create it themselves. They may then be required to reach out to other departments within the business to populate the content with the relevant information. But without clear direction and collaborative working there can be no guarantee that the content developed actually covers what is needed.
Despite the widely held belief that content is the easy part of designing a learning programme, it can often actually prove to be the most tricky. The importance of what is presented during a session is hard to overstate; this is what attendees will be using as reference to guide and influence their thinking, behaviours and approach in their career which means getting it right is essential. In some cases this will require collaboration with external sources, but this doesn’t mean handing over all the responsibility to them, while the minutia of the content may have to come from outside providers, it is the organisation’s role to make sure it is vetted and fit for purpose before being deployed. This is the only way to ensure that the content your employees are engaging with is content that will truly enhance their skills and performance within the context of your organisation, and that is what it’s all about when it comes to professional development.