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What L&D professionals need to know about outsourcing training

Organizations have long gone global. Offices are scattered all over the planet, employees come from various cultures and have different expectations when it comes to their path within the company. Delivering good-quality training has become more of a challenge than it used to be and L&D departments are being asked to do more with limited resources.

In this context, outsourcing training or buying off-the-shelf programs has a certain appeal.

Yet today’s employees want everything to be personalized and meaningful to them while CEOs demand that return on investment be demonstrated on every single L&D intervention. It seems like with all these conflicting goals it’s almost impossible to make the right choice.

While the challenge itself is real, there are things that, when taken into consideration, can smooth the way towards an effective outsourcing strategy.

It’s not all or nothing

One of the common misconceptions when it comes to outsourcing the learning component in a company is that all of it needs to go. Businesses can make the choice of having a small yet effective in-house training team that can tackle the essential learning interventions – for example those that involve leaders or top talent.

A tertiary can deal with onboarding, technical training, soft skills and compliance training while internal L&D specialists can supervise and evaluate to see if the quality of the delivered modules is up to company standards. When a very specific need arises, the in-house team can even step in and design learning programs that are to be deployed throughout the company by the outsourcer.

This way of doing things will provide a much needed flexibility and the necessary control for calculating the ROI of training. It will also bring peace of mind to employees working with L&D who will see that the whole program is meant to work with them not aimed at terminating their jobs.

Read more: Why it’s important to calculate the ROI of training in order to ensure the L&D budget

Negotiate the KPIs

Outsourcing part of the L&D activity should by no means lead to a decrease in quality. However, since very often cost effectiveness is important and there is the temptation to go with the lowest bidder, it’s important to establish right off the bat how this activity is going to be evaluated.

To avoid the situation in which they come up with a low price that cannot sustain the desirable standards it’s best to have the discussion about what targets they will have to meet and exactly what the measure for them will be. The optimal version would be to translate the internal requirements so that there is no visible effect of the transition where quality is concerned.

It’s a lot easier to smooth everything in advance than to struggle to add requirements to an already signed contract. I cannot stress enough the utility of everything being made terrible clear, to the limit of obsessiveness to detail, as any room for interpretation can lead to endless contradictory conversations and frustration on both sides.

Pilot smaller programs first

There’s no test more accurate than a field test. Aspects may be debated to death in a conference room but the truth about how everything goes down becomes apparent when learning programs go live. This is why, if the timeline allows it, it’s a good idea to let the outsourcer do the work and see how that functions in the real-life workplace.

Keeping in mind that the point of any pilot is to outline both the strengths and the weaknesses of the provider, L&D specialists can have a clear view of how well it can work and figure out the course of action for aspects that leave to be desired.

As with any process, feedback is crucial so any conversation between the two parties after a pilot program should be conducted in a constructive frame of mind. Even if the pilot is a very small and not terribly significant project it will give tremendous insight into whether a certain outsourcer is the right partner for the organisation. An informed decision is always a good decision.

Automation makes it all easier

To have today’s options of state of the art LMS platforms and not use them is pretty much like using a rotary phone in the 21st century. Automation is not only a massive time-saver for any L&D team, but it can also be of great help in deploying and evaluating all outsourced programs.

The road goes both ways as the outsourcer can in its turn benefit from some access to the organization’s LMS. There is precious information there as well as the ability to track all progress, see the gaps right when they appear. The reporting becomes significantly less time consuming as well. Also, all the basic organisational and administrative tasks can be automatically taken care of thus leaving more time for in-depth, quality learning interventions.

If the timing is right, organisations may choose to invest into a new platform at the same time when it is choosing an outsourcer. This way it will all have better coherence and the whole process will go smoother.

Read more: 4 Steps for implementing a new LMS


Outsourcing has already proved not to be a fad but a stable tendency for today’s organisations. The key to doing it well is careful planning, attention to detail and an unrelenting attitude towards quality.