Finding that Needle in the Haystack: Best Practices for Selecting Learning Technologies

Needle-in-a-haystack-learning
 
It’s that time of year again. Learning conference time. Time for you to walk the trade show floor and be awestruck by the sights, sounds, demonstrations, and pure sensory overload of all the new learning technologies seeking your undivided attention. On top of that, you are on a mission to find the best, Learning Management Platform, or Microlearning Platform, or Assessment Tool, or whatever your organization is seeking to support your strategic learning plan. To say that task is daunting is a gross understatement.
However, there is hope and a better way to get what it is your company and team really need.
1) Start with the end in mind. Start as soon as you know you have a need.
You must know what your overarching business and learning goals are for whatever technology you are seeking to implement in your organization. There are literally thousands of learning technology solutions in a crowded market space and these companies are quite happy to have you purchase or license their technologies, even if it may not be the best fit. Share these goals with learning technology vendors as you are starting to identify the most likely candidates for your company.
Identification, selection, contracting, and implementation of software (even cloud-based applications) can take more time than you imagine. As Barry Schwartz states in his pivotal book, The Paradox of Choice, “Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.” So, getting started earlier provides you the requisite time to make the best choice possible.
2) Create a robust list of requirements and parameters for the new learning technology.
Example requirements include:

  • Technology
  • Business requirements
  • Budget
  • Success criteria
  • Functional requirements (What does this technology have to do for your learning audience as well as the team that manages it?)
  • Vendor validation
  • Do they have many satisfied customers?
  • Are they fiscally solvent?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • What are users saying about their product?
  • What is the background of the leadership team and board?

3) Work with procurement, HR, IT, Legal, and other functional entities in your organization to identify any requirements, which you can add to a learning technology specification.
Many a learning pro has felt the wrath of senior IT or Legal professionals when they try to “wing it” to shoehorn new learning technologies into a company. Get the right stakeholders involved from the beginning of your project, even consider creating a project team or committee as you proceed with this project. There are more than likely requirements and guidelines in these functional areas you may not be aware of. And, you don’t want to be the person that causes the Order Management System or Payroll to fail when you implement your new Competency Assessment Tool across the enterprise. Depending on the size of your organization, procurement may want you to create a formal Request for Information (RFI) or Request for Proposal (RFP).
4) Create use cases for the technology you are seeking and include them in your requirements document. This can be used to share with the most likely group of learning technology companies.
Sadly, there are many learning technology companies who will swear their solution(s) can do everything your company needs. In truth, there are very few technologies that can do it all. Therefore, the requirements document and use cases you create are so important. At the end of the day, you are going to end up selecting the solution, which provides the most functionality within your budgetary and other constraints.
5) Don’t cast your net too wide.
Some organizations will send the RFP or requirements document to 20 or more organizations. This creates a tremendous amount of drag on the selection process and isn’t necessary. Identify the top four to seven players in the space and submit your requirements to those. Use a standard set of criteria when reviewing the responses. Narrow the selection to your three top candidates and create demonstration parameters for them leveraging your required use cases.
6) After evaluations and any required follow-up, work with procurement and legal as required to start work with selected vendor.
You found the right technology. Now make sure to get all the right contracts and documents in place so you can start implementing the new technology in your company. Remember, there is a huge change management component to any new learning technology implementation for your company for the end users as well as your learning staff. We will talk about best practices for learning technology implementation in a future blog post.
In Summary
The plethora of learning technology categories, companies, and offerings makes any identification and selection process inherently difficult. However, if you remember these key tenets of the process, you will find that needle in the haystack.

  • Start with the end in mind. Start as soon as you know you have a need.
  • Create a robust list of requirements and parameters for the new learning technology.
  • Work with procurement, HR, IT, Legal, and other functional entities in your organization to identify any requirements, which you can add to a learning technology specification.
  • Create use cases for the technology you are seeking and include them in your requirements document. This can be used to share with the most likely group of learning technology companies.
  • Don’t cast your net too wide.
  • After evaluations and any required follow-up, work with procurement and legal as required to start work with selected vendor.