Many trends have blown through the Learning & Development community in the past few years. But One constant is “do more with less.” In-house L&D teams are under relentless budget pressure with more expected of them from limited budget and resource every year.

If that wasn’t enough of a challenge to L&D, the skills required to deliver effective learning solutions are changing too. Recently Fuse Universal published this list of the new skills required for Learning Professionals:

  1. Performance Consultant
  2. Community Engagement Manager
  3. Experience Designer
  4. Videographer & Storyteller
  5. Animator / Visualiser
  6. Data Analyst

Combine these with this list of key skills in L&D from Don Taylor:

  • Instructional Designer
  • Leader
  • Learning architect
  • Quality Assurance / Tester
  • Marketing/Communications
  • Learning technologist
  • Solutions architect
  • Content creators
  • Subject Matter Experts
  • Programme manager
  • Project manager
  • Technical person
  • Performance consultant
  • Learners’ representative
  • Product owner
  • Instructional technologist
  • Post-implementation maintenance

Let’s step into the shoes of the L&D manager in this situation. You need capacity and solid baseline skills to deliver on business as usual. You need further firepower to drive innovation forward, tap into these skills and deliver results. With limited budget. Let’s look at the options available to you:

Option 1: Build internal skills and capacity:

Pros: Continuous learning for you and your team

Cons: Cost, hard to justify Full Time Roles for Specialists

Of course you and your L&D team should be continuously learning and tracking new trends and developments. That can be hard to find the time to do methodically but reading up on latest developments, using curation tools to capture developments, and networking effectively can all help. And of course you should be doing this no matter what resourcing model you use.

Increasing internal capacity though has its challenges. If you’re anything like the in-house L&D teams we work with, you’re facing a low to zero headcount increase, and pressure is going the other way: outsource what you can.

And do you really need all of these skills in-house? Marketing and communications is vital for launching and communicating value of new initiatives, but you probably can’t cost justify a marketing professional sitting full time in your L&D team. Unless you’re making explainer animations on an industrial scale, you don’t need to hire someone for that. Many of the new skills listed above are more on demand than essential to the daily core activities of your team.

Option 2: Hire Digital Learning Agencies

The traditional method for bringing external digital learning skills into client organizations is the agency / company route.

Agencies are made up of teams of people with specialist skills. Hiring one takes away some of the risk, as they’re accountable for design and development of your elearning module, your LMS support, developing videos and animations and so on. Most digital learning agencies will offer a wide range of services under one roof.

The positive aspect of this is a single point of contact (usually an account manager or project/programme lead and consistency of people, style and quality. However, many L&D buyers get into the habit of using the same agency or shortlist of 2-3 for all of their outsourced digital learning. Sometimes that’s through familiarity and comfort, sometimes that’s because there’s a procurement restriction on how many agencies can be on a framework, so you go back to the same few players. Over time, that can lead to complacency on both sides, which isn’t the best breeding ground for quality and innovation.

The other challenge with larger agencies is cost. As digital learning agencies grow from smaller, agile teams to more established players, overheads increase which drive up costs. That tends to flow through to pricing. If you ask a smaller 3-4 person agency to quote for 10 minutes of elearning development compared to a 50 person agency, you will get different responses (we ask them all the time – there’s a big range).

Tip: If your preferred approach is to work with agencies: shop around. There are hundreds of digital learning agencies, including many emerging small agencies many of whom have come from a digital marketing background into elearning. That brings a fresh perspective in our view. And if you need some help finding them, let us now.