Purchasing Courses for your LMS

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Before we jump into the topic, the blog will now be published every Friday.

61 years ago, if you were like many – okay like me, you probably weren’t born yet.  But for those who were they could go and get a dime novel and read the latest on whatever was their fancy.  Perhaps the content provided educational value or offered the ability to see into the future and what is possible.

It could be acquired from textbooks that weighed five tons and required you to walk in the snow up a hill just to get to school.  A textbook I might add, that no one read because the professor never used it (or maybe that was just me).

The point being you had content to consume and content that was a building block to your learning

Fast Forward

In the e-learning world, specifically with LMSs/learning platforms, etc. – you need content for that learning block.

That content can come in many ways

  • Created by you or someone in the workplace
  • Created by a 3rd person – perhaps a freelancer or contractor
  • Created by a 3rd party provider – a Skillsoft or Wiley for example
  • Created by the LMS provider – they build custom content

And the content can come in many forms

  • A asynchronous based course either with media or without
  • Video/Audio files
  • PDFs, word docs, e-books, notes
  • Web cam presentation  – either live or recorded

Whoa – we are on to something

Most people today, create their own content rather than go out and purchase it, but the fact of the matter is, no matter how could you are at building content, there may come a day, when you need certain content that you cannot build, or choose not to due to various factors and thus purchasing it makes more sense.

The problem with purchasing the content, which is typically some form a course (some folks though do buy ebooks), is what you get can be all over the board.

  • Interactive and Engaging
  • Static – Lots of text and usually some stock images, maybe some java – popups if you are really lucky
  • Some interactivity – comes in the form of audio, maybe a video shoved in there, an exercise/activity or two and text

And the length can be all over the board too

  • Long – enough to cure insomnia
  • Short – two to five minutes in length
  • Series of modules or 10 minute courses
  • Medium in length – defined by the vendor
  • Some strange calculation of time, which in essence is often false, because if it is asynch. (self-paced) how can you really know how long each person is going to take to read a page, complete an exercise or scenario, bounce around the course (assuming that is the option), etc.?

You can’t, but people will always want to know, how long is the course time wise and then the vendor has to give a number or present one – because darn gone it, time to learn and what that time is – is more important than true acquisition of knowledge (a throwback to ILT learning – and not in a positive way).

Learning to Fly

Let’s assume for the moment that you or your company or whomever has decided to purchase the content which comes in course format (the most popular choice). Regardless if it is video or specific type of format/design, or topic.

The first thing you need to do is find the appropriate content provider that will work best for you.  And the options to choose, well are quite a few.

  • Purchase the courses through your LMS provider who already has partnership deals with various 3rd party providers – most popular choice by consumers (LMS client). The content can be one course or thousands. It doesn’t matter whether the courses are for employees, customers, clients, a combination of all or martians.
  • Go out and find the course(s) on your own. Choices today include going directly to the 3rd party provider, or going to a course marketplace buying and then loading it.

I load, You Load – We all Load

There are three ways to have a course or courses loaded into your LMS.

1. If you bought it through your LMS vendor (through their partnerships), they will load it for you – this is often the best and ideal way most people today like to have it done. It is fast, relatively easy, and assumes there is no interoperability issues.

2. You buy the course(s) via a 3rd party course marketplace with dozens of content created by vendors OR buy the course(s) through a 3rd party provider and YOU have to download the course(s) and load it yourself onto the LMS.

If you purchase from a 3rd party provider that says you have to download the content yourself, they may offer for a fee, to do it for you (excluding course marketplaces because you have to do it yourself, there is no option for them to help you load it).

But most people don’t do that, because the fee is not cheap, and so they take a shot and doing it themselves.

3. You buy the course(s) from a 3rd party provider and they load the course(s) for you for free.  After all, you just spent money to buy the course(s) and the least they can do is help you load it.

What is the right choice for you

I’ll be blunt here – as if I do it any other way – you want option #3.

  In all my years of buying LMSs and purchasing 3rd party course(s), I always had the 3rd party provider load the courses into my system.  I only once purchased course(s) through a LMS who already had a partnership in place.  However, all the other times, I went to an outside provider, selected or identified the course(s) I needed, bought it and then had the 3rd party provider work with the LMS provider to load the course(s).

Let me repeat something very important – I had the 3rd party provider work directly with the LMS vendor to load the courses.  I stayed out of it.  I refused to be the middleman or go between (unless a massive issue arose, but I never loaded the courses myself).

And guess what?  I was never charged beyond what I paid for the courses.

Who do I buy from?  Hmm, let’s see NetG (back in the day), Skillsoft, Playback Media (not the new one out there, but another one – may the rest in peace), a few other shops and Rosetta Stone (yes, that Rosetta Stone).

 

Fact vs Fiction

There are 3rd party providers out there who will tell you that no one (as in other 3rd party providers) will load courses for free.  I will let you on a little secret – they have no freaking clue on what they are talking about it.

There are plenty who do.

A Tale of Two Vendors

I had heard of a 3rd party provider who told a customer that “no one” pitch and that they the customer would have to download and load the courses themselves. Oh, if they wanted the 3rd party provider to help them – i.e. load the courses into the LMS – they charged them.

I investigated with help from the customer.

And lo and behold it was true.

The vendor – Biz Library.  (UPDATE: After discussions, Biz Library has stated that the “no one” pitch should have never been said, because they – Biz Library – does not know what each and every other  vendor does. They are letting their salespeople know that going forward they should not state the “no one” pitch.)

I then decided to see if a vendor of reput (whether you deem them as good or bad) followed the same approach.

Even though this vendor had the power – due to number of courses, time in the industry and so on – they stated to me that they did not charge a fee to load courses into any LMS for a customer.  ZERO fee.

The vendor – Skillsoft.

Game Plan for Courses – Save Time, Save Headaches – Call Now, Operators are not standing by

Scenario #1

You buy the courses via a 3rd party provider who loads the courses into your LMS for free. What do you do? What do you do?

1. In your agreement, get an opt-out clause in case you constantly run into issues that the 3rd party provider cannot solve or fix

2. In your agreement have it stated that the provider will test the courses and verify that they will work in your LMS and if it does not, then the provider will work directly with the LMS (whoever is their tech specialist they assign to you) to get it resolved without you paying any additional fees.

3. In your agreement have it stated that you will pay 50% up front to the 3rd party provider and will pay the remaining amount after validation from the vendor AND you have tested and validated that the courses work.  Come to an understanding on how long it will take you test and validate the courses.  Make sure to state that if they do not work, that the course provider will work with the LMS to fix it and then you will re-test. 

Basically you want validation from them and from yourself.  Never assume that once they load it will work, even if they have done work in the past with your LMS provider.

Scenario #2

You buy the courses through your LMS.

1. In your agreement to go with the LMS you select, you have a statement in there saying that your LMS provider will test and validate that the courses work without an issue and if there is an issue they (i.e. LMS) will fix it without any additional fees charged to you.

2. Add a statement that you will test and validate and upon validation you will pay the amount for the courses (you will want the courses fee as a separate line item and not stuck into the total cost of the LMS)

If a vendor won’t do this, walk.  Because here is the thing – if they stonewall or make it difficult what does that tell you about their customer service and support?  It tells me that it isn’t that good and when other issues arise, don’t expect them to be that awesome, rather expect difficulties and challenges.  For me, it screams Red Flag.

And who wants that at the beginning of the relationship.  If you were dating someone and they told you they collected serial killer cards (yes, they are available) that probably is a red flag and the ending of the relationship (a true story on both accounts).

Scenario #3

You buy the courses from a 3rd party provider and they tell you, that you have to download and load the courses yourself. 

1. Get that opt out clause into your agreement, stating that if it does not work, the provider will work with your LMS person to make sure they work at no additional charge. 

2. See #2 in Scenario #2, specifically you will test and validate the courses and upon verification you will pay the remaining amount for the courses.  Include that you will pay 25% or 50% up front (i.e. within 30 days after signing the agreement).  Never pay the whole thing up front, until you validate and test. 

If the provider balks, walk.  There are plenty 3rd party providers out there.  Again, it is all about customer service.  If they say they never do that, who cares – you want it.  I always dislike the “if I did it for you, then I have to do it for anyone”, cop-out.  I don’t care about others, just me. 

Bottom Line

Purchasing 3rd party courses does not have to be painful nor cause you headaches.  Rather it should be a smooth transaction.

If you run into speed bumps early on, what does this say about the provider?

On the other hand, if the misery is coming from your LMS who doesn’t want to work directly with your provider, what does that say about them?

Speaking, resolving and supporting are the keys to happiness – for you and them.

Or at least it should be.

E-Learning 24/7

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Let me begin by providing a disclaimer in the name of transparency and truthfulness. I am the VP of Marketing for BizLibrary, the vendor Craig mentions in the above blog post. I am writing to clarify some points, and to state our agreement with some points and disagreement with others.

    Let me also state clearly how much we respect and admire the valuable work Craig does for the market and industry. Blogs like this that offer an unvarnished perspective on the market are important sources of information for everyone. We have enjoyed, and we hope to continue to enjoy a cordial, professional and very good working relationship with Craig. So – let me get to our response.

    Content

    Craig is spot on about the critical importance of content. We’ve said before that “Content is King.” Without content, your learning platform cannot do anything to actually improve the performance of your employees.
    Craig is also correct that you have many choices for content. You can build it yourself, contract to have it built for you, buy it or borrow it. Obviously, we’d like everyone looking for content to consider our content collection. But I think you get the point. Craig makes some excellent points in the first part of this post.
    So, let me get to our response as Craig’s post relates to BizLibrary.

    Craig asserts that there are content providers in the market that will load their content in 3rd party LMS at no charge. He also says that we (BizLibrary) claimed that no vendor on the market does it for free. This dispute, and we dispute Craig’s assertion, by the way, is more about semantics than anything else. We have a fee structure whereby we charge for the licensed content only. There are no hidden costs or charges. None. We do not charge implementation fees, hosting fees, or maintenance fees. We do not charge for administrative or technical support. We do not charge for a lot of the standard services most, if not all, vendors on the market add as a matter of routine. And, guess what is buried in other vendors’ fees? If you guessed the costs associated with loading content into 3rd party LMS, you’d be correct.

    But let me explain the very specifics of the transaction that lead to Craig’s post. We DID include $4,000 in FREE services to assist the client with loading the content. But what’s missing in Craig’s understanding of the transaction is what happened BEFORE the contract was signed.

    Prior to the sale, we provided course files to the client, and hours (many as it turned out) of assistance to help this potential client load and test the course files, and ensure themselves of two things. First, the client verified that the course files loaded, launched and tracked properly within the client’s LMS environment. Second, the client could ensure they had the internal technical resources, skill and understanding to load the content properly. So this was not a situation where the client entered into the transaction blindly, unaware of the requirements of loading courses, and had no assistance. In fact, we included substantial assistance before and after the sale. Was it unlimited? No, and we make no apology for that fact. In this specific case, the courses were loaded and no additional fees were incurred. So in effect, there was no charge for loading the files.

    As a side note, the reason we do the pre-sale testing of our course files is to ensure that every client’s implementation in seamless and smooth. In this specific case again, the client at issue has not expressed dissatisfaction to us, and to the contrary, has expressed satisfaction with the level of service and support we’ve provided.

    Craig mentioned three options for having content loaded, and his advice is to opt for the free choice. I can’t disagree with free. Who can? But remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And free in the world of SaaS is always too good to be true. Like I said, those fees are part of the licenses for the courses offered by our competitors.
    Which leads to the SCORM/AICC part of Craig’s post, and this is another point upon which I respectfully disagree. In our experience, SCORM standards are oftentimes limiting and do not work very well to meet the needs of a modern, video-based learning environment. Now, I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with SCORM. Far from it. We offer an LMS that is both AICC and SCORM compliant. But we’ve found that the AICC standards work much more fluidly and easily with video. The core of our content offering of over 7,000 courses is video. So, why wouldn’t we use the standard we find most effective for delivering, tracking and reporting on 98% of our course library?

    I want to conclude our reply by quoting from Craig’s post:

    Bottom Line
    Purchasing 3rd party courses does not have to be painful nor cause you headaches. Rather it should be a smooth transaction.
    If you run into speed bumps early on, what does this say about the provider?
    On the other hand, if the misery is coming from your LMS who doesn’t want to work directly with your provider, what does that say about them?

    These are points about which we are in complete agreement. Where we disagree – for now – is that we firmly believe we delivered a headache free, smooth transaction to the client Craig found. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to ask Craig to explain to you exactly how he found this company and his connection to them.) But we did everything possible, and we believe we went the extra mile, both before and after the sale to remove any and all obstacles and speed bumps. What Craig missed entirely was all of the pre-sale effort, due diligence and validation work we performed at no charge to ensure our client’s success.

    Craig notes that we are talking. We are meeting next week. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, Craig has given us advice in the past that we have taken, and he’s offered advice that we did not. I think once he understands the way we conduct these types of deals, he might advise his readers to go ahead and breathe easy. BizLibrary is a sound choice as a content provider. We are 100% committed to our clients’ success. I think when you see the whole story, you have to agree, that buying content from BizLibrary is and remains a viable solution for many companies, and we sincerely hope you give us a chance to prove it to you, too.

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    1. I will not go into a tit for tat response with Biz Library. However, upon their statements presented in the comments, I did further investigation with the client. It is apparent to me that some of the information clearly did not get to senior executives at Biz Library, and thus they were likely unaware of certain actions. I will be discussing with Chris and Dean (President of Biz Library) this specific info and details next week.

      But I will stipulate a couple of points.

      a. I truly trust this client and the client stated repeatedly that the sales person told them that “no vendor loads courses for free” comment. I believe them, because what is the advantage of them stating something that was false? What’s the gain? There is none.

      There is no benefit nor reason for me to post this info, if I thought it was false or if I thought the person was lying or making it up. The fact that I asked a couple of times to verify the statement from the client to make sure that it was incongruence with what I was hearing – and it was – is all that matters. I stand by the client and their feedback.

      b. The hidden fees angle is something I hear all the time with various vendors. And I’ll leave it at that.

      c. I respectively disagree with the AICC angle. But you know that.

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      1. Like Craig, we won’t get into a lengthy exchange here, because we are talking next week.

        We trust Craig. We believe he posted in good faith, so we certainly don’t want any reader to believe otherwise.

        As for the AICC disagreement, Craig and I will simply disagree. That’s the nature of the business world, and our disagreement on this point does nothing to diminish my respect for him, his work and our long-term relationship. We see eye-to-eye on many other, frankly, far more important issues.

        Let’s leave this for now and trust that our conversation next week will clear this all up.

        Craig – looking forward to talking next week.

        All the best,
        Chris

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