So, you’ve decided to invest in growing your association’s learning business to provide more value to members and bring in non-dues revenue. That’s great! But, where do you begin?
An eLearning consultant can help you answer this question and more. However, it’s important that you understand the parameters of their services, whether they’d be a valuable addition to your team, and how to find the ideal partner for you.
At Web Courseworks, we provide professional services to help associations like yours build their ideal learning business. Through that work, we’ve seen the common questions that associations face when it comes to hiring an eLearning consultant— and now, we’re here to answer them:
- What is an eLearning consultant?
- What does a learning consultant do?
- Should you hire an eLearning consultant?
- What should you consider when evaluating eLearning consultants?
This guide will help you decide whether partnering with a consultant is the right move for your association and how to choose the right team member when doing so. Let’s get started.
What is an eLearning consultant?
To start off, an eLearning consultant is an individual who provides advice and guidance to help organizations create successful eLearning programs. This could mean helping your association build its learning business from the ground up or providing guidance for future growth. For example, they could assist with the search for a learning management system or consult on the pricing of your courses.
eLearning consultants typically come in two forms:
- Internal Consultants: This individual is employed within your association and functions as a member of your team, both providing and acting on guidance to grow your learning business. This is ideal for associations that are seeking an ongoing consulting relationship and have the budget to invest in that.
- External Consultants: These consultants are hired to work with your association for a set period of time and often work with a number of other organizations in the same capacity. They provide advice and guidance to help elevate your learning business, which your team would then put into action.
The biggest difference here is who is responsible for carrying out the strategy that the consultant provides— the consultant alongside your internal team or your team itself.
What does a learning consultant do?
The services of an eLearning consultant are wide-ranging and depend on the needs of your team. Some of these services include:
- Creating a strategy for your learning business. This is true whether you’re building your learning business from the ground up or expanding your programming to reach new heights. A consultant can create a roadmap to reach your goals from your eLearning pricing strategy, to the content you’ll provide, to how you’ll market those offerings.
- Assisting with the search for new learning technologies. If you’ve outgrown your current learning management system, a consultant can help you research solutions, evaluate them against your needs, and make a plan for implementing the new tech into your strategy.
- Creating a content development strategy. An eLearning consultant can help you evaluate the types of content that will best engage your association’s members, manage subject matter experts to ensure that content is well-informed, and author those courses after doing so.
- Converting courses to new formats. If you have eLearning courses that are outdated (for example, built using Adobe Flash, which was sunsetted at the end of 2020) or otherwise not meeting your needs (such as a live webinar that you want to repackage for on-demand viewing), a consultant can assist with this transition.
- Administering your LMS and providing call center management. This includes keeping your LMS up and running smoothly and providing end-user, after-hours, and overflow live phone support.
- Measuring the efficacy of your eLearning programming. A consultant can configure valuable reports within your LMS system to help you understand which aspects of your programming are most successful, why that is, and how you can elevate the less successful aspects to greater heights.
- Converting in-person educational events into virtual and hybrid events. Many associations were faced with the challenge of canceling or going virtual with in-person learning events in 2020. Going forward, hybrid and virtual events are here to stay. An eLearning consultant can convert your event into digital means using your LMS or virtual event platform.
To give you insight into what this might look like in action, let’s walk through the three steps that a Web Courseworks consultant would complete when consulting with your team about your learning business in general.
Web Courseworks’ Three-Phased Learning Business Approach
The three-phased approach that Web Courseworks follows includes:
1. Organizational Readiness
We begin by evaluating organizational readiness, also known as the capacity that your association has to make changes to your learning business.
Organizational readiness can be determined by looking at an organization’s internal staff and environment. Who is going to be assigned to different tasks within the new business, such as talking to subject matter experts, building content, and administering your LMS?
Everything that goes into a learning business needs to be supported by staff, technology, and the external market. This step helps us understand what level of support your team will need along the process.
2. Environmental Scan
The environmental scan phase looks at the external market: who the association’s competition is, what the target market wants, if there is a market for the content being provided, what type of pricing structure to enact, and more.
This provides us with the data and expertise to make suggestions for your learning business as it relates to the external market. After all, you wouldn’t want to create courses or invest in tools that your members are simply not interested in engaging with!
3. Final Report
The end goal of this three-phased approach is to have a tangible item that will help you move forward with steps to create or otherwise improve your learning business.
One example of a document that clients often want to receive is a business plan. This could include information such as an evaluation of the market that you operate in, how your programming could be positioned to stand out in that market, a course authoring and marketing strategy to bring that reality to life, and the budget needed to fund it all.
To learn more about Web Courseworks’ professional services, contact our team today.
Should You Hire an eLearning Consultant?
Now that we’ve covered the services that an eLearning consultant may provide and what these services would look like in action, let’s consider whether your team should hire a consultant.
Here are three scenarios in which it might be valuable to bring in an eLearning consultant to assist your team:
You’re building your learning business from the ground up.
As an association, your main product is the value that you provide to members— this likely includes networking experiences, events, and casual educational experiences such as webinars and presentations. These are all fairly easily managed by your team of association professionals.
However, creating a formal learning business within your organization is a whole new ballgame. From investing in upgraded LMS technology to creating a learning business plan to instructional design, each task involves a specific skill set that the average association professional may not have.
An eLearning consultant can make sure that there is a coherent business plan behind your association’s eLearning programming and help to implement that plan. The goal is to create a learning business that is profitable while providing the maximum value to members— both increasing membership and decreasing your team’s administrative burden at the same time. A consultant with advanced knowledge of learning technology, instructional design, and learning business best practices can inform that strategy.
Your current eLearning programming is underperforming.
There are a variety of ways that your eLearning programming could be underperforming when it comes to your overall learning business goals. For example, you could be experiencing any of the following challenges:
- The costs of creating eLearning courses and training your team are too high.
- You don’t know what types of training would be most beneficial for your members.
- Your members aren’t interested in purchasing or participating in eLearning.
- Your learning support costs are rising and you don’t have the team power to cover them.
- You’re unable to pivot to new training methods, such as virtual events, and are behind the times.
These challenges could result in dissatisfied members, decreased participation, loss of revenue, and even high staff turnover if the administrative burden is too high.
An eLearning consultant can evaluate your learning business from top to bottom and discover what challenges exist. This team can create a comprehensive training strategy that will both appeal to your members and be effective for your team— a strategy that could include anything from scaling up your LMS, adjusting the pricing of your courses, or even offering end-user support. And, they can put reports in place that your team can use for analysis going forward to continue improving.
You’re looking to expand your eLearning programming.
Perhaps your eLearning programming has been a major success so far and you’re looking to expand it even further. If you’re looking to incorporate virtual conferences, new and expansive courses, or even social and gamified experiences, that’s a great time to bring in a consultant.
The consultant can provide services such as:
- LMS administration. As your programming grows and more members get involved, the administrative challenge grows as well. An eLearning consultant can field the increased member questions, manage the more complicated learning tech, and make sure your programming runs smoothly.
- Virtual event planning. Moving to virtual events involves configuring event technology, creating an engaging schedule, preparing presenters to teach confidently through video, and even facilitating real-time engagement such as breakout sessions and live chat. A consultant can help you craft an engaging multi-track experience that rivals that of in-person events.
- Course authoring. If expanding your programming includes creating new eLearning courses, your consultant can help research topics that will interest your members, author the course, and design it in the rapid authoring tool of your choice.
A consultant can help your association pivot or scale up its eLearning programming and decrease the administrative burden on your association’s team itself.
What Should You Consider When Evaluating eLearning Consultants?
As mentioned earlier in this guide, an eLearning consultant can have a major influence over your learning business and its success– whether you coordinate on one project or continue working together for years to come. Because of this, it’s crucial that you choose the right consultant for your team from the start.
When evaluating consultants, you should consider whether they’re a good personality fit, whether they’re familiar with your industry, and how successful they’ve been with past clients. Let’s explore each aspect in detail.
Make sure they’re a good personality fit.
First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure any consultant you partner with is a good culture and personality fit for your team. You’ll be working with this partner frequently and potentially for an extended period of time as your learning business grows. If your team and this consultant don’t mesh, you’re setting the partnership up for failure.
Personality fit includes things like communication style, work style, and even personal values. Here are a few tips to determine personality fit:
- Ask for references and speak with past clients of theirs.
- Ask about their preferred communication style (ex: in-person, over the phone, via email).
- Ask about what makes them interested in working with your association— do any values or core drivers stand out?
- Ask them about their content development approach— do they work closely with stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout the entire process, or work more independently?
These questions will ensure that the consultant you choose is one that your team would like to connect with on a regular basis.
Choose an industry-specific consultant.
While an eLearning consultant is likely to have expertise in learning business development and eLearning best practices, you’ll also want a partner that’s an expert in your industry itself.
Many aspects of your learning business are inherently industry-specific. For example, the certifications that you train learners to receive and the way in which credits are reported will differ greatly depending on whether you’re a professional association or a healthcare association. The “Association of Marketing Professionals” would provide courses to help members achieve their personal professional development goals. On the other hand, the “Association of Nursing Professionals” would provide courses that members are required to complete and do so in a way that abides by specific reporting requirements.
A consultant that understands your industry can help you build a learning business that fits your association’s needs and report on that success with KPIs that are relevant to your industry.
Analyze samples of their past work.
Last but not least, analyze samples of the consultant’s past work to ensure they have a strong track record of achieving the results they promise. Ask the consultant if they have any reviews, testimonials, or case studies that you can review to see their work in action. Or even better, speak with past clients directly!
When reviewing these items, look for information about:
- How they’ve overcome challenges in past clients’ learning business strategies.
- The timeline for past projects and how well the consultant was able to meet deadlines.
- Any major complaints from clients and how the consultant handled them.
- What the consultant would change to improve the results further.
Think of this as a job interview— this professional will be responsible for providing the strategy behind the growth of your learning business. Therefore, it’s important to take your time and conduct ample research when making such a decision.
An eLearning consultant can give a path to your learning business strategy, help you overcome unexpected obstacles, and report on your successes. However, if you don’t choose the right consultant for your team, these benefits can be minimal.
At Web Courseworks, we work with a variety of associations to bring their learning business goals to life and simplify the process of administering eLearning. To learn more about our professional services, contact the Web Courseworks team today.
In the meantime, learn more about running a successful learning business with the following additional resources:
- Pricing Strategies for Associations with Dr. Michael Tatonetti. In this episode of the Managing eLearning Podcast, listen to Web Courseworks CEO Dr. Jon Aleckson and Dr. Michael Tatonetti discuss eLearning pricing strategies.
- Software for Associations | 15 Platforms to Consider. Association eLearning is powered by software. Explore the tech tools that your organization needs as well as the top providers of each.
- Virtual Events for Associations: Your Guide to Going Digital. Many organizations took events to the digital sphere in 2020, and that trend isn’t changing anytime soon. Explore this guide for top tips for your next virtual or hybrid event.