The first article in this series looked at the benefits that can be gained by appointing an external specialist to manage learning on behalf of your organisation. These benefits include cost savings, increased control of training and access to expert advisors. So how should you proceed if you’re intrigued by the potential of managed learning?


Firstly, let’s set the record straight. There’s often a presumption that managed learning is an ‘all or nothing’ process that will inevitably result in a major outsourcing deal. It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, a ‘cafeteria-style’ approach to managed learning is gaining ground, where organisations pick and choose which aspects of their L&D to outsource. This approach scores on two counts: it enables organisations to enhance their L&D provision – with help in a specific area – and it also enables them to experiment safely with the concept of managed learning.


Regardless of how much – or how little – you plan to outsource, you have to do your homework. The following steps will help you to decide if managed learning is right for you and, if so, they’ll help you to procure and implement a successful managed learning service:


1. Understand the business requirements. What is your organisation trying to achieve and what are its key priorities? It is important to assess whether your employees currently have the capability and the capacity to succeed. If not, where are the skills gaps? Does your L&D strategy meet the needs of the organisation and fit within the wider HR strategy? These questions will help to clarify the organisational context and to set the objectives for L&D.


2. Assess your L&D provision. You need to analyse how training is currently procured and delivered in your organisation. How are training needs currently identified and by whom? Do you know who your main training providers are and how much you spend with each supplier? Do you have management data on attendance rates and training effectiveness? Where is L&D strong and where is it weak? Can you meet the demands of the business? What IT constraints are in place? Only when you fully understand the current situation can you really assess whether managed learning will be appropriate.


3. Consider the implications. The ‘cafeteria-style’ approach to managed learning enables you to improve any underperforming aspect of L&D. It can also free you up from the aggravation of administering training and managing suppliers. Your time could then be used more productively – and more rewardingly – in the role of a strategic business partner, working closely with line managers and leaders to better understand their requirements and to align learning provision with the needs of the business.


4. Create a project team. If you decide to investigate the potential of managed learning, the first step is to consider who would be your key stakeholders and decision makers. Then create a project team. Your team could include representatives from L&D, HR, finance, procurement and IT. It’s always helpful to have a senior manager involved who can champion the initiative. Consider who your key point of contact with the managed learning partner will be – and what that person’s role is likely to involve.


5. Define the scope and expectations. The project team needs to decide what will be in scope and what will be outside the scope. What specific aspects of L&D or locations will the service cover? What are the challenges in providing learning in these areas? Also, consider how you want to work with your managed learning partner. What will the roles and responsibilities be? What are your expectations about using a learning portal? If you’re considering a shared service centre, would you expect this to be hosted by the managed learning partner or located on your site? How will you review activities?


6. Choose your partner. Find a responsive managed learning company that can meet your needs and help you define what ‘good’ looks like. Look for people that you can work with and check that the company has the experience of managing complex training requirements and the flexibility to cope with changing priorities. Consider the quality of the training that they can provide and the performance improvements that they can deliver for your organisation. Beware of those who make promises they can’t keep. Do they have a strong track record? Do they have recognised experts who can work with your internal learning professionals? Can they undertake at least Kirkpatrick level 3 evaluations of their courses? Can they work with your venue and logistics teams to manage training rooms and equipment? Do they have a philosophy of continuous improvement? This is a very important decision so choose your partner carefully. And, critically, can they help you evaluate and measure the impact learning has on business improvement?


7. Design and develop the service together. Once you have appointed your partner, work with them to help them to better understand your processes, systems and culture. Agree the roles and expectations and ensure that the implementation team members, and all stakeholders, are clear on the requirements. Agree the processes, procedures and any technical specifications for the scope of activity and determine how management information will be reported. Draft service level agreements, set key performance indicators and agree the invoicing process.


8. Tell employees what’s happening and make it easy for them to access the service. If you have new processes and training arrangements then make them clear to employees. Depending on the scope of the project, you could explain why you’ve chosen a managed learning service and how this will benefit individuals and the organisation – create a ‘buzz’. If you’re using approved suppliers, then channel your training spend through them. Discourage line managers and others in the business from booking training for themselves or their teams autonomously.


9. Pilot the service. Test the new approach to check that everything is working smoothly. Review whether the service is meeting expectations and the requirements of the business. Only ‘go live’ when you’re ready.


10. Evaluate the outcomes. Use your defined governance structure, your service level agreements and your key performance indicators to monitor progress. Celebrate your successes and work with your managed learning partner to continuously improve the service, to achieve greater effectiveness.


These steps should help you to determine whether managed learning is the right approach for your needs. If appropriate, they’ll also help you to proceed. A successful managed learning partnership could help you to improve the learning provision – and to enhance the perception of the value of L&D – in your organisation.

The Author

Sean Craig is Head of International Solutions and Services at Hemsley Fraser, the learning & development specialist, which is ranked as one of the world’s Top 20 L&D outsourcing companies.