Many organisations outsource their IT, their payroll, and even their recruitment, but not their learning and development. With L&D teams coming under increasing pressure in today’s organisations, this is starting to change. Managed learning – where an external specialist manages the learning on behalf of the organisation – is gaining ground not only because it can relieve the pressure on L&D but also because it can meet the needs of the business.

A new reality for L&D
L&D teams are under constant pressure to do more with less. As organisations have had to adapt to stay in business a new reality has been created for L&D in which:

  • There is a need to maximise greater value from the L&D budget, particularly if that budget has recently been squeezed.
  • Training is often under-utilised in the organisation. Employees struggle to find time to attend training courses or, worse, they book onto training and then have to pull out at short notice incurring cancellation charges.
  • The L&D team wants to gain greater control of training, either by rationalising the number of suppliers to ensure they’re getting the best deal, or by measuring the effectiveness of training so they can calculate, or improve, the organisation’s return on investment from L&D.
  • The L&D team wants to spend less time administering training and more time supporting line managers on important business issues. It also wants to improve the perception of the value that L&D has on the organisation.

These factors are driving organisations to consider managed learning. But what benefits can they realistically expect to gain?

Prospective benefits
The key benefits of managed learning are:

  • Cost savings. A good managed learning provider should be able to save around 20 percent of the organisation’s annual training budget in the first year of service. Significant savings on spend with external training providers can be made by rationalising suppliers, whilst maintaining the quality of delivery.
  • Increase in training activity. A 30 percent increase in training activity can be achieved by creating an enhanced perception of L&D in the organisation and through more efficient training management.
  • Better management information and increased control of training. Managed learning providers can offer 100 percent accurate management information in real-time, giving L&D increased visibility and control over the training spend. Combined with expert analytics, this detailed information can help L&D teams to make more informed strategic decisions.
  • Frees up L&D to focus on the business. By managing the time-consuming back-office functions, such as training administration and vendor management, a managed learning provider can free up the L&D team to work closely with line managers, in the role of a strategic business partner. This helps L&D teams to better understand the requirements and to align learning provision with the needs of the business.
  • Access to expert advisors. Experienced managed learning providers employ some of the industry’s leading thinkers and programme designers. A good provider will have a global resource pool of experts in learning, training administration, vendor management, evaluation and consulting. These experts can become a valuable extension of the client’s team, providing a sounding board on both learning and broader business challenges.
  • Greater value to the organisation. Managed learning providers can be held accountable, via service level agreements and key performance indicators, for the quality of the training delivered. It is in their interests to ensure that the organisation achieves value, in terms of performance improvements, from the relationship.

How do managed learning providers do it?
When the issue of outsourcing is raised, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that it will result in a reduction in the quality of service provided, a loss of jobs or a loss of control. However, most managed learning providers will be keen to prevent these outcomes. Typically, they’ll deliver their promises through:

  • Rationalising and managing suppliers. With managed learning, cost efficiencies can come from better management of the buying activity. When was the last time your organisation really looked at consolidating training spend with fewer suppliers? A managed learning provider will work smarter to create value by assessing suppliers, reviewing the terms and conditions in place and introducing consolidated monthly invoicing. Their volume-based purchasing power gives them a stronger negotiation approach with suppliers and they can bring new suppliers and networks to the mix, to expand the offering. They can therefore achieve cost savings without impacting on the quality of delivery and, if required, preferred supplier relationships can be maintained. Major savings can be made by channelling the training spend centrally through approved suppliers, rather than having line managers and others in the business booking training for themselves or their teams autonomously.
  • Course consolidation. How many courses in your current portfolio could be reduced in duration or transferred to technology-enabled or blended learning? Managed learning providers will schedule courses that are appropriately structured and continuously market-tested to ensure that they improve performance and deliver against the business strategy.
  • Automating training administration. Some of the most time-consuming challenges for L&D are processing training requests, trying to locate a trainer, and training venue, and scheduling – and re-scheduling – delegates. Managed learning providers have proven processes and systems that streamline and automate much of this ‘grunt work’, freeing up time for L&D teams to focus on strategic issues and business relationships. Almost all of us are used to buying goods online, so why shouldn’t employees choose and buy training through a learning portal?
  • Rigorous evaluation. Managed learning providers will undertake Kirkpatrick level 3 evaluations to see which courses are high performing and which are not. The resultant information can be used to ensure greater effectiveness and to calculate the return on investment from L&D.
  • Continuous improvement. The best managed learning providers have a philosophy of continuous improvement. They’re always seeking to enhance their service and to provide greater value to their clients.

Managed learning is proving to be a popular option for organisations that want measurable business benefits from L&D. Today’s managed learning relationships are sophisticated partnerships between the client and the provider, having been established through the involvement of the L&D, HR, procurement, finance and IT teams, as well as senior stakeholders and champions from the business.

Is managed learning right for you? The steps an organisation needs to take, in order to assess the appropriateness, appetite and timing for a managed learning partnership will be examined in the second article in this series.


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.