The Emergence of Managed Learning Services

Educators have been using outside assistance to deliver learning programs on subjects where they lack expertise in one manner or another for as long as there have been teachers. However, in the past five or six years, technological advances and the wi

Educators have been using outside assistance to deliver learning programs on subjects where they lack expertise in one manner or another for as long as there have been teachers. However, in the past five or six years, technological advances and the widespread use of the Internet to augment learning and development activities have made formal efforts to outsource learning to established vendors more popular.

The number of vendors in the market and the number of services they offer has increased accordingly. Furthermore, the term outsource, which has some negative connotations when used to refer to work sent overseas so that companies can take advantage of extreme cost savings, has become almost interchangeable with the more exact phrase managed learning services. Whatever name you call it, managed learning services essentially means outsourcing the administration of learning, the administration of the learning management system and sometimes the outsourcing of staff that works in the learning organization, to another company. That includes the more high-profile but less common practice of outsourcing the entire learning function to an outside provider.

The Market for Learning Outsourcing
Josh Bersin, CEO of Bersin & Associates, a research and consulting service provider in enterprise learning technology and implementation, said that a major growth area in the managed learning services space is the outsourcing of the learning management system, which can be complex to run and difficult to maintain if your IT department doesn’t have the resources, time and budget available to take care of the system. Organizations that engage in this type of managed learning service tend to be small- to medium-sized companies.

“The second area that’s growing very quickly is the outsourcing of learning administration,” Bersin said. “For example, I am a manufacturer of refrigerators, and I have a bunch of dealers that are out there selling my refrigerators and repairing them. I have a quarterly training program on refrigerator maintenance, how to deal with customers and what are the new models coming for next year. Let’s say it’s a traditional training program. They’ve all got to fly into Ohio for this class. I don’t have a big training department. I have three or four people that are going to teach the class but I don’t have anybody to administer it. So I hire a company that does all the administration of this. They get the enrollments. They schedule people into the right class. They give people logistics, feedback, maybe send them some e-learning to take in advance. And they do all that and put the data into the learning management system.”

E-learning content development is also a high-growth area. Bersin said that at least 70 percent of companies that contract this type of service do so because they realize there are components of content development that they’re not very good at, and they don’t want to go out and find someone to teach them how to do it better. This is often a cost-saving move, but Bersin said that saving money, while definitely a consideration when making the decision to invest in managed learning services, is usually not a primary driver. Instead, it’s more about convenience and the strategic shift in management focus that should follow a successful outsourcing engagement. However, the activities that are considered vary according to the CLO and the organization.

“The other thing that I think drives a lot of the big outsourcing deals is some big financial problem that the company is having because training, as much as we may like it because we’re in the industry, is a big expense,” Bersin added. “At the CEO level, anything they can do to keep that expense down, they would like to do. If the company is going through some stress and really needs the training function to be tightly managed, tightly controlled and totally accountable, that’s sometimes hard to do internally, but if it’s outsourced you can easily do that. You can go to the provider and say, ‘We’ve spent exactly this much money with you. Show me precisely what we got.’”

When Cost or Convenience Is the Issue
Avaya, a global provider of communication systems, applications and services, chose to outsource its entire learning organization to aid cost management as the organization grows globally. Using electronic and Web-based meetings as a preferred format to deliver learning for effective knowledge transfer as well as the latest product information and updates with regard to human capital and performance management, the company has found its managed learning services activity to be extremely beneficial.

“As we grow globally and therefore time zones and travel become more than an inconvenience, particularly with our sales team, we want to make sure that the majority of their time is spent doing what they do in service of the company—sales—and not sitting in a classroom somewhere,” said Suellen Roth-Ivsinovic, vice president global policy, workforce diversity and Avaya University. “We’ve continued on a trajectory of aggressive conversion of legacy classes to Web-based and virtual instructor-led, and a lot of the new material is being directly developed into Web-based and virtual instructor-led. We estimate that this saves us in excess of $5 million a year in travel and living expenses on an ongoing basis.”

Roth-Ivsinovic said that employee productivity also has improved because Accenture, Avaya’s managed learning services provider, offers employees the capability to access a lot of learning when it’s convenient, whereas traditional classroom training presents a challenge for busy people. When the company acquired German-based Tenovis in 2004, the managed learning service approach enabled Avaya to offer large volumes of locally translated courses for a populace with English as its second language. “We formed a little task force with Avaya people, people from the German team, together with Accenture in a big room. We took all the course material we had and condensed it into some fast-track programs, thereby eliminating superfluous material, and ultimately did translations for thousands of pages of course material fairly quickly. As it converted, we began putting our Tenovis associates through those programs. From the time the company was acquired to the time that we had course material available to begin training them was only a matter of about three months,” Roth-Ivsinovic said.

RBC Financial Group, Canada’s largest bank and one of North America’s leading diversified financial services companies with approximately 66,000 employees in offices in North America and roughly 30 countries around the world, tapped an existing product and service relationship with IBM Education Services for its technology and desktop training rather than develop its own.

“We support a large number of technologies in-house. In this case it would be cost prohibitive to provide the level of training infrastructure required to satisfy current levels of learning,” said Mary Jane Boxall, manager of recruitment and learning, RBC Financial Group. “Instead we decided to leverage the expertise of IBM. Using managed learning services for technology and desktop allows us to better manage our learning resources to assist our employees with maintaining and growing their skill set within the organization.”

Like RBC, well-known toy manufacturer Hasbro’s relationship with managed learning services provider Element K was already in place and evolved naturally to meet a training need for its code of conduct compliance program in 2005.

“We’ve got a corporate code of conduct, which we require all employees to go through within six months of hire,” said Bob Carniaux, senior vice president of human resources, Hasbro Inc. “For people who are in a senior managerial and executive position, we require that they go through an annual retraining in code of conduct, and all other employees go through a retraining every three years. This has become one of our primary controls under Sarbanes-Oxley for our certification, so we needed to make sure that we did this in as efficient a process as we could possibly do. Because this is our primary control, one that cuts across the entire global organization, we also needed to make sure the same message was delivered consistently in all of the geographic environments.”

Outsourcing code of compliance training enabled employers to take the learning when it fit their schedule and freed up staff resources. “Additionally, we didn’t have all the systems in place to manage this effort as efficiently as we wanted in terms of data systems and that type of thing so we needed a partner who could help us with that pretty quickly,” said Jackie Boucher, director of learning and development, Hasbro North America.

Using managed learning services enabled Hasbro to connect and deal with the language issues inherent in touching its entire global audience. The result was 100 percent compliant status and the resulting Sarbanes-Oxley certification. Responses from those who took the training were positive and appreciative of the one-voice, one-message delivery. The training also relieved Hasbro’s human resource generalists, the traditional facilitators of the code of conduct training, of some duties in the fourth quarter of 2005, a time Carniaux said is typically quite busy in the toy business.

The Benefits of Not Always Offering In-House Learning
The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General found that its first foray into the managed learning services arena not only fulfilled its need to provide emergency responder training for more than 150,000 fire, police and EMS workers—a process that would have taken years and more resources than they had available had they tackled the project in-house—but it also met their need to assess training, keep records and embark on core competency management activities using an online training platform that could deliver learning quickly.

A rash of anthrax incidents in northern New Jersey three years ago sparked an immediate need for fast training if the police, fire and other state workers were to effectively disseminate decontamination procedures, expected actions, notification and identification procedures, and generally let people know what to do in the event of exposure. “We would be hard pressed to deliver a hip-pocket training piece in a very immediate manner if something like this happened again,” said Norman Easton, training coordinator, office of the attorney general, New Jersey state department of law and public safety. “This gave us the opportunity and the capability to put something together very quickly, and we found that valuable because some awareness-level training probably doesn’t belong in the classroom. It also gives us this learning management system, which gives the state the capability to certify, credential and accredit, which we’ve never had before. Right now, between police, fire, EMS and all the first-response communities, there are about 24 different databases out there, and none of them are connected. It was impossible for the state to certify skill sets. We were really looking for this one unified training database, and now we have it.”

Having a unified learning management system also helped to create a feeling of solidarity among the various first-responder communities and enabled the state of New Jersey to use other managed learning service applications to deliver widespread communications and build an easily accessible online knowledge base for resources. Easton said this cuts down on the need for rumor control and greatly increases the professionalism of the first-response community. “The platform also has a collaboration piece so we can set up a discussion board and throw out a question of the month—‘How do you think we can improve cultural barriers between police, fire and EMS?’—or something like that, and then we can get responses from the various disciplines,” he said. “They are aware that they’re all on the same platform together, and they like the idea because that’s never really been done before.”

Mitigating Challenges to Implementation
Rarely is the managed learning services situation so simple that an organization can simply hand over its learning and development plans and sit back to enjoy what’s created. Challenges to managed learning services implementation are often eased when a provider is open to collaboration and willing to offer all of its resources to ensure a company’s learning and development needs are met quickly, efficiently and exactly.

Pennzoil Quaker State Canada Inc., a division of Shell US, needed to assure itself of proper security and the providers’ ability to handle usage and downtime issues before it would even consider giving Fusepoint Managed Services its business. The company examined industry references to be sure it had chosen the right vendor to deliver its customer training.

“We have two brands, Pennzoil and Quaker State, in the learning academy for fast-lube technicians,” said Rick Morton, national install channel manager, Pennzoil Quaker State Canada Inc. “We found that in the industry there’s a lot of training features but not in terms of customer service and product knowledge. We wanted a program that would tie into their procedures, create a good experience and make them look very professional in the customers’ eyes because these people really define our brand. They represent us and their employers’ business, and the better we make them look and act, the better it is for all involved. We built an e-learning program for our customers in the U.S., and then Patrick Sinka, our purchasing manager, worked with Fusepoint to make sure that it would meet our needs and our customers’ needs. We didn’t want to invest all this time into building this program and then whoever’s hosting it lets us down. We wanted to see their facilities and servers so we didn’t end up with somebody just talking the talk and then having the server in his garage, but it was well worth the investment and time.”

–Kellye Whitney,