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Should I Buy a Learning Library for My Staff?
Options, options, options! You’ve always got choices when it comes to selecting learning content. Here’s a guide to finding your direction and making the best decisions for your organisation. We’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of an off-the-shelf learning library.
Your alternatives for learning content are buying a digital library, creating digital materials yourself, offering face-to-face or screen-based live learning, or sharing existing books and manuals. Of course, you also have the option not to put any formal training in place whatsoever.
So, what’s a digital learning library?
Pre-existing online educational content for you to browse. It might be accessed on a subscription basis or after paying an up-front fee. An aggregator, like Open Sesame or Go1, hosts content it’s sourced. Its collection is comprised of content made by various creators.
Alternatively, there are fixed libraries where the content is designed by a single provider, such as iAM Learning (animated content), Bigger Brains (video content), and Assemble You (podcast-style audio training).
The foremost reason you might consider a digital learning library is to scale your formal learning. A library can equally support informal learning and cover topics for your staff where existing internal expertise doesn’t already exist. You don’t have to have all the answers — but a learning library might!
A library is speedy to roll out, and plug-and-play options are available to access quickly. A library might be immediately ready to use and, when well-crafted, requires very little work on your side. However, a brief note of caution — ensure you’ve understood the learner journey before committing to anything, as the more friction you create for the learner, the less likely they are to use it. Read into the best ways to distribute learning. Does it need to go through the LMS (and, more importantly, would individuals use the LMS?) Is there an app, a new login, or some tricky technology to familiarise yourself with? Could you use existing tools to surface the learning, e.g. Teams, Slack, or podcast apps (link to private podcast blog)
A library is more cost-effective than creating your own content. Materials cost a lot more to develop internally, and face-to-face learning is expensive to create. Work out cost ROI by calculating the time spent in classrooms or the salary cost of your team (or you) developing content versus buying it in.
A library can offer a wide range of expertise. Do you have the required internal expertise to produce your own broad range of material? As talented as your team is, it's likely that you don’t possess the specific knowledge required for all topics. External libraries allow you to reach into new areas and uncover subjects that you might not be able to cover alone.
A library can provide new perspectives and ways of thinking. External points of view can shed new light on exciting topics. There’s a risk that content created internally reflects the values, opinions, and biases (entirely unconsciously!) of the staff building it. It’s possible to break out of the echo chamber by bringing in fresh and innovative thinking. Just be sure to choose the right partner, who you can verify is doing the necessary work to verify its content and promote diversity of opinion.
A library is ordinarily not specific to the business or often even the industry. Think carefully about the purpose of your off-the-shelf library. Is a generic library of educational content suitable for your organisation? Staff might have to do more work to connect the dots on how the lessons apply to them, and sometimes, there is more heavy lifting for the learner to determine how their new knowledge applies to their role. Developing highly bespoke courses suited precisely to your needs will likely cost more, so take time to reflect on your priorities. A great way to combat this is to hold working groups (a bit like a book club) where individuals meet to discuss what they have learned and how to apply it.
A library may sit unused. This is the biggest danger with an off-the-shelf library. Unless proper thought is given to how to align training to business problems that need solving, a library is susceptible to being neglected. The worst thing you can do with a library is just launch it and leave it. You might get some keen employees using it but the vast majority won't prioritise it over other things.
So, how do you combat this? With a proper marketing and comms strategy, staff receive continual nudges, and the library gets continual usage. You can also solve this by building your library into programmes. As shown below, take the content you can access and add it to blended learning options.
Closely align your library with organisational goals and ensure they solve problems. Ensure line managers are aware and trained on how to use the content with their direct reports best. Ensure the content forms part of KPIs, development plans and career progression.
Other things to think about
Modality — what works best for your staff? Test different modes of learning (video, e-learning, audio) with your employees and consult them on their preferences.
Time commitment — compare long, in-depth courses to short, microlearning. Might individuals prefer a mix of the two? Think about your learners, their time, and what they are trying to achieve. Buy content that supports their goals.
Cost —significant price differences don't necessarily mean big differences in quality. Shop around. It's a buyers 'market due to the amount of competition.
When you can’t build the amount of content you’d desire, yes. When you’d like to scale content, also a huge yes! A digital learning library is quick to roll out, cost-effective, an innovative way to introduce new perspectives and designed to offer a wide range of expertise.
Our key takeaways are to have a good plan for rolling out and maintaining momentum, align the choice of content to organisational goals, and sweat the asset by using it in as many places as possible. Happy selecting and happy learning!