The Buy vs. Build Dilemma: Developing your next training program

When training needs arise, there are many factors to consider – what are the training requirements? How large is the training audience? What’s the timeframe? But the first, and most important, question to answer is whether to buy or build your training program. If your gut instinct is that building in-house should be the cheapest way to get the unique content your organization needs – think again. Below we’ve summarized a few key reasons why buying your training program is often the smarter choice, as well as a few principles to keep in mind while making your decision.

The Hidden Costs of Building

One of the expected benefits of building a training program in-house is cost savings. The sticker shock alone of some of the biggest training product lines can be enough to drive decision-makers back toward a preference for building over buying. But in reality, there’s a wide range of price points for purchased training programs, with more reasonable options arriving all the time thanks to cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers. But more important than direct cost can be the indirect, hidden costs of building in-house.

Donald H Taylor, Chairman of the Learning and Performance Institute, says that companies often underestimate the overall investment of time, resources, and opportunity costs required to build quality content for training programs. Content must be timely and easy to update to allow for long-term use and impact, which is difficult to maintain when a good deal of time has already been invested in the initial design and creation of the course. Implementation costs and complications regarding delivery format, localization, and course maintenance can also add up, making an even bigger dent in the opportunity cost of building your own training program. Today, the best training content must also be data-driven, preferably cloud-based, and video- and mobile- friendly – technical features that are increasingly becoming standard for training courseware but that many companies don’t have the capacity for in-house. Taking these hidden costs into account, buying a training program can often be the better investment.

‘Bought’ does not always equal ‘generic’

Another starting presumption that is often made is that purchased training programs are generic, and therefore potentially unuseful to your unique training and learning goals. But in reality, commissioning training courseware need not come at the expense of bespoke, meaningful content. Rather, your focus should be on finding the highest quality, adaptable content that is available. 

Many training products can be tailored to your specific needs. This is especially true in the case of curricula-based products that are designed to tailor course content for specific business functions, position perspectives, or decision areas. Additionally, co-development or curated content sets are good ways to ensure a bespoke training experience from outsourced suppliers. Curated content sets are large collections of courses grouped together according to specific design and learning goals, while co-development allows you to work with training providers to adapt content as you see fit. 

Your decision should be Content-Driven

Ultimately, the buy vs. build dilemma is bigger than cost – It gets at how learning works in a digitized world, and the breakneck speed with which our products, environments, and learning goals can change therein. The time and resources it takes to actually churn out good content may not be worth the investment when there are so-called “off the shelf” alternatives that can better keep up with training demands while still promising A+ content. Learners today expect more and also learn continuously –  with a great deal of learning happening on one’s morning commute via a smartphone for example, as opposed to a scheduled training workshop. To keep up, and to keep learners’ attention, quality content needs to be produced and updated rapidly. In many cases, this means leaving courseware development and maintenance to the pro’s and investing your time instead to ensuring that content is adapted in a meaningful way. 

For more on the decision to buy or build training programs, consider the following webinar from the Association for Talent Development: Buy or Build: What’s Best for your Training Program