Learning & Development

The Pros and Cons of Third-Party Training Resources

Companies of all sizes have struggled with corporate training efforts. With often limited resources, it’s hard to come up with engaging and relevant training material in the first place, let alone keep that material current in a dynamic economic, competitive, and regulatory climate.

However, there are a number of low-cost options for training material created and distributed by third parties such as online education platforms Coursera, Udemy, MasterClass, Mindvalley, and others. Even professional social networking giant LinkedIn has thrown its hat into the mix with its LinkedIn Learning platform.

These platforms offer high-quality content created and presented by well-established experts at reasonable prices due to their ability to generate economies of scale by tapping into large markets.

But are these platforms a worthwhile substitute for or even a complement to the bespoke training programs companies or their contractors develop specifically for their organizations?

We reached out to training and people management experts to get their thoughts on the pros and cons of this type of third-party training content.

Pro: Cost-Effective

One of the biggest advantages of online education platforms is their cost-effectiveness in certain key areas. In particular, it would be cost-prohibitive for all but the very largest and most well-resourced organizations to put together the kind of content library these platforms have.

According to an analysis of Coursera’s 2021 initial public offering (IPO) filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Dhawal Shah, Coursera spent over $272 million with its content partners from 2017 to 2020. Because these education platform companies are specifically in the business of producing such content and do so at high volumes, they have economies of scale that corporate training departments simply can’t match.

“Learning platforms, like LinkedIn Learning, are very cost-effective for upskilling employees at larger companies,” says Michael Robinson, Director of HR, Content, and Strategy at Stratedge Solutions. “They are really great solutions for helping employees upgrade a whole new skill set, like a management course on building soft skills to improve employee-management relationships.”

These options are also popular with large, multinational companies that have employees who speak multiple languages. They’re difficult to replicate and would be impossible to achieve at the same cost per employee if built internally, Robinson adds.

Pro: Allows for Flexibility and Individualization

While not specific to third-party online education content providers, these platforms typically have a number of features that allow trainees to learn on their own schedules and at their own pace. These include the ability to rewind, rewatch, pause, slow down, or speed up lectures and the ability to watch courses on demand from anywhere in the world. Such platforms also tend to have modularized content available in short, easily digestible chunks, meaning training professionals can build specific curricula for individual employees.

“In recent years, the availability of training materials through third-party sources such as LinkedIn Learning and Coursera has been a game-changer,” says Chandni Chopra, director of human resources at LambdaTest. These platforms “offer a plethora of advantages,” including a wide range of courses covering a variety of topics and skill sets, allowing employees to access training on demand from any location. “Moreover, many courses are self-paced, giving employees the flexibility to learn at their own pace, fitting training around their work and personal commitments,” Chopra continues.

Despite the advantages, though, there are some potential downfalls HR and learning and development (L&D) leaders should be aware of when considering third-party training resources.

Con: Lack of Personalization

Although third-party online education platforms can support greater individualization in corporate training efforts, they aren’t great for personalization. The variety of content and the flexible delivery options make it possible to create individualized curricula for specific students, but the courses themselves won’t be personalized for these particular individuals or the organization. For example, they won’t have a training course on how to help John in accounting learn ABC Corp.’s internal accounting rules.

“There is a risk of a one-size-fits-all approach to training, which may not meet the individual needs of an employee or an organization,” Chopra adds. “Third-party platforms may not be able to offer tailored training programs that align with a company’s specific goals or culture.”

Con: Limited Behavioral Change Compared with In-House Training

Inna Solomatina, HR director at Riga, Latvia-based Dynatech, argues that training provided by external third parties can be great as a quick solution to address gaps in specific skills or knowledge, but it’s inherently less effective than traditional in-house methods when it comes to effecting deeper, behavioral changes within an organization.

“Classical, custom in-house training and courses are the best way to ensure that corporate learning leads to behavior change and financial benefit for the company,” Solomatina says. “By customizing the training to the organization’s specific needs, employees are better equipped to apply their learning to their everyday tasks, which leads to improved productivity, higher quality work, and increased job satisfaction.”

She adds that there are different ways to organize in-house training. For instance, “one of the great initiatives in our organization is to conduct lectures organized by our employees who share their successes and failures.” This not only provides a cost-effective way to develop employees but also works as a powerful motivational tool for them to apply their skills and share their experiences, she says.

Online training platforms aren’t a silver bullet for all corporate L&D needs, as many employers feel they aren’t interactive or company-specific enough to meet their requirements. However, online learning has grown into a significant industry with several major players. That means businesses have a wide variety of providers to choose from, which helps keep costs to consumers down while contributing to a huge amount of available content.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *