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Selecting an e-learning solution, part 3
ten rules for a smooth, efficient e-learning RFP process

By Karl M. Kapp / March 2005

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Many clients receive an e-learning proposal and complain about its condition…vague…unclear…unfocused. The client quickly blames the vendor but, sometimes, it is not the vendor's fault, rather it is the fault of a poor Request for Proposal (RFP) as discussed in Avoiding Common RFP Mistakes (the preceding article in this series). This article describes the rules to follow for e-learning RFP success.

When developing an e-learning RFP, you, the client, need to provide a precise and accurate description of your organization's needs. The more explicit you can be, the more assistance the vendor can offer. If your needs are vague or uncertain, the proposals you receive back will be difficult to compare. You want all the vendors responding to the same need…as you see it…not as the various vendors see it. To accomplish this goal, follow the rules below.

Basic Rules for RFPs

There are ten basic rules to follow when writing an RFP. These rules will help you create an effective document that will allow your organization to easily and effectively compare one vendor's solution to another. Providing specific instructions, technical details and an accurate estimate of your future needs provides vendors with a solid document on which to develop a solution to your e-learning need.

Rule One

Begin with an outline. An outline provides a systematic method for describing your needs to the vendor. The more organized you can be in describing your needs, the easier it will be for the vendor to understand the type of solution you are seeking.

Rule Two

Make sure administrative requirements are clear. Provide explicit dates for submission of the proposal, the review timeline of the proposal and dates for when the work should start and finish. The vendor must be able to clearly identify all the due dates for the proposal. A table containing key events and dates is an excellent addition to any RFP.

Rule Three

Provide guidance concerning the format of the proposal. Do you want the proposal submitted via e-mail or do you require a sealed bid? Do you want a double- or single spaced-document? What fonts are required? Do you have a page limit? These may seem like trivial items until you attempt to compare a five-page proposal with a 55-page proposal or until you attempt to write your notes in the margins of a single-spaced document. Decide ahead of time the submission format and requirements and then explicitly state those requirements in your RFP. Just as you started your RFP with an outline, provide the vendor with an outline and tell them what you expect to find in each section. This allows you to lay the proposals side-by-side for easy comparison.

Rule Four

Involve your Information Technology (IT) department in the RFP writing process. Vendors need to know about your internal network, hardware and software before they can intelligently make a recommendation. Provide information on your current browser version, current operating system, future upgrade plans and other IT information. If your workstations do not have sound cards, the vendor needs to know before they add audio to their solution. The more you can tell the vendor about your IT infrastructure, the better the chance the vendor has of providing a workable solution. Involve your IT department. Even if you are going to have the vendor host the application off-site, you need to involve your IT folks so they can help you understand infrastructure issues. They may also have a "certification" process for off-site vendors which could impact the overall timeline of the implementation.

Rule Five

Clarify and quantify your needs. Asking for something like "a lot of interactivity" is not a clear statement of a need. The vendor will not understand if you mean drag-and-drop questions, true/false, or something more interactive like on-line games or total simulations. Be specific. Also, whenever possible provide numbers. Let the vendor know how many objectives are within the existing training. Let the vendor know how many users are going to be simultaneously logged into the Learning Management System (LMS). Explain how many hours of stand up training the existing courses take. The better you quantify information for the vendor, the better they can determine the price of your particular e-learning solution.

Rule Six

Require the vendors to document on-going costs as well as any customization, integration, or other costs above and beyond the purchase price. You want to be firmly aware of the "cost of ownership" of the e-learning solution, not just the purchase price.

Rule Seven

Insist on some type of documentation of the vendor's Instructional Design (ID) process. The process the vendor uses to design either custom or off-the-shelf materials for your organization is critically important. If they have no process or an inadequate process, eliminate them from consideration. Poorly designed e-learning is not a bargain no matter what the price.

Rule Eight

Ask for a clear cut implementation schedule and an explicit indication of what assistance the vendor offers. Occasionally a vendor will sell you only the software, and you must sub-contract with a consulting firm or some other organization to actually implement it. You should also make it clear what resources you will have available during the implementation. This can help the vendor develop an appropriate implementation strategy. Let the vendor know if your organization has a long history with e-learning or is just getting started. This will have an impact on develop or implementation times.

Rule Nine

Involve your procurement people sooner rather than later. Often the procurement department has experience developing contracts and RFPs. You should take advantage of that experience and allow them to provide you insight into the entire process. Your procurement folks will know the proper procedures to follow, the necessary language to include in the RFP and other items that may get overlooked. If you involve them early in the process, they will be a huge asset. If you involve them later in the process, they may become an obstacle.

Rule Ten

Provide explicit instructions on how you will be evaluating the proposals. Do not leave the vendor in the dark concerning how you will evaluate the proposal. If cost is your number one criteria, the vendor needs to know. The explicit evaluation criteria provides the vendor with information concerning which areas they should focus on and which areas are not as critical.

These rules provide a solid foundation for developing an e-learning RFP. They will help you to understand your internal needs and constraints and convey those needs to vendors. The more accurate, up-to-date and honest you can be with the e-learning vendors in the RFP process, the better proposals they will present. Good e-learning proposals start with good RFPs.


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