For decades, organizations have turned to outsourcing to reduce costs and gain outside expertise in areas that support their business but are not part of their core competencies — from call centers to vehicle fleet management. As organizations look to outsource some or all of their training to reduce costs, should they also pursue it as a route to innovation?

The training outsourcing market is diverse, from niche content providers to full-scale outsourcers. During my career at Hitachi, we used outsourcing extensively for content development and field instructors. Typically, they were activities we could have done ourselves but chose not to for commercial or logistical reasons. For example, rather than recruit trainers in Australasia and Southeast Asia, who probably would not have had a full-time work load, we partnered with an outsourcer that already had those capabilities in the region and could supply staff where and when we needed them.

Often, the rationale for outsourcing comes down to cost. It may be the need to be flexible in scaling resources or to lower costs by leveraging the outsourcer’s economies of scale. However, an often overlooked benefit of outsourcing is the ability to tap into new and evolving capabilities quickly, allowing experimentation and reducing time to market.

Greater Personalization for Greater Efficiency

One such area is personalized learning at scale – known as adaptive learning. Although adaptive learning has a long history in K-12 education, it has yet to become mainstream in corporate L&D. However, there is a hearty appetite for innovation in L&D, as revealed by 2018 research that found that nearly three-quarters of respondents planned to adopt new training techniques. This statistic is not that surprising, given that the traditional techniques used by L&D for decades – classroom instruction (physical or virtual) and e-learning – have proven to be less effective than the gold standard, personal tutoring. Though there is much interest in virtual and augmented reality, the research points to personalization at scale as a practical, production-ready and cost-effective solution.

In corporate L&D, adaptive learning delivers many benefits, including greater efficiency, greater employee competency, the ability to gather learner data, avoiding “check-the-box” compliance courses and the ability to easily update training. Beyond these benefits, adaptive learning offers another important advantage for corporate L&D: introducing more innovation to transform the corporate learning experience.

Among early adopters of adaptive learning in corporate L&D, it is not uncommon for employees to reach competency in 50 percent less time than they do with traditional learning. Such efficiencies are due to learners’ ability to skip content they have already mastered while focusing on where they need support or struggle.

Leveraging Outsourcing for New Capabilities

There are two key capabilities at the heart of adaptive learning: learning engineering and adaptive technology. The former is akin to instructional design on steroids – that is, the ability to apply rigorous learning science during the content creation and curation processes. The latter is a mixture of learning science and computer science or, rather, learning science encoded in software.

In practice, it is easy to get started with adaptive learning, but many organizations shy away from it; their perception is that it is too difficult, too costly or too risky. None of these perceptions is true, but they are not easy to overcome. Outsourcing can provide a way to overcome all three concerns at once. By partnering with an organization that has the learning engineering skills, has already deployed adaptive technologies, and is familiar with carrying risk and justifying its work using ROI techniques, companies can leapfrog their competitors and reduce time to benefit.

L&D departments that are on a digital transformation journey, that are looking to innovate their L&D strategies, or that have measurement challenges would do well to seek out partners that can quickly bring value through their experience with adaptive learning. Outsourcing with these partners promises more than cost-efficiency and greater flexibility; it could be pathway to a quantum leap in L&D innovation.