From cost savings to added value: the evolution of managed learning

A new research study highlights the changing nature of managed learning, says Sally Hurrell.

Cost savings were always the principal driver for introducing ‘managed learning’ (when an external partner delivers L&D activities). However, this research study shows that today’s organisations now want greater value from their managed learning relationships, not just training efficiencies created through economies of scale.

A training outsourcing company that ‘bullies’ suppliers into negotiating preferential rates may be very effective in driving down your learning costs. But once the ‘fat’ has been trimmed out of your learning provision, you can’t continue to generate 30% savings every year.

There’s a growing realisation that providers now need fundamentally different skills to manage your suppliers, deliver tangible benefits and achieve continuous improvement on an ongoing basis. It’s crucially important to keep your suppliers engaged and to ensure that they fit the culture and values of your business.

The way that a provider manages and communicates with the supply chain has become a key differentiator. Some managed learning providers have struggled to adapt to this requirement – and there are examples of companies that have pulled out of the managed learning market as a result. 

Achieving cost savings is, of course, an important goal. There is still a demand to rationalise the supply chain and better coordinate training activity. But the nature of what makes a successful managed learning relationship has evolved.

The way that a provider manages and communicates with the supply chain has become a key differentiator.

Today’s L&D practitioners want a partner who feels part of the team – someone who can help to maximise their available training budget and advise on how best to deliver the learning that’s needed in their organisation.

Managed learning can optimise the delivery of learning; improve the learner experience; add flexibility; deliver meaningful data and enable continuous improvement. These benefits are mostly seen in the UK and in the USA, where managed learning is well established.

The market for managed learning is growing in other European countries such as Germany. There is evidence of increased interest in managed learning in emerging economies. As providers continue to expand their global footprints, managed learning is likely to further evolve internationally.

This growth is principally driven by the need within organisations to achieve:

  • Efficiency. This has gone beyond securing volume discounts from training suppliers. New ways of accessing learning, including the use of digital content and virtual delivery, are used to help organisations achieve greater efficiencies in their provision.
  • Quality. Managed learning can improve the quality of training in an organisation and the learner experience.
  • Innovation. As a source of market intelligence and expertise, managed learning providers can inspire their clients and recommend progressive ideas.

Services covered

Different degrees of managed learning are prevalent. Some employers outsource their entire L&D offering. However, the majority of L&D teams combine managed learning with their own internal provision. They outsource just those aspects that they need help with.

Generic programmes – covering topics such as junior to mid-level management and leadership development, behavioural skills, personal effectiveness, customer service, finance, general IT,  change, health & safety, compliance and project management – are the most likely to be outsourced to an external provider.

However other core L&D activities – such as onboarding, accelerated talent programmes, coaching and business-specific training – are often provided in-house.

Increasingly, a broader scope of L&D activities are being outsourced. These activities often include digital learning (creating content such as videos, animations and infographics), as well as face-to-face, elearning, blended and virtual learning options.


Some employers want additional expertise and capacity to meet their key development challenges, for example advising on areas for improvement or help to deliver global programmes. Others value the additional data and analytics that managed learning provides.

As a bare minimum, every potential provider is now likely to be able to exploit technology, streamline processes and deliver to service level agreements. Instead, the deciding factor – when trying to ascertain which provider is best for you – is now cultural fit. The right provider will feel like an extension of your own team, not like an outsourced supplier.

Many employers are still on a journey with their managed learning. Some have implemented a new model of delivery and are working to achieve it in partnership with their provider. Others are frustrated by the perceived limitations of their provider or because they’re not satisfied with the service they’re receiving.

Or because they feel their provider is too reactive or bureaucratic. As organisations have become leaner across the board, they’ve come to realise that successful managed learning is not all about cutting costs; it’s really about adding value.

In reality, several providers may be able to help you achieve this. But actually ‘how’ they’ll work with you is just as important as ‘what’ they’ll deliver. To succeed, managed learning providers must become less transactional and more focused on achieving added value. For L&D teams, choosing the right provider – and maintaining the right relationship with them – is the secret of success.

‘The evolution of managed learning’ – is freely available from:


About the author

Sally Hurrell is global managed learning director at managed learning specialist Hemsley Fraser.


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