Written by:

Mark Aston


August 1, 2019


How To Select The Best Instructional Design Company

In the first article in this series we discussed the 10 Qualities & Skills of a Great Instructional Design Company.  Then we posted an article on How To Find A Great Instructional Design Company.  Now we turn our attention to how you assess their qualities and skills to hire the best instructional designer.

If you followed our suggestions on how to find instructional design companies in the previous post, you will likely have a long-list of potential companies or candidates.  Here’s how you can reduce that down.

Strong Portfolio of Clients

One of the 10 Qualities and Skills of Great Instructional Design Companies is having proven experience in the field.  By doing a bit of research it’s fairly easy to narrow your list down by looking at their portfolio of clients.

Firstly, you should decide on the type of organization you are most interested in working with. For instance, a multinational firm will have lots of experience. But would they be the best fit for you? If you are a large organization with a healthy budget then they could be a good fit. Even so, you should beware that you don’t end up with a much less experienced lead heading up your project.

However, you might be more interested in a smaller company, that has been around for many years. They have the advantage of a smaller team, who has worked on most of the projects in their portfolio. In either case, go to their website and review their list of clients. Have they worked with a large number of organizations? Have they been working in the field successfully for a decade or more? Have they worked with organizations that have similar characteristics as yours? Do they have experience in a wide range of industry sectors, or not? At this stage, you could look to see if they have case studies that provide more in-depth information. Now, you’ve probably cut your list down by at least half!

Well-Defined Process

The next step is to see if they have a well-defined process or approach that they use successfully? Although some companies may have this info on their website, you may need to contact the organization directly.  Some may say they have it, but you want to see it documented in writing.  If it’s part of their formal documentation, it’s less likely they have prepared it hastily when asked by a potential client (or you!).

By now, your list of companies is down to about a quarter of its original size.

What To Look For When Talking To Instructional Designers

With your reduced list of candidates, the next step is to engage them in a conversation.  Rather than asking them a long list of questions, describe the overall project you have in mind.  While you will have many questions to ask, the most important thing is to listen to the questions they ask you.

For instance, as they are talking ask yourself the following

  • Do they understand your specific circumstances or are they generalizing?
  • Do they offer insights and out of the box ideas?
  • Are they focused on solving your problem and advancing the interests of your organization?
  • Are they simply responding to a request to create another course?
  • Do they try to identify the ultimate outcomes of the course, or are they satisfied by the initial response you give them?

This should enable you to reduce your list down much further.

Detailed Questions

Now’s the time to meet them in person, or via a webcasting technology. This is the time you get down to the details and you get to ask some penetrating questions.

For example,

  • What specific experience do you have managing complex projects?
  • Describe a complex instructional design project you have managed?
  • What experience do you have with LMS’? Do we need an LMS?
  • What course authoring tool should we use and why do you recommend it?
  • What technology capabilities does your company have access to?
  • Can you complete the project within the timeframe and budget that we have allocated? If not, what would you suggest we do to meet the learning objectives, timeline, and budget?

By assessing the responses to these types of questions you’ll be able to take a several more off the list.

Additional Things To Consider

If you are still having trouble reducing your list down, there are a few additional things you can consider.  These include,

  • Did they discuss things other than the course design, to help make the course successful? Such as launch plans, marketing plans, learner support outside of the course, pricing strategies….
  • Did they discuss ongoing course maintenance requirements? Did they offer to help educate and train your internal team to do it or do they only offer this as a fee for service option?
  • Did they understand the bigger picture? Did they ask about the organization’s future plans and how this course contributes to those? Did they talk about how this course could help drive the performance of the organization?
  • Did they have a learner-centric approach and put the learners’ needs first?

Last But Not Least – Cultural Fit

Your only remaining quality to address is cultural fit. Often, subconsciously, you will have eliminated organizations because something didn’t feel right. Unfortunately, there’s not a quantifiable process to assess cultural fit. The best assessment is simply your gut feel. However, having completed the steps above, you will know you have a company that has the qualities and skills to do a great job.  Select whichever of them you ‘feel’ will be the best fit with your organization.

In Summary

Having previously identified a list of potential candidates, using the steps above you have now narrowed down and found your top candidate(s).  By using these steps with the 10 Qualities and Skills of a Great Instructional Design Company, you can be confident you’ve selected the best instructional design company for you.


If there are important items we could or should have discussed, drop us a note and we’ll consider those for future BLOG posts. Hopefully, we’ve managed to Spark Your Interest in the topic. If you like what you’ve read then we’d appreciate hearing that, and sharing it with your network.