The company wants you to keep costs down. You want to keep the e-learning course interesting. You really can create e-learning content on a budget—if you’re willing to be a little creative.

Fortunately, there are ways to save money and still deliver effective, high-quality e-learning. Don’t cut corners on getting the content right and having effective instructional design. But where can you save?

Start by considering your organizational culture and conducting a basic audience analysis. In an organization that promotes a casual and fun work environment, an e-learning course that looks homemade and features amateur photography can fit right in—in fact, it may even be preferred. On the other hand, if the work environment is more structured and formal, that sort of do-it-yourself aesthetic would appear out-of-place and might seem inappropriate. Assuming your company culture allows for a little bit of informality when it comes to training initiatives, here are a few ways to cut down on development costs without negatively affecting the quality and effectiveness of e-learning deliverables. 

Keep Audio In-House 

There are plenty of standard options for audio recording—studio and voice-over professionals, voice talent who do their own recording and editing, and offshore or onshore choices.

The most cost-effective option, however, is to use internal talent for audio. Send a note to colleagues or even members of your target audience asking for volunteers. Give them a sample script, and ask them to call your phone and read it. Voila—you've just conducted an audition. Choose articulate people who have voices that are full of inflection, who speak naturally even when reading a script, and who have voices that are easy to listen to for long stretches. It's also nice if they're able to take direction. If you happen to know people who sing, they often have a good voice and are less likely to get stage fright. And if any rerecording is needed, you know where to find them!

As you're selecting the voice talent, don’t just audition for the current project; think about future voice-over needs, and file people you don’t need this time for possible use on future projects. 

Shoot Your Own Photos 

Taking your own photos or video is pretty easy to do these days. Professional-quality image capture used to require an expensive camera and equipment, but there are less costly options these days.

Besides cost, another advantage of do-it-yourself photography is the ability to create images that match your particular work environment. For instance, the models in stock photos may be dressier than your workplace, particularly if your audience is in a distribution or manufacturing center.

When capturing images, have a legal release handy at the time of shooting, to avoid having to track people down after the fact. Be sure to label and file images well, because in the future you may not remember all the details. You don’t want to have to open 20 files to find the image you're looking for.  

There's a Wellspring of Fonts 

Along with images, scour the web for free fonts that can add some visual interest to an e-learning course. For example, convey coldness with a free font like Snowtop Caps. Breaking out of the corporate template can sometimes be difficult, but it can be very attention-getting and memorable.

Likewise, you might try to minimize the use of bullet points, and instead use graphics and visuals to deliver the larger point, letting the voice-over read the details. Get creative by incorporating imagery in lieu of text, like displaying a picture of steps rather than writing out “Next Steps.” 

Honey, Shrink the Course 

An important consideration for costs is course size. Trying to put everything into a course takes up more design time and development time. It may be that keeping the course skinny is beneficial, providing additional resources for when learners want or need more details.

In the area of sales training, there used to be a tendency to create huge product binders; they were not only poorly read, but also often outdated by the time they were distributed. Today it is possible to give more just-in-time information, training on the essentials and making relevant details available when they are needed. Make sure to train audiences on where the information is stored, and then use the direct training time (instructor-led training or e-learning, or resources) for the salient messages. 

Beware of the Downsides 

Of course, going the budget route means there are going to be some tradeoffs. For example, using internal talent for audio may lead to more rerecording, plus the added time of integrating the edited audio. People may not get it exactly right the first time, so conducting quality reviews of audio-intensive courses may be helpful. And it takes time to stage and take the photos, so think about who will plan for the photo or video shoot, and be sensitive to their time. Sometimes, you just need a shot of an employee standing in front of product with a clipboard; that’s generally quick and easy to get. But sometimes you will pay more in internal effort to save money on the budget.

For more tips on creating e-learning courses on a budget, join us at the ATD 2017 International Conference & EXPO for the session: Economical E-Learning: Keeping It Cool and Quality on a Budget.