Service provision consists of hiring a specialized company to perform a specific task for the contractor. In distance education, many companies provide services at the various stages of a project. There are organizations that offer the production of a complete course and are willing to attend some stages of the process, such as renting or selling digital platforms. Other services that can also be offered are: production of teaching materials in different formats, such as videos, animations, texts, etc .; digitization of materials; application of teaching materials on digital platforms; recording video lessons; among others.

When hiring a service provider, the contractor seeks to obtain quality, agility or even a lower cost in relation to hiring professionals. As the market has many companies that develop similar services, it is important to think about the hiring process taking into account some parameters.

The hiring of a service provider company for the development of distance learning projects must contemplate some aspects. Below we provide some of them for reflection.

Analysis of the need for hiring
It is important that the contracting organization has a coordinator specialized in distance education so that the educational action project can be developed. The coordinator must know the stages of planning, developing and evaluating a distance learning project.

When analyzing the need for educational action in distance education, the coordinator must answer the following questions.

      • what is the audience for educational action in distance learning? What are its characteristics?

      • what are the objectives of educational action?

      • what are the human and financial resources available at the institution for hiring?

      • Which stages of the project can be developed by the team of the contracting institution and which need to be outsourced? Planning (educational design, methodology, content, educational resources, implementation, evaluation etc.), production of educational resources, organization of materials on the platform, implementation, assessment of learning and design and reformulation.

      • What is the time available to carry out the work to be hired?

      • Which persons in charge of the contracting institution will be in charge of monitoring the work of the contracted company and how will this monitoring be carried out?

      • How many stages can the project be developed in? (Example: planning, production, implantation, among others)

Clear definition and communication of the desired servisse
After analyzing the need for the service to be hired, it is necessary to write the technical specifications.

The clarity and technical specification of what is expected of the company to be hired facilitates the preparation of a future contract and allows for a good monitoring and a good evaluation of the services provided. The criteria for assessing the provision of services should also be made explicit. For example, if the hiring is for the script and production of a video, it is necessary to inform the criteria that will be used by the contracting company to evaluate the quality of the product (objective, duration, suitability of the language, effects, content, etc.).

The specification of the product and the work process reduces the risk of conflicts between the parties (contractor and contractor) in relation to the service requested and what was delivered.

The specification of the provision of services is a track and should not prevent suggestions from the company to be hired. An organization with extensive experience in solving different EAD problems in different institutions can offer solutions that were not thought out by the contractor and that can be more effective and relevant. The possibility of partnership to solve problems can generate more interesting and effective products. In this case, it is important to establish an agreement between the contractor and the contractor.
Market research on service providers
Researching and identifying companies able to provide the necessary services is an important part of the process. It is necessary to analyze issues related to the provision of services by these companies with regard to the quality of work, deadlines for carrying out projects and even prices.

Knowledge and analysis of work carried out for other clients can guide criteria for selecting companies to provide services.

It is possible, for example, to contact related customers in the companies' portfolios to learn about the opinions about the product and work process and to verify the suitability in the provision of services (fulfillment of commitments, work dynamics, among others), price and time of realization of the projects.

Consulting sites for complaints about the provision of services by the companies surveyed can help assess possible problems, how they were resolved by the organization and how it was to serve dissatisfied customers.

The analysis of work performed by service providers allows assessing flexibility with customer service. For example, one company may have plural solutions to different problems, while another has the same solution whatever the issue, need or audience. Companies that offer customization and a variety of solutions for the various educational activities in distance education tend to develop a more satisfactory service.

It is important to contact more than one company to submit job offers. The request for service proposals can be made by letters of invitation or bidding process.
Criteria for evaluating proposals
The request to provide services to several companies must be accompanied by the criteria that will be used for the analysis of the proposals. These criteria should include administrative, technical and financial aspects.

From an administrative point of view, for example, for a company to be selected, it must present previously determined documentation. Guidance for the definition of the necessary documents must be provided by the financial and administrative sector of the contractor (example: registration, proof of payment of taxes, among others).

From a technical point of view, it is necessary to define the criteria used to evaluate the proposals, such as suitability to the public, originality, time for completion, etc.

From a financial point of view, the criteria must also be disclosed. For example, the selection criterion may be the lowest price or the amount available by the contractor to carry out the project. It can also be the relationship between the best technical proposal and the lowest price.

Finally, it is possible to present several selection criteria and they must be explained in the service request from companies. By knowing the selection criteria, competing organizations can better prepare themselves to develop a proposal.
Monitoring the production process
After selecting and signing the service contract, the contractor must monitor the production process.

Setting a joint schedule, with the determination of the parts of the work, avoids rework and allows corrections in the process. The schedule must take into account the time of work of the contracted company and also the time for analysis and / or evaluation by the contractor in each of the planned steps.

For example, if the provision of a service is the production of a video program, it is important to foresee the analysis and evaluation of the script before recording. When the material is still in the script, it is possible to correct content or pedagogical aspects that would be difficult to correct after recording. To illustrate this fact, check this situation: a company was hired to document a production process in a workshop and, at the time of recording, one of the technicians used an inappropriate PPE that led the company to redo the recording. The discussion of the script or the accompaniment of the recording by a contractor's contentist could have avoided this problem.

Hiring a service provider to develop a course requires monitoring the entire process (planning, screen production, educational materials, evaluation ...). Often, there is a need to involve different members of the contractor throughout the process, as a product must be evaluated from different aspects, such as content, pedagogical, technological, among others. However, even so, it is necessary to maintain a project coordinator who will remain throughout the process. The monitoring and approval of the steps provide the development of a product that better meets educational expectations.

A script is like a restaurant menu, which says the name of the dish and the ingredients. But it is the chef's talent that will make us appreciate the choice or not. A "taste" of the dish makes the decision safer. Thus, even with an approved script, it is necessary to do a "test" to assess whether the result will actually achieve the expected result. This means that the monitoring does not end with the approval of a planning, it is necessary to check the production steps. For example, it is possible to approve object distribution planning on a course entry screen, but analysis of the result may indicate the need for corrections.
Evaluation of work and project stages
The contractor's project coordinator can propose a constant assessment at each stage of the service provider's work, taking into account the delivered products, relations with the contractor, meeting the needs presented, meeting the schedule, among others. It is also important to listen to the provider and its evaluation in relation to the process, the commitments assumed with the contractor, etc.

The evaluation in stages allows negotiations and changes of course, when applicable. It avoids accumulating distortions in the interpretations and guarantees to follow a safer path towards product development. The contractor and the contractor must seek a partnership in which each collaborates in the best possible way in the process.

The final evaluation, with the project ready, allows the contractor and contractor to analyze what was expected and what they achieved at the end of the process. Some aspects that can be evaluated are: the contribution of the parties (contractor and contractor), the successes on the way, the effectiveness of the proposed solutions, the quality of the partnership, which could be improved in a new job, among others.

Evaluation is a way to understand if the investment in outsourcing is being good for the contracting company, if it is contributing to its growth.
     With the collaboration of Profª Ivete Palange - member of the ABED Fiscal Council
Copyright - Associação Brasileira de Educação a Distância - ABED
Discontinuity of Distance Education Course and Supplier Catalogs on the ABED website

ABED (Brazilian Association of Distance Education), a non-profit scientific society dedicated to the development of open, flexible and distance education, informs that the Distance Learning Courses and Distance Learning Solution Providers Catalogs, published on the website of Association, have been discontinued since June 1, 2020.

The Distance Learning and Distance Learning Solution Providers Catalogs on the ABED website were free and free dissemination tools, created to publicize all types of courses, products, services or solutions offered to the distance education market. Currently, the internet has become a better and bigger search source, and the Distance Learning Courses and Distance Learning Solution Providers Catalog are out of date and no longer fulfill their main function: providing updated information on distance learning courses and suppliers.

The consultation in the Catalog of Distance Learning Courses and Suppliers of Distance Learning Solutions on the ABED website tended to limit research to this universe, and generated the expectation that ABED exercised some type of curation, recognizing, recommending or even indicating the courses or suppliers disclosed there, which is not true, since ABED is not a regulatory body for distance education in Brazil and does not carry out an assessment of the services provided by providers of solutions for distance education and does not teach, certify, classify or evaluate courses.

ABED replaced the Distance Learning Catalog and Distance Learning Solution Provider Catalog with "Guidelines for Choosing Distance Learning Courses" and "Guidelines for Choosing Distance Learning Suppliers. In this way, interested parties will be able to better analyze the courses, products and services offered, evaluating important aspects for choosing a course or hiring a supplier.

Whenever you are looking for a course or need to hire a product, service or solutions for distance education, consult the Guidelines for Choosing Distance Learning Courses and the Guidelines for Choosing Distance Education Providers, on the ABED website, and make a good choice!

Distance education is the most socially inclusive teaching modality!