off the shelf or custom made e learning

Off-the-Shelf or Custom-Made E-Learning?

Posted October 1st, 2019

Purchasing e-learning courses can be a daunting task for learning and development managers who are immediately confronted with a significant amount of options. One of the main challenges they face is whether to buy a course off-the-shelf or to have an e-learning course custom-made for them. This article will help resolve that dilemma by exploring the different benefits of each method and giving you the information required to select the correct e-learning course approach for your training requirements.

When off-the-shelf e-learning is the best solution

1. If you don’t have much money to invest

There’s no escaping the fact that off-the-shelf e-learning courses come at a far reduced price when compared to e-learning that has been custom-made. The reason for this is that the cost of providing the course is absorbed at the time of development and then made up through sales to many clients.

Updates and alterations to the e-learning courses can usually be made for a small additional fee, which provides an element of customisation for a fraction of the cost of building a course from the ground up. This also means that should you wish to update the content later, you can. Another benefit is that companies that do not have their own learning and development team can use this support to make amendments with few internal costs.

2. If your requirement is generic

Because off-the-shelf e-learning courses are generally built for a wide range of potential clients, the content is most likely generic and not aimed at your specific industry requirements. This issue can be mitigated to some degree by the option to make the amendments and alterations we mentioned above. However, if your needs are very specific to your organisation or industry, you may find that off-the-shelf e-learning is not the best match.

One positive of generic off-the-shelf e-learning courses is the fact that it is most likely that the course has been written by a subject matter expert who knows the particular topic inside out and has considered every angle. Unless you specifically request it, the same might not be true of a custom-made course, where a generalist instructional designer will often be used to create the content. This is certainly a good question to ask any potential developer.

3. If your requirement is urgent

Off-the-shelf e-learning courses can be uploaded to a Learning Management System and ready to go in less than a day. Where you need alterations and amendments, they can also be made at pace, with changes to the content often being turned around within 24 hours once they have been identified. Custom-made courses will often take much longer as they require, scripting, sign-off, build, additional sign-off and then implementation, which can take weeks to months.

When custom-made e-learning is the best solution

1. If you need something specific to your organisation

There are many reasons why an organisation might require e-learning that is specific to their organisation.

Some examples are:

  • When you need training on an internal system or product.
  • When you have key internal systems or processes that need to be highlighted.
  • When you want training that provides new starters with company-specific information.
  • When you cannot identify an off-the-shelf product that meets the requirements of your business.

Contracting custom-made e-learning puts you in full control of the development process, meaning you can dictate the structure and approach that the e-learning course takes and can also match imagery and information to your company, right from the outset.

Another benefit of custom-made e-learning is that you can often take a creative approach to the learning, rather than a more formulaic approach sometimes offered by off-the-shelf e-learning. This means you can include games, stories and case studies that align the learning to the industry with seamless results. Of course, any custom-made e-learning should keep a close eye on the learning objectives throughout the development.

2. If you want your e-learning to perfectly reflect your company brand

Although off-the-shelf e-learning usually allows some element of customisation or the inclusion of logos; custom-made e-learning can retain a focus on branding from beginning to end, meaning organisational logos, colours, images and templates can set the framework for your e-learning course. This branding approach can benefit the learner who may well engage better with e-learning that reflects the business well.

It’s important not to overdo branding with e-learning though, as this can be a turn-off for learners who find it difficult to engage with learning that feels too corporate.

What is the best option if you require regular changes to the e-learning course?

Many clients choose the custom-made approach as they are wary that they will need to make regular changes to the content of the course. While it is true that most custom-made courses are provided as ‘source files’ that can be edited and off-the-shelf courses are usually (although not always) provided as ‘published’ files that cannot be edited by the client; unless you have specific software and designers in your organisation that can use this software, it is likely that any changes will need to be made by an external provider in both cases.

Whether you choose custom-made or off-the-shelf e-learning, you should always ask whether alterations can be made and what the terms are for making these changes. You may be surprised to find that the costs in both cases are very similar. After all, the work required is the same in each scenario.

In Conclusion

There are benefits to both methods of introducing e-learning courses to your organisation. Ultimately, the decision comes down to your specific needs and the learning outcomes you hope to meet. Hopefully, this article will have given you some guidance on the practicalities of each approach. To further assist, you could follow the comparison table below.

‘Off-the-Shelf’ or ’Custom-Made’ E-Learning – A Comparison Table

e learning comparison table

Trainer Bubble provides both off-the-shelf and custom-made e-learning courses. Hopefully, this article has helped you to identify which approach best meets your needs. If you would like to discuss the topic further, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to give our best advice.


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