How to Decide Between Off-the-Shelf or Custom-Made E-Learning

Posted on February 14th, 2022 in E-Learning, Learning & Development.

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the approach that businesses take to training and development. Whilst classroom techniques are still used (and we at Trainer Bubble believe in their effectiveness in many instances), the use of E-Learning continues to grow as more and more organisations are recognising its numerous benefits. E-learning was on the rise before the pandemic, but the growth of remote-learning has catapulted it into even greater popularity, and an increasingly go-to choice for training needs.

This article posted by Trainer Bubble last year explores in greater detail the uses of E-Learning and its importance to workplace training in modern times. However, as the market becomes increasingly saturated, and more and more options exist for managers and learning and development leaders to choose from, it can be difficult to know which avenue to take when looking for E-Learning courses – off-the-shelf or custom-made?

Before we consider the factors that may impact your decision, let’s summarise the difference between the two. In its most simple terms, off-the-shelf e-learning courses are purchased instantly, and come as they are. It’s almost as though you are physically purchasing something off-the-shelf in a store. This type of content requires little input from the purchasing organisation further than a demo and review of the content and is usually available very quickly.

On the other hand, custom content is created from scratch, with information specific to your circumstances and needs. This means it is shaped to suit your business and your requirements. Custom content may be built internally if your business has the resources and expertise to create it, or it can be built for you by a training provider like Trainer Bubble.

Both types of resource fulfil different business needs due to their own set of advantages and it can be challenging to determine which solution would work best for you. What topic are you looking for? What are your training needs? Which mode of e-learning would best integrate with your business and its existing training resources?

We’ve summarised the main reasons for each option to simplify the decision process for you. So, when should you turn to off-the-shelf courses?

  1. If your budget is smaller. It is no secret that off-the-shelf e-learning usually 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 an 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 major 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.

Remember, just because a course is off-the-shelf and thus more generic, it does not mean it is less valuable or useful. There are many instances in which a less organisation-specific course may be more beneficial to the learner.

  1. Generic requirements. Following the above, courses around topics such as compliance or health and safety are usually better when generic. These courses cover legal requirements and other elements that go beyond your specific business. It’s important that learners are familiar with the law and wider industry issues, and custom courses may simply convolute the facts and messages that are being put across.

On a similar note, generic off-the-shelf e-learning courses are usually 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 and something to consider if you are seeking to make your own internal custom content.

  1. Upskilling your workforce. Many businesses have recognised the major benefits of upskilling their employees, a theme which many of our previous articles have explored. Benefits of upskilling include employee retention and satisfaction, as well greater productivity and reduced staff sick leave. All of these benefits exist in a web of advantages that play into one another and function to create a healthier and more efficient workplace.

In order to upskill their workforce, some businesses offer resources that are not directly linked to the day-to-day workplace tasks of the learners. They may be optional or mandatory, but they are offered to employees with the purpose of keeping them up to date with industry standards and developments; and ensuring that employees feel their growth is valued by their employer. Thus, these courses are not role-specific and there is usually no need to personalise them or have them custom built.

  1. Urgency. This speaks for itself, but if 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. On the other hand, custom-made courses will often take much longer as they require discussion, scripting, sign-off, building, additional sign-off and then implementation, which can take weeks to months.

When to choose custom-made…

  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 business. For example,

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.

Purchasing 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. Sometimes your requirement may be so specific to your organisation that no off-the-shelf content could possibly cover it. Especially when it is something you wish to educate/train all or a large part of your workforce on. A custom-built course offers a uniform way of training everyone to the same standard.

  1. Reflecting 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. 

Ultimately, the decision comes down to your specific needs and the learning outcomes you hope to meet. A blending of the two approach is usually the best route to take. In most cases, off-the-shelf courses with some alterations will suffice, but there are times when only a custom-built course can meet the requirements of the topic. Most businesses build up a range of both types of course.

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 in some cases the costs in both cases are very similar.

Trainer Bubble offers both off-the-shelf and custom-made e-learning courses. Hopefully, this article has helped you to identify which approach best meets your needs. For more information, or to discuss the learning needs of your business, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.