Should I buy an off the shelf e-learning program (as it is or with some tweakings) or do I need to custom develop the course from scratch?

I am sure at one point in time you might have been faced with this decision making. Arriving at a decision on this is not easy as it depends on several critical parameters like the nature and content of the chosen topic, the budget of the organisation, delivery turnaround time etc, significance of the particular e- learning for the organization etc .

Before going deep, let us first understand each of this terms-, Off the shelf learning programs as well as customizable ready programs.

What is custom e-learning content development?

Custom e-learning content development means designing and developing an e-learning module from the scratch. The custom content development courses are designed specifically to meet the organization’s learning objectives and tailored to their prescribed context and target audience.

Benefits of custom e-learning content development

1.Full control over the content, style, and mode of design, development and deployment of the e-learning

2.E-Learning can be developed as per Bloom’s Taxonomy for the specific learning objective to be achieved

3.Flexibility in updating or upgrading the course content

4. There is no license cost involved

What is off the shelf e-learning?

Off the shelf e-learning are ready made e-learning programs that are readily available with an e-learning vendor and the purchasing organization can just purchase the license to run the module for a specific period of time. These are usually available on an annual license fee basis and have an API integration facility to the LMS.

Benefits of off the shelf e-learning

1. Off the shelf, programs are not as expensive as custom content developed modules.
2. They can be purchased readily for instant implementation hence helps in saving time
3.Off-the shelf e-learning is available in ready-made formats which helps in easier implementation.
4. Less resource management is required in purchasing and implementing off the shelf program.

I am sure by reading till here you must have understood the difference and benefits of custom e-learning development and off the shelf e-learning. But how do you go about choosing the right fit for your organization?

Well, here I have put together some pointers/questions, which can help you kick-start your decision-making process.

1.What are the expected learning outcomes?

While deciding on an off the shelf e-learning or custom e-learning content development, the organisation should list down the planned learning outcomes expected from the modules. If the learning outcomes are specific like to train the customer service team on technical service resolution queries or train the sales team of specific product features then custom e-learning content development can be a better option provided other parameters are matching. Similarly, if the e-learning program objective is to train the sales team on negotiation skills, then an off the shelf e-learning can be procured.

However, the learning outcome also needs to be analyzed in the specific context. For example, the same negotiation skills e-learning , which is a generic topic might or might not be useful for insurance sales associates or pharma sales professionals as their industry-specific requirements might be different.

2.Is the content general in nature or is it specific to the organization?

This is the next important question, which the L&D team should ponder over before planning to make a decision on off the shelf e-learning or custom e-learning.
An organization may have various learning requirements, while some learning topics can be generic in nature there are many other areas like ethics, values, code of conduct etc where the companies have specific learning needs.
The purchase decision is very much influenced by the content to be converted into e-learning.

To better understand it, let us see some examples:

Soft skills Soft skills are personal attributes of an individual that enables them to interact effectively with other people. The common soft skills e-learning are:

1.Communication skills
2.Team building
3.Time management

When the objective of L&D team is to train their teams on soft skills, one option is to purchase off the shelf e-learning and as in most cases, the organisation doesn’t require further high level customization of the training topics on soft skills.
The oorganizationcan simply plan and decide about the particular soft skill course and then initiate the immediate purchase from the vendors of their choice.

EInduction or employee onboarding

A learning topic which is very specific in nature like an onboarding process requires high level of customisation from the initial development stage. The mission and vision of the company, the various other policies and regulations etc will be unique to the each organisation and hence It is recommended to go for a custom e-learning content development..

3.Will the content change over time and do I want the ability to adapt existing e-learning to those changes?

E-learning topics, which don’t require constant refreshing or updating of the content can be generally purchased as off the shelf. In such instances, once the e-learning module is purchased and deployed the L&D team can be sure that there is no immediate change or update required on the topic. For example, a training module on “workplace violence” might not require frequent updating, however an e-learning  on “anti money laundering”, might require frequent updates as the KYC policies of organizations frequently get updated.

Similarly in case of product training custom e-learning content development can be a better choice as the product features get updated every now and then.

So simply put if the learning topic demands constant updations of the content, then a custom e-learning content development is a preferred choice.

4.What is the total budget ?

Budget is always one of the most important factors in any purchase decisions. For every organisation, there will be a budget allocated for the various purposes including training the workforce.
If the set budget for the organisation is towards a lower side, I recommend going for off the shelf learning programs.
Off the shelf learning programs have a fixed price which is generally low compared to the custom developed modules. Hence the organisation can explore the various options in the off the shelf programs to  find the learning content.
An organisation with a higher budget allocation can afford even high-quality custom developed learning modules.

5.How fast you require the course to be delivered?

There are times when e-learning content has to be deployed within a very short period of time. In such situations, it is always better to go for off the shelf e-learning. However if the organization has sufficient time and wants a good quality content developed, then I suggest you to give preference to custom e-learning development as the learning outcomes can be phomonally different as compared to off the shelf e-learning.

6.Availability of the subject matter experts(SME) and other resources.

While developing elearning modules, an instructional designer takes the help of the SMEs to tap into their knowledge and make amazing elearning modules which has good quality content.

Not every organisation can afford the luxury of hiring SMEs for the various training topics and hence it is recommended to go for off the shelf e-learning as it eliminates the need for hiring an SME.

But there are many organizations, who have inhouse SME teams on various training content, which can be effectively used in e-learning as well. In such cases, I recommend to utilize their knowledge in the best and efficient manner which is customised to the organizational  preferences by opting for a custom developed module.

7. Do you want to take the ownership of the content?

If an organisation wants to get the benefits of the full ownership of the learning content , then I recommend to go for custom content development of the learning module.

The custom content development or bespoke learning doesn’t involve any license fee and it is just a one time cost that the organisation needs to  incur and the ownership of the content rests with the organisation.

While the ready made learning course are generally given only for a specific period and once the license expires the organization requires to renew the license.

So here were some quick pointers to help you make a decision on whether to go for custom e-learning or off the shelf e-learning. If you still have any queries, please free free to reach on