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Off-the-shelf vs custom e-learning content

E-learning content comes in all shapes, sizes and formats, with endless combinations available to suit any organisation’s needs. From relatively straightforward health and safety training to more complex, company-specific internal process training, it’s important to think carefully about the type of e-learning content you want to include in your learning programme. In this post, we’re going to take a look at the key differences between the two to help you decide which could work best for you and your learners.

What’s the difference between off-the-shelf and custom e-learning content?

Put simply, off-the-shelf content, also known as generic content, can be bought ready made and accessed as it is straight out of the box. It will require minimal, if any, input from you, and it is generally ready to use almost immediately after purchase. Custom content is usually created from scratch, with information specific to your individual circumstances, whether that’s about your company, your industry or other highly specialised content that won’t exist elsewhere.

When might I use each type of content?

Off-the-shelf content is ideal for topics that tend to be fairly universal, such as basic health and safety training, product training for widely used equipment or machinery, soft skills such as cultural awareness or bullying and harassment training or industry-wide compliance training focusing on regulations affecting thousands of organisations. If you have a specialised approach to a topic, training focusing on your own products, onboarding about your organisation and the way it operates or the need for extensive branding and customisations to the look and feel, custom e-learning content is likely to be the right solution.

Which is more expensive?

In general, custom e-learning tends to be more expensive, because it needs to be created from scratch and requires time with any internal or external SMEs, development, design work, testing and more. It will be tailored to your exact requirements, but it isn’t always cheap. However, the new wave of authoring tools, such as Adapt, is making it easier than ever before for organisations to build their own custom content in-house. Off-the-shelf e-learning from content providers such as GO1 is generally cheaper, but bear in mind that you will have fewer opportunities to customise the content. Also, depending on the provider, you may have to buy access to a full catalogue of off-the-shelf content rather than just the specific courses you need, so this should be considered when comparing prices.

Who uses each type?

Organisations of all sizes in all sectors make use of both custom and off-the-shelf e-learning content. Highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and life sciences may find value in certain off-the-shelf courses to ensure that they are receiving the exact information they need from SMEs who have already created a course, and retailers often use off-the-shelf health and safety training for their shop floor staff. In general, off-the-shelf e-learning may be more cost-effective for smaller organisations, unless they can create custom content in-house, whereas larger organisations with bigger training budgets may prefer to opt for custom solutions so that they can be tailored more closely to their needs. However, it’s really down to the specific organisation which they believe is right for them, so opting for a flexible LMS is crucial to give you the maximum freedom to choose.

How much customisation can I expect with each?

As you may have guessed, custom e-learning content allows for much more flexibility in terms of the way you present your content. You are only really limited by the capabilities of your development and design team, and you can use custom imagery, text, videos, logos, colours, layouts and much more. Some off-the-shelf e-learning content doesn’t allow any customisation at all, but many vendors will allow you to add your own logo and potentially brand colours to help it align with your brand to some extent. In many cases, this will be enough to help the off-the-shelf content blend in with the rest of your offering.

If you’re still not sure which is right for your organisation, we’d love to hear from you. Our global network of Totara Partners have a wealth of experience in implementing both off-the-shelf and custom content solutions with Totara Learn, so please contact us to learn more.

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