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Choosing Between Custom E-learning and Off-the-Shelf Courses: A 7-Point Checklist

If you are wondering whether to ‘build or buy’, then this article is for you. How do you make that all-important decision of choosing between custom e-learning and off-the-shelf courses? Here’s a checklist that can help you make that decision.

1. What are the Training Needs of the Organization?

Let’s assume you need to deliver an online training on compliance laws applicable in your industry or one on general customer service, and you know someone else has already built a perfect e-learning course that is ready-to-use. You would be wise to purchase and roll it out to your employees.

Off-the-shelf or catalog courses as they are also known, can save time and effort. On the other hand, if you need an online training program that addresses the specific training needs for your organization, which no ready to use course can address, then you will have to opt for custom e-learning or bespoke courses.

Conducting a training needs analysis (TNA) is important to identify whether there is a need for training in the first place. If yes, TNA helps in identifying the gaps in employee skills and proficiencies, and help determine the kind of training that’s required to achieve organizational goals. How can identifying the training needs help you decide between a custom e-learning and off-the-shelf course?

Let’s consider that the results of the TNA reveal that your employees need to work on their communication skills and learn the art of communicating effectively. This is a training need that is not exclusive to a particular organization. This is a challenge that is common across organizations and industries. Which means, an off-the-shelf course on effective business communication will be apt to address this need.

On the other hand, if your organization’s training need is something that’s specific to the organization such as being able to communicate with customers about your products or services or articulate about your processes to a regulatory inspector, then custom e-learning is the most appropriate solution.

2. Does Your Training Content Change Frequently?

How often does the content that needs to be included in the training program change or is it fairly “static”? Remember that off-the-shelf courses usually cover generic skills and practices that are followed across industries. Therefore, the content in an off-the-shelf course is fairly unchanged or standard, which means the content is not subject to frequent updates.

So, if the nature of your training content is dynamic, such that it requires frequent changes or updates, it is better to opt for a custom e-learning solution so that you have the facility of updating the content as and when it changes.

3. What is the Number of Learners in the Organization?

The number of learners in your organization has an impact on your decision to opt for custom e-learning. For a company with large number of employees, it makes sense to invest in e-learning that’s customized and covers content that’s specific to the organization. Why? Always keep in mind that catalog courses come with a license fee per learner or a group of learners. So, if it is a course that needs to be taken by many employees and you expect many more to take the course in future, you might want to think of custom e-learning as it pays off in the long run though the initial investment cost can be higher as compared to a catalog course.

Also, if you are a growing organization that takes up new recruits on a frequent basis, then you will need to roll out courses on employee onboarding training, for which custom e-learning will be a good option.

On the other hand, if it’s a small (with 50 or fewer employees) or mid-scale (between 50 and 250 employees) organization, custom e-learning may not make business sense. That’s because even if you have to deliver organization-specific training, you can always rely on good old classroom training programs that can cover a small group of learners easily. On the other hand, if you have plans for expansion and you know that the training will be reused as you continue to ramp up, then custom e-learning is well worth the investment.

4. Will You Need Ownership of the Training Program?

When you opt for an off-the-shelf training solution, the training provider retains the rights to make changes to the program. If at all any updates are required, it can only be made by the provider, leading to delays in rollout. With a custom e-learning course, you gain ownership of the entire course and have the liberty to make changes as required.

Recently, there are “customizable” off-the-shelf courses where a small portion can be customized like adding company specific case studies or company branding.

5. What are the Timelines to Rollout the Training?

There are times when training requirements are urgent and you have to quickly address the need. Consider the timelines you have to rollout the training. Off-the-shelf courses that match your requirement offer ready-to-deploy solutions that reside on the vendor’s LMS platform.

On the other hand, if you have the time to go the whole nine yards in developing a training program from scratch, you can opt for custom e-learning courses. Of course, with rapid e-learning solutions, the time taken for e-learning course development has definitely shortened.

6. Is Company Branding Important?

Branding your training programs is a way to promote recognition. Many organizations follow a strict branding policy and this is applicable to their e-learning courses as well. If you need e-learning courses to adhere to a style guide that lays down specific branding guidelines, it is possible through custom e-learning solutions.

7. Is the Cost of Training a Major Decisive Factor?

The overall cost associated with the training program can often be a decisive factor, especially in organizations that are just getting started with e-learning implementation. A catalog course is less expensive as compared to a bespoke solution because of the additional time and effort that goes into bespoke e-learning course development.

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