Katy Rhodes

Customised Vs off-the-shelf eLearning

Before we go into why or why not to invest your valuable learning dollars in customised eLearning let’s look at an analogy.

You decide you need a new suit for work. You can go to any high-street store and, depending on various factors, you can spend roughly $300 on an off-the-peg suit. Alternatively, you can go to a high-end tailor and spend close to 10 times that on the very same piece of clothing.

So why spend $3K on a suit when no one can tell the difference anyway?

Or can they?

Well, the main person who will know the difference is you. You put on an expensive, made-to-measure suit and it fits like a glove, you feel like a million dollars. The fabric drapes beautifully and chances are, if you’ve spent three grand, it’s pure wool or a mix of silk and wool; there’s a stunning contrast satin lining in the jacket and the buttons are made of unicorn horn!!

Ok – so that’s impossible, but you can see what I’m driving at.

Move over James, or Jane, Bond.

Now back to the topic at hand. Remember that well-worn phrase ‘You get what you pay for’ – it also holds true for eLearning. Before you decide if custom-built or off-the-shelf learning is what you need there are a few questions you need to answer. Who is your audience? What do they need to learn and what’s your learning budget?

The beauty of eLearning is its ability to reach a large and geographically dispersed audience. If your audience all have the same learning needs and the topic is straightforward then off-the shelf could be the way to go. But if you have an audience with the same essential aspects to their role but enough specific ones to warrant tailored learning then custom eLearning is the way to go. You could create a module with a generic topic introduction, some general information upfront and a generic summary and then for each different role you could include branching so the learner picks the role they are in and completes the scenarios that apply directly to them.

Take financial crime for example. Any employee of a bank needs to be aware of what financial crime is (fraudulent cheques, through to financing terrorism or insider trading) and how to recognise the signs it’s happening. But what a teller needs to know as opposed to someone who works in a dealing room will be worlds apart; so why would you make them complete exactly the same learning experience?

When I’m trying to decide between two alternative courses of action I usually write a list of pros and cons and base my final decision on that. So here are the pros and cons of customised versus off-the shelf eLearning.


Pros of customised eLearning

The most obvious selling point for customised anything is exactly that – it is created just for you (and your unique audience).

You can tailor practically everything about your elearning. You control the content so it’s relevant to you audience: you determine the duration of the learning and exactly what text is included – down to a specific font if that’s part of your brand. You can incorporate your company’s visual look and feel as well using other visual elements such as videos. You can open the learning with an encouraging, positive message from the CEO or use videos of staff telling their stories to illustrate a point; small things, but these elements included in a module will show your learners you’ve taken the time, and spent the money, to make sure they get the most out of the learning experience. This in turn shows them that you care about their development too. It’s widely accepted that learner engagement is much higher for customised content, so although it may cost you a bit more the return on your business dollar will be better. To keep the content level (and cost) down with customised learning you can link out to pages or documents on your intranet so those who want to dig a bit deeper on a topic know where to go.


Cons of customised eLearning

There’s no getting away from the fact that customised eLearning will cost more than buying off-the shelf eLearning. And all of those things mentioned above are the reason. The process behind tailored eLearning is more involved and time consuming. There will be multiple meetings with whoever is creating your learning, decisions to be made on what content needs to be included, agreeing on the look of the module. You’ll also need to factor in time to review the learning, and provide feedback, at different stages of its creation. You can see the attraction of buying something off the shelf: quick, convenient and cheaper, but the main thing that learning is all about – the learner experience – may be less than great – so then you question if your money was well spent.


Pros of off-the-shelf learning

You’ve identified a learning need, you want a solution quickly and it’s a topic that every company needs their employees to know, for example information security. So, you decide off-the-shelf eLearning is the way forward; there’s no wait for the product, you’ll be spoilt for choice with multiple providers in the market and it’s cheaper than custom learning. Your reasoning is sound. And if you can find an off-the-shelf solution that pretty much suits your needs then it makes sense to go down this route.


Cons of off-the-shelf eLearning

The drawbacks of this quick, easy, cheaper approach are that your learning:

  • may be too long or too short (10 minutes won’t go into enough depth, 30 minutes and 60% of your audience will have checked out)
  • could well contain content that doesn’t apply to your learner’s particular situation (which is a real turn-off). This is known as the sheep-dip approach
  • what you need to tell your staff is not covered in one module so you’ll have to buy two with 40% of the content being redundant.

Inspire Group is a medium-sized business and we appreciate that not everyone has the budget for customised learning. Knowing that, we have created some off-the-shelf content which can still be customised to a degree but at a more affordable level, and we partner with Chameleon Creator, an easy-to-use eLearning tool so organisations can create their own beautiful, life-changing learning. 

Off-the-Shelf Content Library

Check out our ready-to-deploy content library. These modules are perfect for when you're looking to implement something quickly and with little resource.

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