Beauty and the Beast: Bespoke and off-the-shelf elearning

Do you prefer the beauty of bespoke or beastly off-the-shelf elearning? Lisa White examines the case for both.

Do I buy off-the-shelf (OTS) elearning content or invest in a bespoke course? This is a common dilemma for most training departments. At first glance, bespoke and OTS content can seem like beauty and the beast but we only need to look beyond the bad reputation OTS content has endured, to see that something more appealing exists within.

Once upon a time there was some fairly monstrous looking OTS content which paled in comparison to beautifully crafted bespoke elearning. But today’s generic elearning has transformed from the beast it once was into the crown prince of learning thanks to better development techniques, improved technology and the skills of today’s instructional designers.

As a result, organisations are turning to OTS content for all manner of courses, with beauty and the so-called beast now living happily ever after together, as part of the modern blend.

But we must still answer that all important question: when to build and when to buy? Making the right choice isn’t always straightforward. It’s helpful to consider the pros and cons of bespoke and OTS content to determine the best solution for your organisation and learning needs. 

The beauty of bespoke elearning is that you get exactly what you want – a solution that meets the personal needs of your learners and business and that you can design to reflect your brand values.

Today’s generic elearning has transformed from the beast it once was into the crown prince of learning thanks to better development techniques, improved technology and the skills of today’s instructional designers.

And because you own the course you can roll it out whenever and to anybody you want without any licensing issues which can be more cost-efficient if you have a very large audience.

Bespoke elearning provides an opportunity for L&D to innovate and excite learners. From video, gamification, storytelling and scenario-based learning to virtual reality and augmented reality – you’ll have the opportunity to combine the latest trends and emerging technologies to build a more interactive and immersive learning experience that learners will want to return to time and again.

But, as with anything new and innovative, it can be harder to predict or control development costs and you may need to factor in a longer development time if you want all the ‘bells and whistles’.

There are plenty of reasons to love OTS content too. You can have it tomorrow, not in two or three months time if everything goes well, making it particularly attractive for urgent learning requirements.

The cost of licensing an OTS package in most cases will be cheaper – for the same price of a few bespoke courses you can have a whole library of knowledge at your fingertips, ready to support employees at the drop of a hat.

And you won’t have to worry about maintenance and updates which is especially important for compliance training where updates driven by regulatory changes will be managed by the vendor.

Ultimately, OTS content is a tried and tested solution. When you buy into a library of elearning, each course is presented in a consistent manner which means the learner doesn’t have to relearn how to navigate and work their way through the content – instead they can complete it quickly and get back to their real job.

The new generation of OTS elearning packages are a world away from their ugly predecessors. With businesses increasingly using video increasingly to create an emotional connection with the learner and simple gamification techniques boosting motivation and engagement levels, the best solutions in the marketplace are delivering greatly improved results.

Some are even customisable, offering a more individual experience without the cost and other challenges associated with full bespoke packages.

So why go down the bespoke route? Technology infrastructure is often a key factor. Bespoke content can better support limited Internet access or bandwith issues.

Furthermore, organisations with a more advanced infrastructure stand to benefit from all the bells and whistles bespoke content offers compared to OTS packages which tend to be designed to work within the technology constraints of less technology-savvy organisations.

Culture is an important consideration too. Sometimes it can be difficult to win round learners who have had a bad experience with traditional ‘click-next’ elearning content and a different design approach is required.

But most importantly, in today’s fast-paced business environment, most organisations are either going through a change or about to embark on one, and bespoke content is the ideal solution for supporting business transformation and inspiring lasting behavioural change.

Whether you are looking for show-stopping bespoke content that will transform your business or convenient and affordable OTS packages to support specific skills development at the point of need, there is a very valid place for both solutions to live happily ever after in today’s learning kingdom.

And if you have an open mind to seeing the goodness of OTS content, one day you may just fall in love with it.


About the author

Lisa White is head of marketing at Kallidus



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