Instructional Design

Bargain Shopping for eLearning? Why Off-the-Shelf Isn’t Always the Best Deal

If you love a good deal, the idea of purchasing off-the-shelf training programs for your company can definitely sound appealing. From a low per-person price to promises of big returns, a savvy shopper might be swayed into nabbing more generic content for the right price. But before you hand over your credit card, you should know that off-the-shelf eLearning isn’t always the best deal. For some organizations, it makes sense, but for many others with large numbers of employees—well, it could cost much more than anticipated.

OTS “Off The Shelf” Vs. Custom Developed Training

Let’s see how the numbers break down. Most off-the-shelf eLearning is priced out on a per user basis. The OTS course is purchased, leased or licensed typically for a certain number of participants. It might sound like a good deal and an inexpensive fix upfront, but there are a few things to take into consideration before you buy off the shelf:

1. How many participants do you have? In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to create custom learning. For just a few participants, off-the-shelf might be a bargain, but if you have thousands of employees, do the math and make sure you’re getting the best deal. For large organizations, customized training ends up being more scalable in the long run as the number of learners increases.

2. Is the training too generic? If you purchase pre-made eLearning, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room to really personalize the learning experience. You also have to wait for the vendor to update the courses, so your employees may not have the latest training materials right away. You might find that you have to pay to create supplemental training programs when building one from scratch would have taken less time and been more effective overall.

3. Is the off-the-shelf learning common sense? Make sure that you respect your learner: when information is common sense, it can really turn learners off to the training. Instead, make sure that off-the-shelf training actually offers something truly new and truly smart or otherwise it ends up being a waste of time for learners, and could potentially diminish trust with your employees.

Off-the-shelf training can be cost-effective, but only at the right scale. Run the numbers before you buy to make sure you’re actually getting a good deal, both on pricing and value offering. An effective learning and development program is like a marathon, but if you are investing in it like it’s just a sprint, you might not reach the finish line.

Layering Up

If you’ve already purchased off-the-shelf training and realized that it’s not really meeting your needs, don’t worry. Your investment isn’t completely a wash. Instead of scrapping the training, consider using it as a building block. What seems like generic information might work as an introductory course to something more job specific. You can build out a custom program around your existing program to create something that is tailored to the needs of your learners and meets them with the information they need at that moment. So this might look like using your OTS course for newly onboarded employees, and custom learning for employees who already know the basics.

Custom Values

In some cases, custom elearning is far and away the better value. Larger companies don’t want to pay a per participant and instead can have custom training that belongs to the organization.

There are some specific benefits to going custom, including:

  • Lower costs for larger companies (when compared to per participant rates of off-the-shelf training).
  • The ability to control the look, feel, and overall branding of the training program.
  • The content is exactly what you want, and fits your organization and workflow. This creates the ability to address the gaps in learning, and create a solution that is crafted for your specific learners.
  • You will have a relationship with a learning vendor who can help with future alterations and programs whenever you need them, versus having to wait for an OTS vendor to update their content.

It’s important to consider the true cost of your training. For small batch eLearning, off-the-shelf is definitely a cost effective solution for those looking for a bargain. But larger companies, what seems like a cheap way to train could actually backfire. The ability to fully customize and brand the eLearning experience could pay off in a big way.