eLearning Design and Development

Custom eLearning Vs. Off-the-Shelf eLearning: Which is Best?

off the shelf vs custom elearning
Artwork by Greg Kozera

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Sure, custom eLearning is what we do at ELM Learning, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the merits of other strategies. Off-the-shelf modules definitely have a time and place, and custom eLearning programs might not be the right fit for every topic. If you’re trying to decide which type of eLearning is right for your organization, consider these key points to choose what makes the most sense for you, your budget, and your training goals.

Off-the-Shelf eLearning

Off-the-shelf eLearning typically refers to learning programs that have already been created for a broad variety of topics. You simply purchase the programs you need, upload them into your LMS, and send the courses out to your learners. Here are some pros and cons: 


  • Usually cheaper than custom eLearning, making it better for small budgets
  • No development time, making it a quick solution for urgent topics
  • Can be administered in-house, without the need for ongoing development teams or eLearning vendors
  • Developed to industry standards by eLearning experts


  • No way to customize topics or delivery methods for your individual learners
  • Content may be fairly generic and feel redundant for some learners, even if the topics are necessary
  • Can’t change specifics such as new product information if/when it changes. What you purchase is what you get.
  • Learners may feel like they’re just “checking a box” to fulfill learning requirements and not actually engage with the material

Custom eLearning

If you have the time and budget, custom eLearning is usually the gold standard for engaging learners. Still, it’s not always the perfect solution. Consider these points:


  • Unique topics require a unique approach, so the learning is less generic
  • Can build in different learning mechanics for engagement, such as gamification, microlearning, and mobile learning apps
  • Uses your organization’s branding and media for a seamless experience
  • Can be changed and updated whenever necessary, such as when a product has new features or policies change


  • More expensive than off-the-shelf eLearning
  • Requires more development time
  • May require the adoption of new technology for effective delivery
  • Outsourcing development could complicate the process for teams that prefer keeping training in house


While we’d love to tell you that custom eLearning is always the right choice, we know that choosing the right solution depends on your overall goals, current pain points, and administrative questions of time and budget. Also remember that your training needs might change in the future. The most important consideration is that your learners get the training they need, when they need it—using a solution that meets your organization’s current training goals.