Custom Vs. Off-The-Shelf eLearning: Which Is Cheaper?

Summary: Custom eLearning is cheap. No, off-the-shelf eLearning is cheap. That’s all crap and “cheap” is very relative: read into this article to see which option is cheaper FOR YOU.

Custom or off-the-shelf eLearning seems like an eternal question for any organization. Which is better? Or, even better, which is cheaper? As you’re preparing for an eLearning project in your company, these are the questions you have to resolve, along with the similar LMS conundrum. And we have some insights for you.

The reality is that we’re all looking to spend little, and gain a lot. If you’ve ever dealt with impactful projects, you may agree with me when I say that spending and gaining are not solely about money. With each project, we want value.

…damn, “value” can mean so many things…

In that context, figuring out which eLearning courses are better for your organization is tricky: custom or off-the-shelf? There are also some common opinions about each type, so let’s check them and try to make this article helpful.

Common opinion: Off-the-shelf courses are cheaper.

Yes, if your organization is small, that is, the smaller number of users will be taking them. They are paid per user, and usually on a yearly basis, so there may be recurring costs if you’re looking to retake them. (The word is that we’re looking at 10-25 USD per user, but this should be researched in more detail.) Of course, you’ll pay for each or a bulk of new users.

Off-the-shelf courses are also cheaper in terms of maintenance and updates – your organization doesn’t have to deal with them. On the other hand, you should make sure those are handled regularly by your chosen provider.

One more important thing I’d like to point out from the agency’s point of view: off-the-shelf courses are ready-to-go. This translates to the following:

  1. You don’t have to appoint an SME to participate in content creation (prepare/revise materials, be available, have meeting sessions).
  2. You don’t have to make long-term commitments in your timeline for feedback sessions.
  3. Consequently, you’re saving your team’s time and energy. And your money.

So, yes, they can be cheaper.

Don’t forget that results matter.

To ensure that off-the-shelf is the way to go, try thinking about these questions:

Is the course topic generic enough to be applicable to your organization?

If you’re looking for something like Stress Management, yes – probably all cultures have similar things to say about it. If you’re looking for advice on how to recruit – this can be very specific and closely tied to your organization’s work activities and culture.

Does your audience show signs that they could accept the course well?

For example, if I’ve made an Irish cappuccino with cream, would you enjoy it if you’re the classical espresso type? (I know I wouldn’t – I drink my coffee nice, clean, uncontaminated: black).

If both answers are yes, then maybe you could be good with the off-the-shelf courses. The audience segment is really important if you want your eLearning to have any impact.

Perhaps we could think of this as a modular kitchen. It’s standardized, takes less time to have it ready in your home, and you’re choosing it from a given catalog.

Common opinion: Off-the-shelf courses are always cheaper.

Nope.
If anything from the paragraphs above is untrue for you, then the answer is no.

Let’s check:

  1. Is your audience a few hundreds of people?
  2. How specific is your audience?
  3. Is your topic specific and tied to your organization’s processes?
  4. Do you wish to transfer the message in a unique way?
  5. Should your company culture be transmitted through the course?

If all of these are affirmative (except 2., that one is for you to seriously consider it), then custom eLearning is CHEAPER. This is definitely true if you’re not comfortable with any of the offered off-the-shelf courses. Spending a budget on something you already feel isn’t the right thing is just that – spending. Not investing :(.

If off-the-shelf was a modular kitchen, then this one is (surprise, surprise) custom. 100% adaptable to what you need, want, and like. It’s the one for the long run, a serious investment, but you’ll be sooo happy with it!

Again, as I mentioned in the beginning, we’re all seeking for value.

If your custom eLearning is smartly targeted and meticulously created, undoubtedly it will bring value to your teams. This will then surely translate to time and budget savings.

However, let’s not be too casual about these conclusions: designing an effective solution for your organization is a big project. Five tips from this blog article by Christopher Pappas may serve as an initial guide, but do read on as I share more tips from our agency experience below (it’s going to be quick, I promise).

If you opt for custom eLearning, here’s what you could do.

You can contact us, that would be great. In this eBook “Custom eLearning Development Process”, you can learn what to expect when we work together. It’s free, don’t worry.

That’s in the ideal world; in reality, however, there are many great companies out there, and you should partner up with the one that feels the best. I’m serious: organizational cultures and compatibility between client and provider personalities are extremely important for successful projects. Our Sara (Operations Manager) talked about it in a podcast session, so hear her out if you’re serious about diving in these types of projects. This one is also free.

But what’s not free is working with an outsourced agency. I’m sharing an article about how much eLearning can cost. If you’re looking for more specifics, a cost calculator, or someone to start a chat with, then definitely re-read the first sentence of this chapter :), and do it – reach out.

Either way, I hope this helped

Author:  Tamara Tomek
Images: Marija šimunić

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