E-learning has become increasingly popular among businesses and institutions for building new qualifications and skills among their staff. Between 2020 and 2026, the e-learning market is expected to grow at over 8% CAGR, surpassing $200 billion already in 2019.

Thanks to technological advances such as artificial intelligence or cloud computing, e-learning solutions have become more accessible and widespread than ever before. E-learning solutions not only enable delivering classes remotely but also help learners to stay organized, and collaborate.

E-learning is a technology that changes the face of business training, but also education in the broader sense. According to the World Economic Forum, around 1.2 billion children are currently out of classrooms as schools shut down all over the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. E-learning systems will become a key part of every country’s plan to continue learning even once a pandemic hits.

Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom E-learning Software

Are you looking to deliver an e-learning platform to your employees? In this article, we take a closer look at two different types of e-learning available on the market today: off-the-shelf solutions and custom-made solutions.

Read on to find out the pros and cons of both of these options and learn when to apply them for maximum results.

Off-the-shelf e-learning platforms

This type of software is created by one company for many customers and includes the features, functionalities, and content organization (often the content itself, too) that the provider designs. When buying a prebuilt e-learning platform, you get a ready-made solution that offers little to no customization options. This comes in handy in several business contexts.

Pros of out-of-the-box e-learning software

  • Cost-effective — off-the-shelf solutions are cost-effective as subscriptions, and license costs usually are lower than the initial fees and ongoing maintenance costs of customized learning management solutions (LMS). Most of the time, such solutions are billed per user, which means that your company will only have to pay for what you will be using.
  • External hosting — prebuilt solutions are never hosted on your server. This means that you aren’t responsible for your e-learning solution’s reliability, accessibility, performance, or security. Downtimes or lags are managed by the provider. Naturally, this takes a lot of pressure off your internal team but also forces you to give up control to your provider.
  • Maintenance and updates — you can expect off-the-shelf software to be regularly updated. As users report issues and find bugs, providers update their solutions, and these updates will always be part of your contract.
  • Quick implementation — since such learning management systems are prebuilt, implementing them is usually fast and streamlined. You might be able to launch a workable e-learning solution for your employees in just a couple of weeks. You won’t have to worry about testing your business product or carrying out long revision rounds to get rid of all the errors. Your employees can benefit from online training right away.
  • No need to hire a dedicated team — hiring a dedicated development team to build your online e-learning system can become quite expensive. You not only pay for their time and expertise but also the tools and resources required for the job. Out-of-the-box e-learning software eliminates the need, and this is how it becomes so cost-effective.
  • Industry expertise — most of the time, readymade e-learning solutions are created by experienced companies that know what information to include in their courses and how to deliver it in the best possible format. Experts in the topic can increase knowledge retention and recall to improve the ROI of any online training platform. If you’d like to build a custom e-learning solution for your employees, you will also have to hire content designers to help you out.

Cons of out-of-the-box e-learning software

  • Standardized content — off-the-shelf solutions might not meet your business requirements as all the content is created in advance. Most of the time, companies that build such software create content that meets the common requirements of a particular industry. However, if you would like to train your employees in areas that are business-specific or unique to your organization, relying on such software is not the best idea.
  • No possibility of branding — don’t expect to be able to integrate your branding elements into prebuilt e-learning platforms (like color schemes, logos, and other elements that are part of your image). As a result, you won’t be able to build credibility with the resource among your employees or customers. Some off-the-shelf options might allow you to add specific branding types like social media links, but make sure to verify that beforehand.
  • Little support for your objectives — by creating a custom e-learning platform, you can align your online training content with your broader organizational business goals. Readymade solutions are created for the industry in general and might not connect with your objectives so well.
Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom E-learning Software

When to use an off-the-shelf e-learning platform?

  • When you’re fine with using generic content — if you would like to provide your employees with courses on change management, communication, team building, or compliance training, then you don’t need to build a customized course offer. Many out-of-the-box e-learning courses come with content that has been provided or approved by authority organizations.
  • When you need to implement an e-learning platform urgently — off-the-shelf e-learning platforms can be quickly installed and implemented to help your employees learn.
  • When your budget is small — since the cost of such solutions is relatively low, it could be a good choice for organizations that don’t have a large budget for e-learning or training departments that can take up the responsibility for developing the course offer.

Tips for implementing an off-the-shelf e-learning platform:

  • Check the customization options — verify whether you can repurpose the existing online training materials to fit your needs.
  • Make sure that your platform is accessible — the online training content should be responsive and accessible on any device. Look for mobile-friendly e-learning platforms that your employees can use on the go.
  • Create a list of your e-learning budget — develop a budget for all the costs associated with your e-learning program, covering the fees you need to pay to purchase prebuilt online training materials to the monthly upkeep expenses. This will help you to verify that off-the-shelf is still the best option for you.
Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom E-learning Software

Custom e-learning software

Tailormade e-learning management systems allow including all of the unique issues and objectives of your business. You can customize your e-learning platform with branding elements and add all the extra functionalities that off-the-shelf platforms don’t include.

Pros of custom e-learning software

  • Unique content — by building a custom e-learning platform, you get exactly what you want. All of the courses will be customized to the needs of your organization: your workflows, processes, and structure. This brings massive benefits, especially for highly technical employees, where it is essential to follow standard operating procedures.
  • Full flexibility — you can change your solution at any time to match the constantly evolving requirements of your business. This way, your e-learning plan platform will grow together with your organization, changing to suit the new reality of your market on a regular basis.
  • Cost-effectiveness over long-term — another advantage of building your own e-learning platform is that you will be the one who owns it and won’t be forced to pay for the license year after year. Licensing costs amount to significant sums when you consider all of the years of use and all of the users across time. That’s why investing in custom software is a good idea in the long run.

Cons of custom e-learning software

  • High price — most of the time, a bespoke e-learning platform and training content will be more expensive than off-the-shelf courses. Think twice about what kind of level of specialization and customization you need because it might come with a higher price tag.
  • Development resources — another significant limitation custom content brings has to do with your internal resources. Do you have an internal team able to create the platform and the course materials? Does your team have enough time to do that? Or will you have to outsource the entire process? Even if you outsource the task, you will still need to dedicate a portion of your employees’ time to work with the development team and make sure that you get exactly what you want.
Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom E-learning Software

When to use custom e-learning software?

  • When your training needs are unique — every company has its own culture, workflows, processes, and products. These might make your training needs unique. If you’re looking to provide product training, software systems training, or new employee onboarding, a custom e-learning platform is your best pick.
  • When the training content might change often — your course materials might evolve over periods of time. For example, when your product is updated with a new feature or when new laws are passed in your geographical location. Naturally, your materials need to be updated to reflect these changes. This is where custom solutions are the best choice because you can add new features or materials easily.
  • When you want your courses to strongly reflect your brand — some organizations prefer to offer branded learning materials in their e-learning platforms. For instance, if you would like to create a course about a safety procedure, setting it in a realistic background and creating custom scenarios that relate to your organization will help learners to immerse themselves in the learning material and boost retention.

Tips for implementing a custom e-learning solution:

  • Choose the right delivery model — since you’re building a custom solution, you can determine how the materials will be delivered and how learners will access them. Depending on your audience, you can choose from many different forms, such as live video meetings or webinars.
  • Match your e-learning offer to nontraditional work environments — more companies are now moving to nontraditional work environments where employees aren’t working in a centralized office. This is particularly relevant to today’s reality of COVID-19 that made remote work the new normal. That’s why you need to make sure that your e-learning platform is easy to access remotely, especially on mobile devices.
  • Don’t forget about relevant integrations — you can integrate your solution with specific content, analytics systems, or social channels your company is using. Such integrations provide more seamless training and improve the learning experience.

Conclusion

Whether you pick an off-the-shelf or a custom e-learning solution, you can be sure that your organization benefits from training on many different levels. You will increase the skills of your employees and boost team morale by helping your staff to always learn something new.

If you’re looking for an experienced software development company to help you build a bespoke e-learning platform, get in touch with us. We have experience in building custom software for educational purposes for companies in different industries and know what it takes to build a platform that delivers effective learning.

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grzegorz.smialek

Greg is a business leader responsible for finance and people departments. He also oversees the company's ongoing expansion efforts into international markets. Greg earned a master's degree in law from Jagiellonian University, and executive certificate from Harvard Business School.