“Could we get a premade course library? What does customization mean for our eLearning, anyway?”

If these questions are familiar to you, there is a good chance that you might be a Human Resources professional, currently looking into better eLearning & Development training opportunities for your team and feeling overwhelmed by what “customization” entails. Or, perhaps, you are a new learning management system (LMS) administrator, tasked with figuring out how to adapt your company’s old safety manuals into new online training courses. In this article, we will provide you with a basic understanding of the three levels of eLearning development: off-the-shelf courses, customized content, and fully custom courses.

Gaining a simple understanding of how to define custom eLearning and recognizing when and where it should be used will better equip you when making development decisions for your team’s eLearning and training needs. So, grab a coffee and lend us just five minutes of your time to discuss the differences between customized versus subscription eLearning.

Let’s start with a quick analogy.

A tailored experience vs off-the-rack

Most folks have, at one point, needed to buy pants. If they need to purchase pants quickly and don’t want to wait, then they will often seek out a convenient solution: buying a pair already available off-the-rack. These pants will do their basic job of covering what needs to be covered, and may even be on sale - three pairs for the price of one!

A crouching tailor adjusts and pins the hem of a client’s dress pants.
Depending on your training needs and desired outcomes, you may want to explore both a library of ready-made training options and the development of a training course that is specifically tailored to your business and team.

However, these pants could be better. They may not fit exactly right, are too long or snug, and are not made out of the best materials or produced by a favorite brand. This customer was able to quickly purchase pants, but doesn’t really love them, and may not even wear them.

The shop owner can tell that their customer is not as happy with their pants as they could be and informs the customer that they can add customized pocket stitching in a variety of designs. The customer chooses a customized design for their back pockets, but it is a cosmetic change and doesn’t affect the overall fit of the pants in any meaningful way.

The next time this customer needs pants, they decide to visit a professional tailor. The tailor takes the customer’s exact measurements, and asks about their preferences - are the pants for an event or everyday use? Where do they want the waistband to sit? Do they normally wear a flat shoe, or something with a bit more height? Which fabric do they prefer? After a few weeks, the custom pants are finished - it takes longer than shopping for an off-the-rack pair, but expectations are higher.

The customer received just one pair of pants this time, but they are exactly what was wanted, even exceeding expectations. They fit perfectly and are exactly suited to the needs of the customer. For this purchase, quality wasn’t compromised for quantity.

Quantity, quality, and finding the right fit for you

Subscribing to or licensing courses from a premade eLearning library is similar to buying a few pairs of off-the-rack pants; you gain access to much more content than anyone could create on their own, and on a wide variety of topics, but aren’t able to customize anything in any way. Premade libraries are a great option for trainers who need a lot of eLearning available in a short amount of time, and while the course offerings that are readily available may not exactly fit or meet a company’s required training outcomes, you will still have easy access to hundreds of ready-made courses that can be made almost instantly available for your learning & development program. 

A staticky vintage television with dials, displaying the message “Nothing to see here.”
Back in the days of cable television, the author’s dad would often complain that he was paying for over 400 channels and still had nothing to watch - similar to learners who have access to a surplus of eLearning that hasn’t been made relevant to them.

Remember, though, that these courses exist as they were created by the content providers. Even if the library is synced with your personal LMS, you may only be able to request minor customizations, for example the inclusion of your branding, logo, or preferred colors. Most importantly, some of the changes you need to make may not be possible at all - and it can cost time and additional resources to discover exactly how much creative control you actually have over the content you have purchased.

Keep in mind that too much non-relevant content can result in low engagement and will not have been curated to address particular knowledge gaps that may be unique to your learners.

It may or may not be possible to curate library content for your learners, even creating learning plans that contain selected courses or modules, but remember that content curation is still a time investment and you will still only be able to choose from the courses that have been made available to you through your subscription or license.

A custom course means YOU control the content

While customization is limited, a fully custom course can become absolutely anything you want it to be. There is limitless creative potential with this option, and the reason why many organizations choose to design custom eLearning means the content is entirely in their control and presented to their specifications. While this content is not made instantly available to your learners, the time you invest in design and development is well-spent when the content is completely tailored to meet the training requirements and learning outcomes of your organization. It also means YOU control the content and can have full control over a schedule to update, change, and maintain the course content as you wish.

After choosing the option of creating a custom course and beginning the design and development of your content, you may find yourself overwhelmed. You may be a content expert, but how should you format that content? How do you build an assessment? How can you design an infographic, or create a video?

Don’t let questions like this stall your project! Professional help and support are available for every stage of your development journey: from the initial consultation, to development, to design, to quality assurance, to course launch. A professional instructional designer trained in the intricacies of adult education helps to format your original content into a course and to suggest effective and appropriate learning assessments. Once you have your finalized content and have created a course storyboard, you can seek a professional media specialist or eLearning designer who will help you create beautiful, accessible course designs that include dynamic media elements.

Choosing to invest in building a custom learning experience designed specifically for your organization and audience will be a larger time investment that produces fewer courses than you would instantly get with an eLearning library subscription, but custom courses will be targeted specifically to your learners and their availability to complete the training, avoid learner fatigue through personalization, and be completely unique to your organization’s wants, needs, and strategies.

Conclusion

Let’s review a quick summary of the article with this handy at-a-glance table of pros and cons:

Poor Use with
Adult Learners
Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenge employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Award points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Award levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

  • Remember — bookmark, google, link, search
  • Understand — annotate, Boolean search, journal, tweet
  • Apply — chart, display, execute, present, upload
  • Analyze — attribute, deconstruct, illustrate, mash, mind map
  • Evaluate — comment, editorialize, moderate, network, post
  • Create — blog, film, integrate, podcast, program, publish
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– Gord Holmes

Comparison of the Three Levels of eLearning Content
Type
Off-the-shelf subscription libraries
Pros
  • Saves development time - you don’t have to create any courses yourself.
  • Good fit for a limited budget.
  • Quick to set up and launch.
  • Access to hundreds of courses on a wide variety of topics.
Cons
  • Users cannot make any changes to the pre-existing content.
  • Users do not own any of the content.
  • An overwhelming amount of courses and a short time in which to complete the training can create a higher likelihood of users experiencing learner fatigue.
  • Learners may view content that isn’t relevant to their learning objectives.
  • Time and resources can be spent curating your content library to suit your learners.
Type
Course customization
Pros
  • A premade course that is quick to set up and launch.
  • Customization options such as adding your logo, branding, choice of colors, or some fonts.
Cons
  • You do not own the content of the course.
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
  • You cannot make significant changes to the content of the course (e.g. adding your own images, data, or organization’s terminology).
Type
Fully custom courses
Pros
  • Completely tailored to meet your organization's audience, needs, and strategies.
  • You have limitless creative potential.
  • You own the original content/IP.
  • Prevent learner fatigue through personalization.
  • You can change, personalize, and maintain the courses however you want and at your discretion.
Cons
  • More expensive - custom courses are a bigger investment for both time and resources.
  • Learners will not have access to as many course options as quickly as they would through a library subscription.
  • A professional eLearning development team should be assigned to this project - either hired in-house or contracted.

So, how does it look when custom eLearning development is stacked up against the other types of online course subscription methods?

Remember, off-the-shelf eLearning libraries, pre-existing courses that allow for some customization, and fully custom courses, all have their own valuable place in the wide world of eLearning. Making the right choice depends on the individual needs of your learners and your organization! Our hope is that you will now have confidence in your understanding of the three different levels of eLearning available to you, their best-use cases, and how each might benefit your organization and your learners.

Chart showing the difference between custom eLearning development, white-label or branded courses, and packaged course libraries. The chart highlights the fact that the custom eLearning development is more expensive and takes more time, but has more IP control, flexibility to make changes, and content that is relevant to your learners. White-label/branded courses and pre-packaged libraries are cheaper and take less time, but also offer less IP control, less flexibility, and the content relevance is much lower.

If you're ready to learn about different types of custom eLearning, head over to our dedicated custom eLearning development page and begin exploring! We’ll be adding new topics frequently, so check back often. If you’re not seeing what you need, contact us and let us know through our learning hub feedback form.

Kristy Lacroix

Kristy has over a decade of progressive and diverse experience within the fields of higher education, television production, studio animation, global retail manufacturing and marketing, and graphic design. She enthusiastically believes that creating effective and memorable learning experiences is where conscious design, good storytelling, and accessibility meet.

Read more articles by Kristy Lacroix