Last updated: 13.11.17

Bespoke training vs off-the-shelf courses: which is right for your organisation?

In the last few years, e-learning has gone from being a relatively new concept to a mainstream fixture of modern approaches to training.

Aided and abetted by recent advances in technology and connectivity, businesses across the world are embracing the added convenience and reduced costs provided by digital learning platforms that can be accessed any time and from any device.

However, the ever-growing range of e-learning solutions can sometimes leave compliance training managers with difficult decisions to make regarding which option will work best for their organisation. Many firms find that developing a bespoke training programme specifically for the needs of their workforce delivers the greatest benefit, while others yield similar results from off-the-shelf solutions.

Which of these two approaches will work best for your organisation? The answer depends on a number of factors.

The pros and cons of off-the-shelf courses

For a great many businesses, off-the-shelf e-learning solutions will provide everything they need and more, without them being required to pay extra for extensive customisation.

Since prepackaged solutions are ready to buy and developed for the widest possible audience, businesses can get these courses up and running with a bare minimum of setup time, with the design and testing process handled by the vendor. Such solutions can be ideal when providing training on relatively general subjects, as the courses will by experts to align with industry best practice and compliance standards; since they're also much more affordable, they're often favoured by smaller companies with less to spend.

However, the inevitable trade-off is that off-the-shelf solutions will not be tailored to fit the specific needs of your business model and workflow, meaning the content may not necessarily meet your training goals as precisely as a course designed in-house. If you anticipate that your requirements are too specific for an off-the-shelf option to address, then a bespoke approach may be preferable.

The pros and cons of bespoke training

Naturally, then, the single biggest benefit of a custom-built training programme is that of relevance. With a bespoke option, you'll be able to tailor every aspect of the course - from the content and the learning materials through to the choice of vocabulary and the values it embodies - to your individual corporate needs.

Because your organisation will have full ownership of a bespoke course, it will be possible to make changes, updates and revisions as and when necessary; it also means the course can be provided to any number of employees without having to pay licence fees for individual learners, and remain in use for as long as you need it.

However, companies that choose to go down this route should be prepared for higher upfront costs and time spent getting the solution up and running. Since bespoke training needs to be carefully designed to address specific needs, it can be challenging for companies that lack experience in e-learning development to realise the potentially considerable benefits without the help of a trusted external partner.

Working with a vendor such as Virtual College, who can work as part of your team and offer support at every stage, can facilitate these efforts, turning a challenging process into a creative and thought-provoking collaboration. Although this requires a commitment of resources and time, many companies ultimately end up learning just as much from creating a bespoke e-learning solution as they do from running it.

A blended approach?

It's also worth remembering that the off-the-shelf vs bespoke training dichotomy is far from a binary choice, as many organisations instead opt to mix and match aspects of both approaches to create a blend that works best for them.

For example, you might want to create a training programme that includes prepackaged modules on industry best practice with sections that deal with how those guidelines apply to your operation; alternatively, you might be happy to pair a mostly off-the-shelf programme with bespoke refresher resources specific to your organisation and its processes.

By adopting this blended approach, it should be possible to get the best of both worlds, combining the universality of off-the-shelf solutions with elements designed by Virtual College to meet your individual business needs.

Making the right decision for your circumstances

Ultimately, the question of whether you should choose an off-the-shelf or a bespoke e-learning approach doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer - it's about considering the specific needs of your business and selecting the option that represents the best fit.

At Virtual College, we provide both off-the-shelf and bespoke courses depending on your requirements, so it's simply a matter of assessing your training goals, your intended timescale, your budget and your resourcing availability, and we'll be able to consult with you to identify the best possible package to meet those criteria.

Summary: It can be difficult to choose between bespoke or off-the-shelf courses when planning an e-learning approach, so it's important to consider the needs of your business and decide accordingly.

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