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Off-the-shelf vs bespoke elearning - which is best?

Posted by

Lynne Callister

on 15 Jan 2019

Bespoke vs off-the-shelf elearning

Compliance e-learning is no longer seen as a sheep dip solution for staff compliance. Companies want to use every training intervention as an opportunity to engage with employees. 

They want the content to reflect the real world in which their employees operate and the real risks and dilemmas they face. This is sometimes just not possible with off-the-shelf courses.

Whether it's the lack of available off-the-shelf (OTS) courses or the desire to do something special to connect with your staff, you need a bespoke e-learning solution for your business.

Off-the-shelf vs bespoke e-learning: what’s the difference?

A good analogy that's often used is - it's the difference between fast food and a gourmet meal. Or, for the fashion-conscious among you, ready-to-wear versus haute couture.

Off-the-shelf e-learning courses can be bought ready-made and can be used straight away with minimal input. Bespoke e-learning courses are customised - usually created from scratch and can take days, weeks, or even months to get ready for roll out.

Pros and cons of Off-the-shelf e-learning content


  • If an OTS course provides everything you need, why not - it will be cheaper and less risk since you can see the end product
  • Courses can be rolled out immediately with little or no setup time
  • Usually able to customise with company branding
  • Ideal for topics that are fairly universal, such as health and safety training, GDPR etc.


  • Will not be tailored to the specific needs of your business
  • Your employees may fail to connect to content that isn't specific to your business operations

Pros and cons of bespoke e-learning content


  • Ability to tailor every aspect of the course means you can create truly personalised and relevant content for staff, which they may find more engaging
  • Can be aligned to the unique training objectives and training needs of your business
  • Just like that tasty gourmet meal, it's a richer experience providing an opportunity to select rarities and focus on the detail that really matters to your company or business area - hopefully delighting and tempting lucky recipients (learners) to try something new (whether that be ideas, initiatives, best practice, etc.)
  • Usually easy to adapt, update, and revise when necessary
  • Ideal if you have a specialised approach to a topic, want to share internal knowledge or best practice firm-wide, or want to tackle myths or preconceptions that are common in your business or organisation - i.e. situations where OTS just won't cut it


  • Usually involves higher upfront costs
  • Takes longer to get setup and running
  • Requires you to invest time to find internal experts and an external partner to create the most effective solution for your needs
  • Inherently more risky - because you don't know what you could end up with

Is there a middle ground?

Want a solution that offers more personalised and relevant content for your staff, but don’t want to invest in a completely bespoke solution? Well, there is a middle ground.

Some e-learning providers will allow you to tailor OTS modules which can give you a head start. You'll be able add your brand logo and colours so that it blends in with the rest of your compliance training, but there may also be more scope to incorporate your content.

For instance, you might add a bespoke module to it, tailor the content to reflect regulations where you are, or adapt scenarios to fit your own working practices.

What’s the best option for my business?

There's no right or wrong option. It all depends on your aims, individual circumstances and - to a lesser extent - personal choice.

In reality, most organisations use a combination of OTS and bespoke types for different things.

The following factors may affect your decision:

  • Budget
  • Timescale - how soon do you need it?
  • Learning objectives
  • Topic - generic or firm-specific
  • Availability of internal subject matter experts

If you do invest in an off-the-shelf training course, it’s important to choose one that allows you to tailor certain elements of it, such as matching it to the look, feel, and tone of your company, as well as being able to add in examples that make it more relevant to your staff.

Questions to ask if opting for bespoke content

If you decide to opt for a truly bespoke solution, there are some important questions (besides costs) to bear in mind when finding the right partner:

  • How long does it take to deliver a bespoke solution?
  • What does the process involve?
  • Do they have the relevant subject matter expertise?
  • Have they worked on similar projects with other clients? If so, ask to see examples.
  • What is their track record - what are their clients saying about them? 
  • Will features like diagnostic reporting be built in as standard?

Sketch out your ideas and consider your own intentions and needs.

Shop around. Reach out to likely partners and arrange a demo. It's an important decision so you need to take some time to find the best fit for you.

Intelligent Learning

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