Off-The-Shelf vs. Custom vs. Templates: What's the Solution for You?


Is Off-The-Shelf Training, Custom Development, or Templates the right eLearning Development method for you?

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 94% of professionals would stay at a company longer if the company was invested in their development.

Employee training has become essential to workforce recruitment, retention, and company profit. But many companies hesitate to develop comprehensive training programs, fearing the cost and time commitment.

You’ve found your way to the eLearning Brothers website, so clearly, you’re already interested in developing some online training. That’s awesome!

But perhaps you’re wondering which route to take?

You have a few choices for eLearning development methods.

You could dip your toes into the training waters with some off-the-shelf training courses. You could go all in on a fully custom built course with all the bells and whistles. Or you could try your hand at rapid eLearning development with templates.

There are pros and cons to each method of training development. The best solution for you depends on your priorities. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Off-The-Shelf Courseware: Benefits

Buying off-the-shelf training is often your most cost-effective choice. You’re not paying for authoring tools, stock photos, subject matter experts, instructional designers, graphic designers, and more.

Off-the-shelf courseware is also ready to be immediately deployed. So if you’re in a time crunch or trying to stay in compliance with strict regulations, you’ll want to consider this option. You can deliver off-the-shelf courses right away, knowing the content has been created and reviewed by subject matter experts in each topic, and has already gone through quality assurance.

Off-The-Shelf Courseware: Downsides

Most pre-built courses are not editable—although there are some exceptions, like the eLearning Brothers Course Library. If the training you buy isn’t editable, you are stuck with stock photos that may not reflect your learner demographics, no company branding, and boring layouts. The content won’t be tailored to your particular work environment.

Off-The-Shelf Courseware: Recap

Off-The-Shelf Courseware: Benefits

Off-The-Shelf Courseware: Downsides

Time and money-saving
May not be editable
Ready to deploy immediately
May be limited in branding and design
Subject matter expert approved


Custom eLearning Development: Benefits

Many of our custom development clients come to us when they have a project that’s too big for their team finish on-time or on-budget. They know that when they hire us, they’re getting both our top-notch eLearning developers/instructional designers and also our team of experienced project managers and QA specialists. These experts can provide an extra level of attention to detail—and deadlines—that the company may not have the staff for.

Outsourcing development doesn’t just help you meet deadlines more quickly, however. When you hire a custom eLearning developer, you get just that—custom eLearning. The final product will be custom built to address your needs, from matching your company’s branding to aligning with your exact training objectives. No more trying to fit the square peg, so to speak, of a pre-built course into a round hole.

While there are definitely good off-the-shelf courses available, there are also many boring, stale examples of off-the-shelf training. When you deliver training custom built just for your employees, you know you’re going to have higher information retention rates and better engagement.

It’s also easier to seamlessly incorporate social learning methods like discussion forums, leaderboards, and other engagement tools into a custom-built course.

Custom eLearning Development: Downsides

The biggest deal breaker with custom eLearning is often the cost. You can make the cost easier to bear by limiting the custom development route for your most important training programs, and save money by using templates or off-the-shelf courseware for lower priority topics.

Custom eLearning Development: Recap

Custom eLearning: Benefits

Custom eLearning: Downsides

Alignment with learning objectives
Higher learning development costs
Company branding
Social learning  
High engagement and information retention  


eLearning Templates: Benefits

Templates are an in-between option that has been popular among organizations for many years. Most template libraries include pre-built layouts and interactions you can leverage for your own course development.

Template libraries may also include the source files that will give you a higher level of customization than you would get with many off-the-shelf training solutions.

You can also apply your own brand standards to templates and have complete control over messaging, photo content, and more.

Templates are also great for beginner eLearning developers who might not be comfortable building advanced interactions or laying out content yet.

eLearning Templates: Downsides

Your developers might not have the skill to take templates to the next level, leaving you with courses that all start to look the same. Or more advanced developers might feel boxed in by pre-built interactions. Buying different template libraries and stock photo subscriptions can start to add up. Look for a vendor that offers everything you need in one bundle.

eLearning Templates: Recap

eLearning Templates: Benefits

eLearning Templates: Downsides

Editable source files
Templated courses can start to all look the same
More customization than off-the-shelf
Advanced developers can feel boxed in
Professional designs and graphics
Buying template and stock libraries individually can add up
Pre-built interactions and quizzes  


No matter which eLearning development option you decide to go with, you’ll still get the main benefits of training, including higher employee engagement, lower turnover rates, and more productive employees. All those factors add up to a better bottom line.


Off-The-Shelf vs. Custom vs. Templates: Summary


Off-The-Shelf Courseware

Custom Development


Lower cost
x   x
Ready to deploy immediately
Content written by subject-matter-experts
x x  
Can add branding
varies x x
Can edit content
x x
Professional designs and graphics
x x x
Interactions and quizzes
x x x
Customized to your learning objectives


Still have questions? We’d love to help you find the right fit for your training needs.

Contact eLearning Brothers to learn more about our off-the-shelf courseware, custom solutions, and rapid eLearning templates and assets.

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