The Drawbacks of Off-the-Shelf eLearning Courses

Designing Digitally


The Drawbacks of Off-the-Shelf Elearning Courses

Today's working professionals display a different set of needs when compared to previous, pre-millennial, generations. Thanks to the widespread access to technology, people are actively looking to develop themselves on a personal and professional level. In fact, people now choose their jobs based on whether the company looking to hire provides the opportunity for employee growth and learning.

Since employee demands are changing, so should the learning and development culture of companies. Enter off-the-shelf (OTS) and bespoke employee eLearning courses. Both types have their pros and cons. So, are OTS or custom eLearning courses a better fit for your organization? First, let's define what each type of learning delivery method is!

What are Off-the-Shelf Courses?

OTS learning courses are usually online courses that vendors create to sell as-is. Buying off-the-shelf eLearning courses can bring a lot of benefits to a company that is just entering the employee training sphere. The courses are rather cheap and can be implemented into your learning and development department right away. This means that you won't have to invest time into course development since the process of creation, development, and deployment is handled by your eLearning vendor.

If you're looking for more general instructional courses, then off-the-shelf courses will provide the right content. Soft skills, workplace compliance, and safety are a few of the subjects that an OTS course will be able to deliver well. While this course format might do well to get you started, for a more evolved L&D department, OTS courses might fall short in many ways. If your company needs employees to gain in-depth knowledge and build new skills, you might need to build custom eLearning courses.

Read also: Off-the-Shelf Training Vs. Custom eLearning Solutions

The Cons of Off-the-Shelf Courses

  1. Low Customization Options

As mentioned, you buy off-the-shelf courses as they are. This means that there is not much, if any, ability for customization. This is especially true if you want to include your own branding, visuals, and learning content. A generic-looking course might be off-putting for employees right from the get-go, while an eLearning course that integrates your logo, themes, and colors can seem more inviting.

  1. Irrelevant Content

Clearly, some of the content will be useful. But, what happens to those parts of the content that are not relevant to what your employees need to learn? In a sense, you're paying money for zero value content and your staff is not getting anything out of it either. OTS courses will not reflect your company values or incorporate specific learning goals and desired outcomes into the learning modules.

  1. No Learning Experience Personalization

The more customizable your learning software is, the easier it is for learners to relate to what they're learning. Why? Employees will feel listened to and valued since you're providing the exact content they need for developing the skills they're lacking. OTS courses don't allow you or your employees to personalize the learning experience. So, while employees will walk away with some key concepts and newly learned skills, knowledge retention will prove more difficult over time since the experience didn't necessarily engage the learners on an emotional level.

  4. Difficult to Update Courses

OTS courses don't usually allow frequent updates or changes to how they're structured. What you might be able to do as a work-around is to get your vendor to execute the changes you want. Still, this most often implies that you'll be paying extra for this service.

  5. No Development Team Costs

Since everything from course design to delivery is handled by the vendor, you won't have to worry about putting a development team together. This will definitely save you time and money in the short-run. But, you also won't have much of a say in how the course is developed, what specific content to include, and whether the course addresses the needs of your company and employees.

See also: Off-the-Shelf Training Challenges and Custom Online Learning Solutions Infographic

Benefits of Custom eLearning Development

  1. High Customizability 

Your development team will be able to create a course that can be updatable and easily restructured.

  1. Seamless Integration with Your L&D Department 

You can include your values, branding elements, and other important components of your specific workplace culture.

  1. You Own the Rights

Once the eLearning program is completed, it will belong exclusively to your company. This means you can reuse it as many times as you like.

  1. No User Limit

A custom-built eLearning course has no user limit. You can roll it out to all employees across multiple platforms, regardless of their geographic location.

  1. Easy and Fast Updates 

Your maintenance team will be able to make changes when needed and rework the course to fit the growing needs of your organization and employees.

  1. Opportunity to Test it Out 

You can build a test course first and have employees try it out and give feedback. You'll then be able to add the right content and modules, based on your employees' feedback.

  1. Budget-Friendly 

You can create a course that fits your training and development allotted budget. You can choose to add new features and activities if that budget permits. Also, you might start seeing the benefits your bespoke eLearning course is bringing to your company's overall growth and even decide to invest more.

  1. Direct Collaboration with Developers

The human element is still the most important. Being able to meet with developers and project managers will make a huge difference in how the course will turn out in the end. Effectively expressing the needs of your company and employee learning goals will help your development team create a highly effective, engaging, and meaningful eLearning experience.


Now that you know the drawbacks of off-the-shelf learning courses, it might be time to delve deeper into the literature and really decide what type of eLearning experience you might need to provide to your employees. Remember, creating bespoke eLearning courses might involve more steps, but it could be just what you're looking for. Contact us today to discover the eLearning options best for your team.