“Off-the-shelf content has come a long way from being an uncomfortable compromise”
When does custom e-learning content pay off? When is off-the-shelf content useful?
Digital training solutions continue to gain ground. With the objective of placing learners at the core and inspiring them with real learning experiences, decisions have long been based on factors other than just time and cost.
Yet, custom content is not always necessary for designing individual learning paths. We spoke to two learning experts, who explain the differences between custom and off-the-shelf learning content, and why the right choice for one scenario may not be the best in other situations.
Custom vs. standard content – the differences
Custom content is generally created from scratch – specifically and exclusively to meet a certain company’s e-learning requirements. The starting point is a specific need or task. A special solution is designed to address this need or task, and an entirely new training course is created.
These solutions are a great choice for companies seeking to cover specialised topics, such as training for their own production areas – where it can be safely assumed that no standardised solution suitable for their needs exists.
Meanwhile, standard, or off-the-shelf content describes training courses or learning content created independently from any specific customer enquiry which can be used by different companies in a generic form. Thus, this content addresses tasks of a general nature rather than a specific issue.
Typical topics almost every company needs to deal with would include information security and data protection. These can be perfectly covered with standardised training courses, as they reflect regulations and laws applicable to all, rather than company-specific issues.
A clear preference for off-the-shelf content also exists for compliance training, given that the fundamental principles are based on the applicable laws. However, if a company wants to convey their corporate policy in their training course, things get trickier. Stephan Härle, Instructional Designer at imc explains: “Standardised training provides information of a general nature: You must be careful with gifts and may have to contact your Compliance department. Meanwhile, custom content can offer more detail: In our company, gifts worth X or more must be approved by our Compliance department. It is impossible to include this in off-the-shelf content because guidelines differ in every organisation.”
“This should really be the first question to ask from a customer perspective – before deciding whether to use off-the-shelf content or arrange for custom content design,” Philipp Schossau, also Instructional Designer at imc, explains. “Are my training requirements or issues very specific? Or is this type of training utilised by many different people in various sectors?”
How special is custom content?
“First of all, we get together with the customer and carry out a major needs assessment,” Stephan Härle says. “If the right conclusions are drawn at this stage, the training can be designed to fit the target group perfectly. But we can only do that with custom content. Defining the target group very precisely enables us to find the right approach, make the training exciting for a greater number of learners, and increase the completion rate. Custom really means customised for a specific requirement and tailored to the learners’ needs.”
“It’s not unlike buying an outfit,” Philipp Schossau continues: “If you were to attend a gala dinner, it would be rather difficult to find a suitable mass-produced smoking that’s a perfect fit. However, off-the-shelf outfits for a regular nice dinner – no special occasion, no gala – are easier. I can wear what I like and enjoy wearing.”
Still, even the best store-bought suit cannot compete with a tailored fit, and the same applies to e-learning content for certain target groups. “I understand this issue all too well. I have very short arms, and many things will simply not fit straight off the shelf,” Schossau jokes.
We raise the bar for off-the-shelf content
In the past, off-the-shelf content often seemed somewhat stale. That is changing. This past year, imc has been developing and expanding its off-the-shelf content. The specialist department researches relevant topics in its market. Ideally, the solutions are a match for all customers and across countries. But above all, the latest off-the-shelf training courses aim to feel good, cutting edge and highly motivating.
- At imc, off-the-shelf content meets the same high requirements for design and user experience as custom content.
- Off-the-shelf content newly designed by imc is fully responsive, and the relevant training courses can be completed from mobile devices.
- Both categories can be integrated in a learning management system (LMS) or be utilised without an LMS.
Stephan Härle: “We want off-the-shelf content to break free from its poor image. While many reasons speak for custom content, off-the-shelf content need not be an uncomfortable compromise. On the contrary, it can be a perfectly suitable and useful solution that is also enjoyable.”
Naturally, resource investments are significantly lower, given that no further input is needed for the content design. Moreover, ready-made learning content is available much quicker than a custom solution that needs to be designed first. Of course, costs can play a role in this decision, too. Off-the-shelf content is usually cheaper.
But the two categories can also be combined to leverage their strength, Härle explains: “There really are no limits! With an individual learning journey, off-the-shelf content might, for example, be included as learning nuggets. Our objective is to create off-the-shelf content that feels nothing like off-the-shelf. Cyber Crime Time, the Journey, is a prime example for this.”
Cyber Crime Time
The Grimme Online Award nomination adds to a long line of awards recognising the serious game Cyber Crime Time. With the Cyber Crime Time learning journey, the creators respond to current developments, and offer extensions like the Phishing Detection Booster.
Companies can purchase Cyber Crime Time as off-the-shelf content. A trial version is available for anyone wanting to play the role of a hacker.
The questions companies should ask when deciding whether off-the-shelf content could meet their needs:
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I joined the imc newsroom team in 2021. As a journalist my heart beats for content and storytelling.
I’m excited to figure out how e-learing and digitization affect the future of work. My task is to create content to talk about and I’m always looking for trends.
Privately I love to travel and eat Tapas.
Topics: E-Learning Trends, Corporate Social Responsibility, Press and Influencer Relations