Training leaders understand that content is king when it comes to employee engagement and knowledge retention. If employees don’t remember what they’ve learned when it’s time to act on a situation or information, or worse yet, didn’t complete the training, no one benefits — not the employee, the manager, the company or the customers.

You might be surprised that Training Industry research found that one in three L&D professionals say content relevancy is a challenge, and balancing learner preferences with corporate objectives is a tight rope to walk, especially when considering budget limitations.

The reality is that those responsible for employee development don’t have to make an all-or-nothing choice between off-the-shelf content libraries and custom content creation. In most cases, having the right content provider and eLearning platform can create an efficient and affordable option for delivering memorable training.

The Advantages of Ready-to-go Content  

The key benefit of a ready-to-go (or off-the-shelf) content library for eLearning is that the content choices are typically quite expansive, the comprehension measurement options plentiful and the cost much lower than custom development. With most content providers, it’s as easy as browsing an online catalog, many of which allow you to listen to all or part of a training video before purchase. Your training can be up and running within minutes, accelerating the time to learning (which is especially beneficial during a pandemic), and can effectively communicate new procedures, policies and regulatory mandates quickly. The onus is on the content provider to keep courses up to date, alleviating some of the burden from administrators and managers.

Ready-to-go stock libraries provide content on a wide range of topics, including hard and soft skills training, talent development, upskilling, health and safety on and off the job, plus state, federal and sector-specific regulatory and certification compliance training. These online libraries offer courses in a variety of formats, including digital licensing, streaming video and more. You would be hard pressed to require a format that an online library could not accommodate.

Most eLearning distribution platforms work across multiple devices, allowing users to learn whenever and wherever they want and to stop and pick up wherever they left off in a course. Streaming platforms offer basic user tracking, while learning management system (LMS) platforms offer extensive learning analytics and dashboard management. A few LMS providers offer the platform for free or at deeply discounted rates when you use select content from their online content library, saving even more time and money.

The Advantages of Custom Content

The principal advantage of custom content is that it can be designed to suit the unique needs, applications and culture of your organization. Customization allows you to address procedures, skill requirements or a situational need for change.

When developing custom content, organizations can tap into internal subject matter experts (SMEs). Training developers can modify the content on demand with full editorial control and deliver it within what is frequently called your “brand voice.”

How to Evaluate — and Use — Off-the-shelf Training Content

1. Examine the assessment and engagement metrics for your current training program. Are employees having success, or are they struggling to understand and apply concepts? You may want to consider courses that offer comprehension evaluations at various intervals to help learners self-evaluate along the way instead of waiting until the end to take a final test. If verification of completion, pass/fail or specific scores are required for regulatory compliance or skills-based certifications, off-the-shelf content may be the way to go.

2. Choose based on topic. Compliance training and management required by agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or state requirements such as California’s employer training requirements for the prevention of sexual harassment, have specific content and time requirements. In these cases, ready-to-go courses from online training libraries are typically the best solution. If your company has unique software training or onboarding protocols, custom content is most appropriate. A hybrid of content is certainly appropriate using topical qualifiers.

3. Expertise. Do you have the internal expertise and tools to develop content? What about trained presenters? These three considerations — expertise, tools and presenters — can significantly impact the quality, engagement and retention of information. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of outsourcing development when evaluating custom content vs. ready-to-go content from a specialized niche provider.

4. Inclusivity. If custom or off-the-shelf content doesn’t resonate with employee demographics, you may be setting yourself up for an epic failure. Cultural issues can, and often do, impact the effectiveness of eLearning programs. Materials prepared and delivered from a single-source perspective can create friction for learners, resulting in disengagement, lack of understanding and even resentment. Pre-built, ready-to-go content is produced by industry specialists who have a wide range of expertise, skills and diverse talent on hand.

5. Budget. Managers often think it’s more affordable to build their own content, because they have the knowledge and staff in house. And while that may sometimes be true, it’s not always cheaper. According to the Association for Talent Development, it can take anywhere from 55 to 155 hours to develop instructor-led and eLearning program content. Can you afford to have your staff spend a month on developing a single course — and that’s without scope creep, which adds time and money to your investment.

In conclusion

Some off-the-shelf content providers offer hybrid courses, allowing you to customize content with your logo and branding. Others allow you to include internal video snippets, support materials and references to internal knowledge boards.

Ultimately, the best measure of your training content comes down to relevance, relatability and retention. Putting learners’ needs first is always the key to success — for both the organization and its employees.