Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf eLearning Content: Pros & Cons

When it comes to the elements that drive eLearning programs forward, digital learning content is a key component. In many ways, it's the most important aspect of eLearning. Without high-quality content, users are less likely to engage with or find value in your courses. So, choosing the right content types for your organization is crucial in order to ensure a valuable training investment.

When building or shopping for the right content that will meet your industry or learning goals, you have two primary options: purchasing off-the-shelf content or developing your own custom content. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type of content to help make the best choice for your learning platform and your team’s needs.

Off-the-Shelf Content

As the name suggests, off-the-shelf content is a pre-made product that is ready for immediate sale and use. It is generic content that is usually pre-formatted for use in popular learning management systems (LMS). Therefore, you can typically upload or link this content within your courses and allow learners to start using it right away. There are numerous sources for off-the-shelf content. Most courses can be purchased as a single license. Frequently, content can be purchased in bundled packages or library subscriptions.


There are a lot of things to love about off-the-shelf content. These are four of the most significant advantages:

  1. Low cost: Typically, buying a course is much more cost-effective than designing one from scratch. This is especially true if you are outsourcing content creation. However, with the time and effort saved, buying an off-the-shelf course is usually more efficient than having an internal team create the course.
  2. Ready-to-use: With an off-the-shelf course, it is available as soon as you buy it. The only lead time is researching options and selecting the right content for your needs. You don’t have to wait for it to be created.
  3. Easy to implement: High-quality off-the-shelf courses are already set up for easy integration into popular LMS solutions. There is an enormous number of courses available for Moodle™ and other popular learning platforms. All you need to do is buy one you like and it can be implemented immediately with very little work.
  4. Can cover many topics efficiently: Just because the content is more generic doesn’t necessarily mean topics are poorly covered or over-generalized. A high-quality off-the-shelf content provider continuously improves their course content so it’s always up-to-date and provides maximum value to constituents. Furthermore, many off-the-shelf content providers offer a series of courses that build upon each other, ensuring you get a lot of mileage out of off-the-shelf courses.

Of course, off-the-shelf is not without some drawbacks in their own right. In many cases, it may not fully meet your exact course requirements. Some courses have slightly complex licensing such as long-term subscription costs, which can require additional management. Plus, you may have difficulty modifying or customizing the content, if doing so is possible at all.

Custom Content

Custom content is, of course, any eLearning content that has been created specifically for your use. This can be outsourced to a content creator or done internally. Naturally, this has a bit of lead time while the content is being created. Additionally, the costs can be a little more challenging to work out, especially if someone is making it internally.


Custom content can provide many helpful benefits. These are three noteworthy advantages:

  1. Specific to your needs: Your courses can be built to exactly match your needs. This allows you to customize modules and verbiage to best suit the goals of your course, and more easily make updates to the content as needed. It also provides an opportunity to create branded content and courses.
  2. License ownership: When you commission content, you typically will own the license outright. Therefore, this can be simpler to manage long-term than off-the-shelf content.
  3. Can cover any topic efficiently: You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope you find a good course or spend hours researching and comparing options. You can be confident that your custom content will cover whatever topics you may need.

The main drawback to custom content development is cost. Even if the content is created in-house, much time and effort will be invested to ensure the content is quality and meets the needs of your eLearning solution.

How To Choose the Right Content for You

There is no simple answer as to whether off-the-shelf or custom content is better. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Off-the-shelf content can serve as a broad library for general or compliance-related topics like cybersecurity, sexual harassment or diversity training, whereas custom content can supplement that with highly specific and technical content for more advanced or company-specific topics.

Scenarios That Call for Each

You should consider off-the-shelf content whenever it will serve your needs. The reduced cost and practical benefits of off-the-shelf content nearly always make it worthwhile. Most organizations will benefit from investing in a library of relevant courses, even if they aren’t custom-made for the unique circumstances of the organization.

However, there are some topics that all but require custom content. If you want to train people on a process specific to your organization, that will likely require something custom. Similarly, educational institutions may need custom content for more advanced courses, especially when the course content has been developed by the instructor.

With these advantages and potential challenges in mind for both custom content and off-the-shelf content, it is now up to you to determine which is the best fit for your courses. In many cases, it may be a combination of both.

Fortunately, Open LMS can help you meet a wide variety of content needs. Between our experts and network of high-quality providers of both custom and off-the-shelf eLearning content, we can help you decide which content approach best applies where in your programs. We provide expert consultation in order to ensure you maximize efficiency and value in your LMS.

For more information on incorporating custom or off-the-shelf content into your learning strategy, please contact us or request a demo of our fully-managed LMS solutions.

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