Let’s start by understanding the difference between the two types of e-learning.|

Custom e-learning is tailor-made electronic courseware that meets the learning requirements specific to one organization and may take weeks or months to develop. For example, we created for Jiffy Lube a serious game simulation to train managers on their unique store operations, processes, and policies.

Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) e-learning is prepackaged or manufactured electronic courseware on a specific topic sold to multiple buyers. The training is available almost instantly after purchase.

COTS courses are generic in nature and cover subjects that are not necessarily customized to one organization. For example, Vertex’s off-the-shelf CyberPREP courseware covers common cybersecurity best practices applicable to any organization.

Many training departments are faced with deciding whether to purchase custom or COTS computer-based training. The answer depends on their goals. Is the goal to train employees about common business topics or is it to train employees on the operations of a specific organization? Figuring out which is best for your organization is not always simple, but understanding the pros and cons of each can help.

Custom e-Learning


1. Content is tailor-made for your requirements

The most significant advantage of custom courseware is that you get precisely what you need. This advantage is particularly important for highly specialized job tasks where you want your employees to follow unique processes. Another benefit of using custom training is its ability to close specific performance gaps. Take, for instance, an organization that wants to increase the performance of some sales team members. That organization could analyze the knowledge, skills, abilities, processes, and habits of its most successful sales representatives and design a custom curriculum to close the performance gap with the other sales team members and improve overall performance.

2. Content and delivery trend more toward cutting edge

Custom training is developed at the time of need, therefore, it tends to be more innovative. Many organizations want to develop training using the latest technology, such as serious games. They also want to deliver it in the most relevant way (e.g., via a mobile device) to reach the widest possible audience anytime, anywhere.

3. Content can be easily integrated, updated, repurposed and scaled, reducing the life cycle training cost

Once you build customized courseware that seamlessly integrates into your specific learning technology infrastructure, it is more cost effective to make simple updates and upgrades to keep content current than to purchase new training. Custom courses can also be scaled and repurposed more easily, and they do not come with any per-person licensing fees, all of which saves time and money

4. Gain greater time savings and scalability over the life cycle of the training.

This is especially beneficial for a large organizations since customized training will be more scalable. The cost of training when you look at the number of people and the cost per learner will be more cost effective if the course was created specifically for your organization's needs.


1. Cost constraints

Oftentimes, custom learning is more expensive up front than off-the-shelf courses. Additional effort goes into determining training goals, conducting a training analysis for gaps, designing and developing the solution, and then delivering it as a stand-alone application or integrating it as a SCORM conformant package inside a Learning Management System (LMS).

2. Time limitations

Developing custom training takes time. On average, custom e-learning takes anywhere from one to six months to create depending on the complexity of the training requirement. A Web-based course could take two to three months, where a serious game in a virtual reality environment could take six months because of the 3D artistry and coding involved.

Off-the-Shelf e-Learning


1. Effective for time-sensitive, common training requirements

Depending on your training needs, off-the-shelf might be strategically the best option. You may need to quickly train your large and remote workforce on such common topics as industry-standard software, mandatory training stipulated by government regulation, time management, diversity, or leadership training, all of which may be better accomplished through COTS courses.

2. Lower up-front cost

Off-the-shelf courses are less expensive up front when compared to custom learning because they don’t involve high research and development costs or require as many internal resources for selecting the courses and making them available to learners. The cost of course development is spread out among the number of clients that are potentially going to buy it.

3. Ready to use

Off-the-shelf learning is available in ready-to-use formats. Your learners can utilize the courses immediately. They do not have to wait for the course to be customized and no time is spent on research, development, and deployment. Essentially, you could start training your workforce the same day you purchase the training.


1. Not all performance gaps will be addressed

Since the content is generic, it may not contain all the knowledge required to close your performance gaps, so you might be left with issues that go unaddressed. For example, you may purchase a leadership course that covers the most common topics; however, in your organization you may have a specific leadership issue or competency within your culture that needs to be addressed.

2. Licensing and maintenance considerations

COTS courses can generally be purchased, leased, or licensed. Usually COTS vendors offer packaged deals for a set number of users. Organizations purchase COTS courses based on an estimate of how many employees need the training; however, not all employees might take the training, which equates to lost dollars. Organizations have to carefully monitor the courses as not to violate any terms in the licensing agreement. Also, courses will eventually become outdated and you will have to wait for a vendor to update the course, so your employees may not have the latest training and information available right away.

3. Compatibility

The COTS training course may not be SCORM conformant or packaged in a way that integrates seamlessly with your learning technology infrastructure or LMS. Additional cost and time might be incurred for that integration.


Conduct a thorough training needs analysis to understand your performance goals. Once you know that information, selecting the right type of training to meet your objectives is easy. We recommend using a training professional to perform this task. Vertex Solutions Group employs seasoned training experts who can thoroughly examine your specific situation and make the most effective recommendations about how to reduce your performance gaps. We are a trusted partner and any recommendation we provide will be about your success and not ours.

If you have any additional questions about this blog or you would like one of our experts to evaluate your situation, contact us at sales@vertexsolutionsgrp.com.