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In this summary of our guide to generic e-learning, we explain why, when and how to pick off the shelf e-learning from a supplier that meets your needs.

If you want to buy online training, generic and bespoke are the two main types you can choose. There are a few key differences:

  • Speed. Generic e-learning is ready to go, whereas bespoke e-learning needs to be designed and built from scratch, usually taking 8-12 weeks.
  • Customer input. Generic e-learning requires none, whereas bespoke products are created in collaboration with the customer
  • Cost models. Generic e-learning is usually offered via a licensing model, with the intellectual property retained by the supplier. Bespoke training has a one-off cost and the customer owns the rights.
  • Content. Generic e-learning is designed for broad target markets on popular topics, whereas bespoke e-learning content is entirely tailored to the customer’s needs.

Generic vs bespoke: which is better?

Generic and bespoke products can both offer effective training solutions. To help decide which one is best for your needs, ask yourself some of these questions:

1. Is this topic common?

This is the most crucial question to ask. If the training topic is niche or highly specific to your organisation, you are unlikely to find a suitable generic programme. If, however, the subject is one that is useful for many organisations (e.g. health and safety, data protection, sustainability), you will find a wide choice of generic products.

2. What’s the cost?

It seems intuitive that generic courses cost less than bespoke courses, but this is not always the case. For low numbers of learners, generic courses are usually cheaper per person. The more learners you have and the longer the training is in place, the more cost-effective a bespoke e-learning programme becomes.

3. Do I have subject matter knowledge?

Creating a bespoke course requires subject matter expertise. If you don’t have this internally, you may need to pay for outside help.

4. What time do I have?

If you are under time pressure, a “ready to go” product may be preferable to bespoke lead times.

5. How often will the course need updating?

Some training subjects, including regulatory topics, need frequent updates. Generic products include content updates in the background as part of the licensing fee, whereas bespoke product updates require additional time and budget.

How to choose a generic training course

With thousands of generic training courses to choose from, choosing the right course can be tough. Identify your key requirements before you start searching.

Think about the ideal course length and level of detail and decide if you need an assessment.

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a piece of software that enables you to deliver, administer and track your training. Do you have an LMS already, or do you need a supplier to give you access?

Consider how much information you need about learners’ interaction with the course. Most generic products supply basic management information (MI) (eg confirmation of learner course completion), but some suppliers offer more (eg test scores).

E-learning products are built to different technical standards. Make sure you know which standards your course needs to comply with to be compatible with your chosen LMS. SCORM 1.2 is the most common format, while SCORM 2004 and xAPI offer more advanced levels of learner tracking.

How will your course will be studied – on desktops, tablets or smartphones? You may need a course that is mobile compatible. It’s also good practice to choose courses that are accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities.The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a common standard at two levels.


The line between generic and bespoke is blurry because many generic suppliers offer customisation options for an additional fee. This can range from adding brand logos and colours to text and graphic changes and adding organisation-specific content.

Such tweaks can improve how learners connect with the course by making content more relevant to their roles.

Choosing a supplier

Two fundamental factors to consider when choosing a generic e-learning supplier are content quality and quality of instructional design.

If you are unfamiliar with a topic, check specialist organisations or regulatory bodies for recommended or accredited suppliers. A good supplier will partner with specialist associates and tell you where they source their content.

While content accuracy is paramount, so is learner experience. An instructionally effective course created by professional training developers will engage learners and embed knowledge and behaviours. There is no e-learning accreditation, but look out for suppliers with prestigious industry awards that reward quality instructional approaches. Experienced suppliers will also be proud of their client base. Check their website for case studies and testimonials, especially from FTSE 100 companies and government departments.

Consider ranking suppliers using a 1-10 scale on elements that are important to you: cost, creativity, technical capability, experience and flexibility are all possible options. Prioritising your key requirements will help you to select the best supplier for your training.

Find out more

Our full guide to choosing generic e-learning is available at https://www.walkgrove.co.uk/colourful-thinking/resources/why-when-and-how-to-choose-generic-e-learning/

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