An off-the-shelf course is great to prep for certifications, earn continued learning credits like a CLE, human resource onboarding, and a variety of compliance needs. They provide autonomy to the learner by granting control over time, pace, and place. Plainly said, off-the-shelf eLearning or Computer Based Training, CBT, is often better than in-person training on topics that are highly codified, routinized, and certified. The disadvantages involve the content being too general, a lack of branded voice, and the loss of user engagement. In other words, people may lose interest if they don’t think the course was authored by an authority they respect, like their own company.

When it comes to ranking the efficacy of eLearning courses or CBTs, custom eLearning courses are the best. According to the Chris Pappas of eLearning Industry, custom eLearning courses break the routine of work, satisfy employees’ unique needs, and provide them with opportunities for better job performance. However, the time and cost of a fully custom eLearning course can be restrictive. So, many organizations turn to off-the-shelf eLearning courses that are white-labeled or “brandable” as I like to call them. These are often implemented along with resource materials built by the company to present a blended learning opportunity.

Here are four elements to consider when evaluating off-the-shelf eLearning for customization.

1. Built-in Project Management

The best organization system is ready before you need it. If you are purchasing an off-the-shelf course or working with a top-tier content creator, they will use a thorough project management method with proven results. For example, each stage of the custom content creation process should be planned out to make sure the project stays on time and on budget. One example is the ADDIE method. Using ADDIE along with key checkpoints in a thorough project plan will make customization smooth.

I recommend planning for customization by keeping a record of items that are brandable. Use a word or google doc to maintain a list of logos, color schemes, and key/alternate terms. During visual production, be sure to bring up future adaptability. For example, it is often easier to use animations instead of real-life photos and videos. Changing an animation is more cost-effective (time and money) than having to re-shoot and re-edit live video.

Suggest Customization List

  • Logo
  • Color palette
  • Key/alternate terms

If you are looking for a content creator or thinking of handling customization yourself, focus on the project management. According to DPM, “Project management is important because it ensures what is being delivered, is right, and will deliver real value against the business opportunity.”

2. Standardized File Naming Conventions (FNC)

Typically, an off-the-shelf course will not be customized for months or even years after it was initially created. As I said earlier, the best organization system is ready before you need it. I’m repeating myself because project management is crucial. Specifically, I want to shout: STANDARDIZE YOUR FILE NAMING CONVENTIONS. Using a standardized nomenclature will cut down on wasted time looking for versions or different types of files.

How many times have you received a version of something and the name of it doesn’t make sense? Or maybe you searched your PC for a past file and you have no idea what’s inside “document7” or “new_version”.

I recommend using a file naming conventions that begins with the company name, followed by the type of deliverable, the version number, date it was created, and then typically I add my initials. I’ve found the use of underscores keeps the components separate while also not interfering with computer languages.

eLearning File Naming Convention

Example: LearningCarton_Storyboard_v1_061916_cjk

If you apply a standardized FNC to all types of files, then all parties (internal and external) know what they are looking at by simply seeing the file name either in an email or shared cloud service. A standardized file naming convention is a best practice (Purdue Information Studies) that will lead everyone to be able to better understand and navigate through your customization process.

3. Branding – including voice

Changing colors, logos, and fonts are usually what people think about when branding an off-the-shelf course. However, the brand also includes the voice and tone attributed to the language. For example, some companies may call their people associates where others will call them employees. During the storyboard phase of instructional design, I recommend listing the terms that may change from company to company. Mark them in the script using brackets to represent alternates for future iterations.

Branding for voice

Example: As an employee [associate, team member], it is your responsibility to maintain a professional tone when interacting with our customers [guests, clients].

Consider this, “The objective of a brand voice is to result in the formation of a uniform personality, positioning, and an image. . . Hence, it is important that the brand voice has a uniform vocabulary, values, and other characteristics.”

4. Quality Assurance via LMS Testing

Customizing an off-the-shelf course for a Learning Management System, LMS, is not complicated with quality assurance. It requires clear and consistent communication between the custom creator and the technical team within a company. Typically, a course is published as a SCORM package. The acronym stands for the Shareable Content Object Reference Model. Basically, SCORM is the industry-standard that “tells programmers how to write their code so that it can ‘play well’ with other eLearning software.” Almost all eLearning is published in this format, which is great, but quality assurance testing is required to make sure everything works as intended. I recommend asking several questions to make sure testing is smooth.

Quality Assurance LMS–testing Questions

  • Will you please connect my team with your LMS manager/administrator? Names? Emails?
  • Are there any specific Learning and Development best practices we should know about?
  • How does your LMS report that the course is complete? Do you need it to be a certain way?
  • Our course is designed to ________, will this be sufficient reporting within your LMS?

In the end, the testing phase helps ensure that you will get the results that fulfill the business purpose.

Remember, an off-the-shelf course is great for specific types of learning needs. As you evaluate existing content to see if customization will be successful for your business, look for these four elements to make sure your investment will satisfy your business purpose.

  1. Built-in Project Management
  2. Standardized File Naming Convention
  3. Branding – including voice
  4. Quality Assurance via LMS testing

If you’d like to learn more about creating custom courses or an off-the-shelf course that can be customized later, please head over to or please join me. Be a part of my feedback loop. Comment, subscribe, or if you prefer, email me directly at


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