Three Ways to Integrate Off-The-Shelf Content Into Your Existing Training

integrate off-the-shelf courses into training programRemember, back in school, when your teacher came up with all your classes’ class material herself? Me neither. Most of us don’t; textbook companies have been developing curricula for decades, rounding up subject matter experts to write textbooks, creating engaging lessons, and putting together graphics that your classroom teacher — or even your school district — would not have the time or resources to put together.  It was your teacher’s job to integrate the textbook into her existing lesson plan, using a pre-made resource to back up the other materials she was using in class.

Today’s organizations’ L&D departments are increasingly playing the role of the teacher, figuring out how to fit good off-the-shelf e-learning into long-standing training programs.

Most companies don’t start from scratch when it comes to online training. According to a recent research report by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), 90 percent of organizations now use e-learning in their training programs. Those organizations may not be willing to completely replace their current training programs. Some of the modules they’re using may be customized and large pieces of those training programs may be very successful.

Why not just stick with the training you already have?

You may be wondering why an organization with an existing training program would want to invest in off-the-shelf content at all, but there are several reasons a company might want to outsource new learning content. Here are some common ones:

  • A company may find itself in need of a specific set of modules for compliance. Off-the-shelf modules, written and updated by experts in the field, are a cost-effective way to provide that.
  • An organization may need specific content quickly because they’re responding to a sudden HR need. (Sensitivity training, for example.) Without time to develop that e-learning in-house, an off-the-shelf module is the best option.
  • Off-the-shelf content is less expensive than custom e-learning. Many companies don’t have the resources to hire instructional designers, videographers, animators and other experts to create a course.
  • The vendors of off-the-shelf content are responsible for keeping it updated and relevant, taking this burden off HR or L&D.

So how to do you integrate the old with the new? Read on.

1.) Add only the courses you need

This is probably the simplest option. Your old training works well, but you need modules your company can’t put together on its own. Rather than starting over from scratch, your best option is to simply purchase access to a course library from your vendor and utilize the courses you need. To make this transition as seamless as possible, look for off-the-shelf content that will work with your LMS. That will save your learners the trouble of having to take some modules on your system and others on the content vendor’s site.

Take the example of Software Quality Systems (SQS), a Germany-based IT professional services firm. JF Goldstyn, the chief learning officer at SQS, wrote in 2015 about the e-learning associated with SQS’s onboarding process. The company uses off-the-shelf content to supplement its custom-made core onboarding modules. That off-the-shelf content, he wrote, is meant to provide continued development to employees after orientation.

A similar approach was taken by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) when that organization was creating its leadership training program. According to a piece by Jeffrey Neal, DLA’s former head of Human Resources, the organization created some modules themselves, but also used external content to keep the project on-budget.

“If we had done custom solutions for everything, we would not have had the resources to deliver the program to the number of students we ultimately reached,” wrote Neal.

  1. Work with your vendor to create a hybrid training program

While an a la carte model may work well for some organizations, there is a downside. Using a mixture of custom and packaged content may result in a patchwork-like training program. The branding, feel, and look of off-the-shelf training materials may not match that of custom e-learning or other training materials made in-house.

The way to unify your program? Partner with your vendor to customize some their off-the-shelf courses so that the e-learning meets your needs and delivers some of your old content.

How might this look? In Training Journal, e-learning specialist Ryan Tracey described a partnership in which a vendor supplies a white label module and authoring software. The client can then add their own logos, links, and additional content, using art from the vendor.

While this is not as simple as simply purchasing a license — someone in-house still has to author the additional course material — the resulting hybrid program is a seamless integration of the new off-the-shelf training material with material from the previous customized modules.

  1. Good old-fashioned blended learning

While many organizations make their training materials available as e-learning, in-person instruction and coaching is still very much alive.

Blended learning is an approach that allows companies to combine e-learning with old-school in-person training. Ideally, blended training combines the best of both worlds: trainers can answer learners’ questions about online content, and the content — readily available online for review – helps learners to remember what trainers taught them in class or on a webinar.

It’s also a great way to incorporate off-the-shelf training with your existing program. You can use your in-house content for in-person training sessions and use the off-the-shelf content to supplement that learning. Look for a vendor with material and resources — like workbooks, that support in-person instruction.

This is another easy way to integrate your program — your employees get all their e-learning from one provider, and your trainer can, like the classroom teacher, integrate that content and all your in-house training materials into one cohesive lesson plan.