What Does “Custom Learning Development” Mean Exactly?

After 30 years of experience in custom training development, we believe that the short answer is, “It depends.” Ask any number of L&D professionals to define what custom learning means to them or their organization and you will hear various iterations. Custom means different things to different people and the possibilities can be overwhelming if you don’t have a clear understanding of your options or what to expect.

Training Industry defines custom content development as “content developed specifically for the unique learning needs of an audience or individual—as well as to content that reflects organizational processes, culture and language.” This is a good place to start, but let’s expand on this definition and think of it this way: When you are shopping for a suit, you have options and make decisions based on your goals, needs and budget. For example:

Option 1: Off-the-Shelf (OTS)

You search through a selection of suits and find exactly what you were hoping for. The fit is perfect, you love the style and color and you need it for an event tomorrow. Done. Ready to go and the price is right. In the content development space, this option is often referred to as off-the-shelf or ready-made content. This is typically the lowest cost option, often at a per-person rate, with all learning components ready to deploy and consume immediately.

Option 2: Tailored

You find a suit that is the perfect style, cut and color. Everything about it is great—except for the jacket. You prefer a more fitted look and want adjustments made in the shoulders and at the waist. You have the time to wait two weeks for the alterations and the additional cost isn’t a deal breaker. It’s the same OTS suit but tailored to align with your style and preferences. When tailoring learning content, you could expect the per-person rate to be approximately 15% to 50% higher than OTS, depending on the extent of the changes. An example of the tailoring option for content development might be rebranding OTS content to reflect your organization’s brand identify and style guidelines (e.g., adding company logos, tag lines, fonts, color schemes, etc.). These types of “look-and-feel” adjustments provide organizational value by delivering a more relatable, personalized learning experience.

Option 3: Custom

You consult with a clothier about designing a suit specifically for you. Depending on your needs, goals and budget, the variety of options could include the cut, style, fabric, color, patterns, accessories and shoes. This is an oversimplification but it gives some perspective on the wide range of possibilities and decisions that could be involved when customizing training to support role-specific skills, processes, competencies, etc. Typically the most expensive option, deciding whether or not an integrated custom approach is the right investment starts with defining the target audience and aligning with learning objectives using a data-driven approach (skills gap analysis), goals (strategically aligned shifts in behavioral outcomes), timing and budget. 

When Is Custom the Right Fit?

Although every custom solution is unique, there are some consistent themes around L&D needs and goals that rise to the surface. Some of the most common reasons why clients choose a custom solution include:

  • Needs Assessment: Any learner-centric custom development should be anchored in discovery and needs analysis—an objective look at the learner, current behavior, expected behavior and skill/knowledge gaps. This is where performance consultants and learning designers can help you map training to learner preferences and skill gaps based on the business goals
  • Content Relevance and Relatability: Organizations recognize the need for learner-centric content that targets the role-specific skills, processes and competencies that will drive measurable outcomes. It’s important to note that custom development doesn’t necessarily mean starting with a blank of sheet paper. Existing OTS content that delivers foundational training to reskill and upskill employees can also be customized to include relevant business examples, case studies and activities that resonate with a specific learner audience
  • Multiple Modalities: As L&D strategy continues to pivot toward digital learning, the need for learning that is accessible, adaptable and available in multiple modalities will continue to accelerate. Creating engaging and personalized learning requires cutting-edge instructional design and best-in-class technology
  • Workflow Learning: Providing opportunities for application and practice with mobile and on-the-job performance solutions that support the 70% of the 70-20-10 rule
  • Comprehensive Sustainment and Ongoing Reinforcement: Delivering customized coaching guides, action plans, microlearning, gamification and other “bite-sized” learning assets to reinforce learning and practical application, as well as engage and inform

If any of these reasons resonate with you, a custom solution might be just the right fit.

How Much Will It Cost?

Once again, the answer is, “It depends.” Based on the scope, modalities and the level of customization, pricing scenarios will vary. The general rule of thumb is that custom learning is priced to reflect the expected level of development effort. The following table highlights examples of the variances among custom development projects and their respective pricing expectations.

Infographic showing the ROI of a custom learning development program

At CLS, we view custom development through the lens of an infinite mindset. Your custom solution might be an alteration to a single learning element or a comprehensive blended curriculum that delivers multiple modalities, microlearning, gamification, performance support and sustainment.

What’s the problem you want to solve? We’d love to help.