If there’s one thing 2020 showed us, it’s that educational software needs an overhaul. Edtech software, as it’s called, is a growing field within technology. For businesses looking for a solution to their e-learning needs, one of the first questions is whether to buy an off-the-shelf program or opt for a bespoke product.
So, what’s the difference?
In a nutshell, off the shelf software is ready-to-use and generic enough to meet most general needs. The content is widely applicable and accessible to anyone learning about whatever topic or category it was created for. As pre-made programs, there’s not much opportunity to customize aside from basic aesthetic changes.
On the other hand, bespoke software is custom-made and developed with specific needs in mind. Creating bespoke edtech software means the technology can be completely customized from the ground up, with all the bells and whistles.
Both off-the-shelf and bespoke educational software programs have pros and cons. Here we’ll explore some of the costs and benefits of each option. But first, let’s review a few key factors companies should consider before deciding between the two.
Key Considerations of EdTech Software
Any business looking to integrate edtech into their services must consider the needs of their users, and whether those needs can be met with off-the-shelf technology.
There are also other factors and limitations that should be examined before choosing a path for edtech software development.
Generally speaking, purchasing edtech software off the shelf is less expensive than creating a custom program. This is one of the more convenient aspects of off the shelf software. However, there may be pre-made programs that only come as a bundle and contain unnecessary content that drives up the cost. If that’s the case, it may be worth it to consider a bespoke process.
Obviously, buying off-the-shelf software will take less time than developing your own. If you’re on a tight timeline and don’t have extremely specific needs, an off-the-shelf option may work. On the other hand, if you’re willing to put in a bit of time and work through the development process, you can end up with something that is tailored specifically to meet your needs.
Specificity, Scope & Depth of Content
Some training programs or educational curriculums are generally the same across the board. But if your content has a narrow scope and takes learners deep into a topic, custom content is the only way to go. Plus, if users need features to effectively manage their courses and material, a bespoke software development process makes room for all that customization.
Importance of Branding
Because off-the-shelf software is made to be accessible to many different users and organizations, the branding, colors, themes and design will be more neutral. Some pre-made products allow for minor customization—logos or brand colors—but this will be limited. Creating edtech from scratch lets developers build their program with branding in mind.
Pros & Cons
There are many details to consider when choosing between bespoke or off-the-shelf elearning software. Each serves a purpose for different types of clients. Similarly, each has pros and cons to weigh before choosing the best option. Next, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of each type of edtech software solution.
Bespoke Software Benefits
One huge benefit to a custom software solution is ownership of the license and end product. You don’t have to worry about a program being discontinued or be subject to changing fees for use.
As previously mentioned, bespoke content will go as in-depth as is needed to offer accurate information. If there are connections to other topics or examples specific to your field or organization, these can be woven into the content you create.
When developing software with specific users in mind, program designers can opt to create custom features they know will be useful to those users. These clients will appreciate the thought put into meeting their needs and customizing features for optimal UX/UI.
Owning a custom software program lets you control when to make updates. This ensures that your content is accurate, which can be especially important for things like safety training and other certification courses.
Finally, complete customization of design from start to finish allows for a program that incorporates branding, logos, and other design elements unique to your business or organization.
Bespoke Software Drawbacks
There are two main drawbacks to going with completely custom elearning software: cost and time. There is no way around it. Creating software from scratch is going to require more effort and expertise than choosing a program off the shelf.
Off the Shelf Benefits
Choosing premade software solutions eliminates the waiting game that comes with custom software development. Usually, as soon as you choose a program off the shelf, it can be implemented into existing LMS without delay.
The fact that these programs serve multiple clients means that users share the cost of the software’s initial development and upkeep. Without the time and effort of building a custom program to meet specific requirements, users typically experience cost savings.
Finally, off-the-shelf offers guides, tutorials, and answers to frequently asked questions which they can reference for support. There will also typically be a support team that comes with an off the shelf program.
Off the Shelf Drawbacks
Going with educational software off the shelf often means compromising content, features, or both. If you aren’t sacrificing one, you’re likely sacrificing the other. You could lack features your user would want while having too many features that are essentially useless. You may find programs with good, professionally-created content, but there are no guarantees that every needed topic will be included.
Unlike custom-created software, off-the-shelf programs belong to the licenser. This means waiting for and adjusting to updates is out of your control. Plus, if a program is ever discontinued, you’ll have to find a replacement at your cost.
Finding a good program takes time. First you’ll need to test what’s on the market, and that requires an understanding of exactly the type of content you’re looking for. If you end up doing a lot of shopping around and don’t find what you need, you may end up going the custom development route in the end.
Which Is Right?
The only way to determine which way to go is to assess your goals, outcomes, and user needs. Businesses can save a lot of time and money going with an edtech software program off the shelf, but may find themselves sacrificing in order to do so.
At the end of the day, there are many details to consider before landing on an edtech software solution that’s right for you.
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