Your company has decided to launch an online learning initiative for modern workforce, client-partners, and customers. After roughly outlining the course content, your attention shifts to determining how much time it will take staffers — whether in-house or outsourced — to complete the online instructional program. Since time equals money, sketching out a preliminary timeline has a major impact on the project’s budget.
That begs the next question: How do you estimate the amount of time required to craft a suitable elearning program? Several researchers have studied this very topic and developed some broad guidelines. Those parameters, however, come with many variables.
Nevertheless, those general benchmarks provide elearning professionals with a blueprint of how long it will take to create an online educational program.
How many working hours equal one hour of instruction?
Most experts base estimates for how long it will take to devise an elearning program on the number of employee hours it would take to create one hour of instruction.
Yet even they concede the formula “XX hours of planning and development = one hour of finished instructional content” is more of an approximate guideline than a hard and fast standard. Many factors impact the timeline, chiefly, the complexity of the elearning program you envision. A more elaborate elearning program with an array of glossy features — avatars, simulations, games — consumes more employee hours to construct.
Two leading researchers — Karl Kapp and Bryan Chapman — have studied this question, and their estimates are frequently cited by instructional design professionals. But you’ll notice that their work predates the development of today’s cloud-based course authoring tools that makes this work a lot easier.
In 2009, Bloomsburg University professor Karl Kapp updated research he did in 2003 on the number of working hours typically required to produce 60 minutes of online instruction. He grouped elearning development into those developed with a software template and those developed without one.
He then further stratified the elearning programs into primarily text-based, limited interactivity packages to ones highly interactive and animated (whether with or a without a template).
His estimates ranged from a low of 90 hours per one hour of finished instruction up to a high of 364.
In 2010, the Chapman Alliance headed by Bryan Chapman compiled a research study, “How Long Does it Take to Create Learning?” He based his numbers on surveys from nearly 250 organizations encompassing approximately 4,000 learning professionals that developed both traditional instructor-led instruction and elearning programs.
Like Kapp, Chapman splits his estimates based on the complexity of the elearning program. He establishes three groupings ranging from Level 1 to Level 3, with Level 1 being the most uncomplicated, typically utilizing content pages, text, test questions, graphics, possibly basic audio and video as well.
Level 2 entails more sophisticated programming that includes interactive exercises and more detailed audio/visual elements such as animation. At the high end is Level 3, which features individualized interactions, simulations, avatars, and gamification, using top-quality authoring tools.
Chapman further subdivides the levels into three more categories: low, average and high. The low range represents a speedier elearning development process, typically using templates, while the high range involves more elaborate media production. Most online learning programs fall into the average range.
In Chapman’s projections, starting at the lowest range in Level 1, it would take 49 hours to create one hour of content. At the highest plateau for Level 3, the ratio rises to 716 to one.
Related reading: You Got This: Easy Video Creation Tools for Online Courses
How long will it take to create your elearning program?
Kapp’s and Chapman’s research was done half a decade ago. Elearning tools such as learning management systems and course authoring platforms have grown in sophistication and ease of use, which should speed up the process.
Further, online training is no longer a new industry. The field now boasts many more experienced digital instructional design professionals and tech experts available to help expedite elearning development, not to mention course authoring software that makes many of the steps involved easier.