Are you unsure of how to answer the big question: How long does it take to develop eLearning? As you might expect, there is no one answer because there are multiple factors to consider when estimating eLearning development time. Fortunately, our community has several resources that can help you with an estimate. This article presents and highlights six resources you can use. The first one in the list is the most recent.
Factors to Consider
But before you jump right to those development estimates, analyze your situation, environment and project and consider all the factors. Some of the factors that will influence how long it takes to develop eLearning are listed below.
- Deadline/urgency: If you are working on a tight deadline, you won’t have time for custom media, such as voiceover, video and branching scenarios. Reducing complexity will shorten your development time. The converse is also true.
- Your design and development process model: Some may debate this because it seems unintuitive. I think that a process model that includes iteration will get you to the correct final point more quickly than a waterfall model. With a waterfall model, you just keep moving forward without prototyping, user testing or feedback for guidance.
- Complexity of the content: If you have to decipher complex content and need lots of help from a subject matter expert, it takes longer than when the content is easy to understand.
- Number and complexity of interactions: Simple one-level scenarios or faster to design and develop than involved branching scenarios. You can design and develop straightforward practice activities more quickly than complex interactions or simulations.
- Game-based, branching, linear: Anything involving games, complex animations or branching takes more time than a linear design. A linear design is one where there is only one path to get through a course, even if users have a choice of the order of lessons. If you have templates, that can speed things up.
- Types of media: When you get involved with finding talent, scripting and recording audio and video assets it will take more time than when you use graphics, simple animations and text alone.
- Types of evaluations and assessments: Straightforward self-checks and tests are faster to write than evaluations that simulate a real-world experience. A good compromise is to use questions that test higher-order thinking.
- Hardware/devices: Will your eLearning be responsive? That means it will be accessible on all types of devices. If so, you’ll need to test it thoroughly on computers, digital tablets and phones. Some authoring tools do a better job with responsive output than others.
- Learning strategies: Consider the learning strategies you will use. If you plan on straying from the typical approach, such as using digital curation, you will need to modify the design and development hours accordingly.
Below are some general resources you can use to do your design and development estimates. Although most of the older resources are based on one hour of development time, the first resources is the only one I’ve seen that uses a 20-minute measure. This may be a better approach for the trend of shorter lessons.
Things have changed since researchers first answered, “How long does it take to develop eLearning?” Now that it is more common to develop shorter segments of training, the 1 hour standard may not be relevant for you. If that’s the case, this updated resource from Robyn Defelice and Karl Kapp provides estimates for developing an approximate 20-minute module. This more realistic estimate shows that the question of how long it takes to develop eLearning is changing.
In their previous study, the authors of the above resource researched development time estimates for one-hour of training. This study, from 2017, presents fresh data for estimating training development time. Not only does it provide the detail many are seeking, authors Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice delve into several of the contributing factors that will affect your time estimate.
This well-known survey by Bryan Chapman provides data he collected from 249 organizations. This represents 3,947 learning development professionals. They present the “time to complete” numbers as ratios. Don’t miss the accompanying SlideShare presentation that you can download, which has helpful visuals.
This article by Desiree Pinder discusses a variety of factors you may not think to consider when estimating the time it takes to develop eLearning. She delves into where the project falls on the priority list, how many review cycles you will need and the availability of subject matter experts.
Donald Clark provides budgets and cost guidelines in addition to the time estimates. The time estimations are from an older source.
The Dashe & Thomson’s Social Learning Blog cautions against blindly using the development ratios. They provide their own list of considerations.
In the Comments section, Peter mentions using the Department of Defense but the link is outdated. Here it is: The Army Distributed Learning (DL) Guide (see page 28 and around those pages).
If you have other solid resources, please list them below in Comments.