How to Calculate the Seat Time for Your E-Learning Course Posted Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 6:00 AM

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Let’s say you’ve designed a really awesome e-learning course and you’re ready to share it with your learners. But before you do, your boss wants to know how long it takes to complete your course. Why would he want to know this? Because managers—and ultimately, learners—want to know before they start the course whether they need to set aside a few minutes, or an hour or more, to finish it. This is what’s called seat time for your e-learning course.


So how do you go about calculating how much time e-learning courses will take? This exact topic was recently raised in the E-Learning Heroes Forum by one of our community members, and it’s a great subject to write about. So here are a few things to consider on the issue.

Factors That Affect Seat Time

Slide Count

You may have seen or heard some people in the industry use a ratio of 1 slide = 1 minute when it comes to calculating seat time for an e-learning course. However, this is not an official number, because the reality is that the slide count is only part of the equation.

What if some of your slides have multiple layers, and each of those layers reveals a few paragraphs of content, or videos, that your learners must view? Is your slide count including all layers? You may also be using branched navigation, in which case the learner might not see all of the slides in the alternative paths in the scenario.

Amount of Audio, Video, and Interactivity

Your seat time can vary greatly depending on whether you have audio, video, and interactive elements in your course. Further, it makes a difference if the learner is required to sit through these elements, or can skip ahead.

Several community members considered using the narration length as a guide for course seat time. There are online tools available where you can copy and paste your narration script and it will estimate its running time. However, be aware that the narrative length may not tell the full story: some slides might not have narration, and on others, the user might be able to advance before the narration is complete.

Your Audience

Different people will react to your course in different ways. For example, a young and tech-savvy high school audience for a mandatory course might zip through the materials at a different speed than the senior citizens who are taking the course in their leisure time. Audience interaction with your course is one of the puzzle pieces that factors into seat time, so be sure to account for it in your estimate.

How You Should Calculate Your Seat Time

The best way to calculate the seat time for your course is to do some live testing. Have a variety of learners, with various technological skills and demographics, complete your course while you time them. When you complete your testing, calculate an average time for learners to complete your course.

Calculating an average is very simple: add up all the duration times, then divide by the number of people that tested your course. For example, say you had four people test your course and they had the following durations:COM_CalculatingSeatTime_2.png

Your calculation for the average would look like this: COM_CalculatingSeatTime_1.png

You could present your boss with your calculation, or give him or her a range of approximately 30 to 35 minutes for learners to complete the course.

There’s a lot of good information to help you estimate your course duration, but the very best way to calculate an accurate number is to have real learners take your course and calculate the average seat time. Hope this information helps you in a future project!



You can always sign up for a fully functional, free 30-day trial of Articulate software. And don’t forget to post your questions and comments in the forums! We’re here to help. For more e-learning tips, examples, and downloads, follow us on Twitter.



7 comments so far

john maidza

53 posts

Ashley Chiasson

296 posts

Posted Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 2:23 AM

Great post, Nicole! Other aspects (than slide count) are especially important to consider when using new technologies. For example, I worked with a client who used the 1 slide = 30 seconds of eLearning guideline (which was generally accurate with the technology we had used most in the past with this client); however, we began using Storyline, and because they were unfamiliar, they attempted to cost out the eLearning times the same - this didn't work out so well as Storyline allowed us to layer so much more content within 1 slide than with the previous technology.

Without a clear understanding of the capabilities of the technology, we may have lost a lot of profit agreeing to the client-calculated eLearning time!

Catherine Davis

0 posts

Posted Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 4:25 PM

Thanks for sharing, Nicole.  At SweetRush, we tend to use 150 words a minute to determine the seat time for content within a course.

This number aligns exactly with the audio in courses.  Though many of us tend to read faster than this on text-based pages (those without audio), using one number makes things easier and adds that bit of time the learner uses to look at infographics or re-read/digest more complex content. In addition, practice activities and knowledge check pages can take anywhere from .5 minutes to 2 minutes each depending on their design and complexity.

After several pilot tests with our clients, this method has proven to be pretty accurate when you look at the average course completion time (as you mention).

Diane Elkins

116 posts

Posted Monday, March 24, 2014 at 5:31 PM

I agree with Ashley that you need to make sure your metrics match your design.  Here's a blog post on the numbers we use, and why the calculations are so important.

Joyce Hensen

121 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Storyline gives you a clue to the "run time" when you are ready to publish.  If you click the [...] button next to the course title on the publish window, a box will open up that incudes a field with an approximate duration.  

When promoting the course, in addition to time to vewi videos and complete other unnarrated interactions, remember to include additional "thinking time" for completing quizzes, too.  Unless the answers are extremely obvious (and therefore probably don't even belong in the course), you'll need to add a minute or more for them to read, think and respond to each question.

User Rank Nicole Legault

741 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Great feedback and very informative link Diane. Thank you.