How long does it take to "take" a course?

Hi everyone,

I need to provide my client with an estimated "seat time" to take a course I designed and developed for them in Storyline.

One course has 222 slides or layers and the 508 narration script is 9,003 words.  The estimated course time using the Publish-->"..." to the right of the Title-->Course Duration estimate is 73 minutes.

Another course has 101 slides or layers and has an estimated time of 8 minutes.

Hmmm...  Not sure I believe these estimates.

Anyone have a reference/source for "fairly accurately" estimating average seat time?


7 Replies
Nicole Legault

Hi Rick!

I think you're right to question those estimates. I don't really think that slide count is an accurate estimate of how long a course is for several reasons (here's a blog post by Tom Kuhlmann about that exact topic: Here's Why Slide Count is Irrelevant). I've read in the past that one estimate for calculating duration of completing an e-learning module is using 1 minute per slide ratio. (Some interesting links that might support that: e-Learning Ratios,  The Scopes The Thing). However it's hard to find exact proof of that. I think it's hard to pinpoint one single figure because it can fluctuate and vary so much depending on all the variables (content, level of complexity, audience, video, audio, etc.)  Here's a great past forum discussions about this topic: How to calculate seat time.

I think you need to consider a lot of things including the amount of words on slides, the amount of interactivity, are there videos and audio they need to listen to, also are they forced to see every slide or is the navigation open (allowing them to jump back and forth to review content) you should also consider your audience and how they would navigate (are they young and likely to scan and click through quickly, or are they seniors who need a bit more time to read, etc.) Considering you already have your courses, maybe you should consider asking a few people tp sit through the courses, like a real learner would, and time how long it takes. That's actually what I had to do for one my major e-learning project I worked on in the past... to identify the duration. I recorded 5 people completing the course and took the average time from those 5. Hope this helps!

Steve Flowers

For estimates prior to finalizing production, I use a variety of methods to ballpark seat time. 

(Total Narration + Activity Estimates) * 1.10

  • For narration length, pasting in the script can help to ballpark total slide length:
  • For the activity estimate, I take inventory of the different types of interactions. If there are 3 interaction patterns and each is used 4 times, I rough time each base pattern and multiply by use.

These are only good for ballparks. The best way to get an accurate estimate is to field test the output with a good sample and capture a statistic that represents the actual experience. Running through it yourself as if you were a participant is a good way to set a baseline.

Joanne Lazzaro

Good question, Rick!

Since narration time may or not reflect the actual time spent taking the course, I always get my baseline estimate from running the course myself, pretending to be a "typical" student. Since I already know the quiz answers that usually gives me the "fastest" legitimate completion time. I then ask a few SMEs to try it, and give me their completion time. I'm usually aiming for a 90-minutes of course credit, and these run-time tests let me know if I'm in the ballpark.

From LMS reports, I know for a fact that some people just blaze through courses at lightspeed, regardless of how many minutes it's supposed to take, while some people follow every last link and do all the optional activities/readings/videos, so in real life the students' seat time can vary widely from the official estimate.

Hope this has been helpful!

Bob Joyce

A method we use quite often is the Mergener formula.

It is recognized by several CE providers as a valid way to calculate "seat" time for online self-paced tutorials.

The totals it provides are sometimes longer than what it takes me to go through the course on my own with a stopwatch, but if I've developed the course, I'm not viewing the content in the same (hopefully reflective) way that a learner would who is new to the material. (and I agree with Joanne--some of our learners race to the end, while others take much longer than expected--the variability in course completion times can be HUGE!)

We just developed a course that the state legislature mandated would be one hour in length. Our legal department felt that the Mergener formula provided us with a valid way to calculate the time for compliance courses such as this. Without the Mergener calculation, we would have had to force our learners to spend "x" number of minutes on each screen before advancing, just so we could show that the course was a total of one hour. I'd hate to inflict that torture on anyone!

While this works for us, does anyone know of other formulas?

Judy Nollet

There are sooooo many variables, which is why I hate to calculate seat time. I also recall reading that it can be discouraging to some learners if they find themselves taking longer to go through the course than the given seat time (i.e., it makes them feel slow). One way around "seat time" is to show the outline and/or state the number of slides, and the learner judge for themselves. Of course, that's the learner -- not the stakeholder who wants a seat time number. So use one of the formulas. Just don't forget to emphasize it's an "estimate."

Bruce Graham

I just try and avoid it whenever possible.

On more than one occasion I have turned down work where a certain "...number of hours..." was a requirement, because (sorry to sound arrogant...) I do not believe that anyone who sets this sort of limitation actually understands a great deal about how people learn.

It seems to be a hangover from the days of classroom training, for people who do not yet grasp the concepts of learners achieving learning objectives.

I agree that setting an approximate baseline can be useful, but setting it as a training requirement is (in my limited and humble opinion...) a complete nonsense.