Estimating Development TIme

I've found some interesting resources for estimating development time, many of which will come up with some sort of formula that gives you x amount of development time per minute or hour of elearning. I understand the minute/hour thing if you're producing a linear video style course but how does it work when learners proceed at their own pace? I might have a slide with lots of interactive elements or a sequence of slides with just text. How do I represent those two different types of content as a fraction of time in a whole course?

16 Replies
niomi rosenberg

Hi Christina,

I am just starting to put myself out there as a contractor and wondered what  resources you were reviewing?

I'm trying to figure out if there is an industry standard for fees and rates on the finished e learning module.  If you have any suggestions or recommendations I'd appreciate hearing about them.

Thank you

Chris Cole

Hi Christina and Niomi (and Hi Phil - been a while). I'd say there's no magical formula for estimating development time, because there are so many variables. Just as a small sampling:

How many graphics will you use? Are you creating custom graphics for the lesson or using stock images? If you are creating custom graphics, are they simple or complex? Any custom animations? Again, simple or complex? Any audio? If so, is it your time doing the recording or are you hiring other folks - in either case it adds more time / cost to the project. Are the interactions simple m/c questions presented in simple, repetitive way, or are you designing custom interactions with custom graphics and functionality, maybe with branching based on response? 

Then you have variances in how quickly some people get things done - extremely high-level developers can develop complex simulations in the same time a novice develop can develop a simple linear lesson.  

The better approach, in my opinion, is to be consistent in what and how you design, and then track how long it takes you to do the things you do in the way you do them. Create your own benchmark and use that when estimating. But it only works if you are consistent in what and how you develop. If you do things drastically different for each project, then your benchmarks are meaningless.

Hope this helps.


niomi rosenberg

Thank you Chris and Phil.  As a newbie, I will keep track of my development time for projects and try to set benchmarks.  It is just too tempting to try new and different approaches for each new project as there are so many great concepts to try to share with clients.  But I'll try looking at in based on the interactivity of the project.

Nancy Woinoski

There is nothing wrong with trying new and different approaches for projects - I do this a lot - otherwise I would be bored to death. You just need to be able to estimate the time - if it is something you have not done before but is within the realm of something you have done before then factor in an additional 10% of your usual estimate. If it is something completely new then factor in 30%. Also if you are trying something new on your customer's time be prepared to absorb some of the cost as your own learning curve.

Nancy Woinoski

I don't really like to discuss rates in a public forum at the risk of being accused of price fixing. The best advice I can give you is that you figure out how much money you need to earn in order to meet your personal financial obligations and goals and then set your rate accordingly. 

Phil Mayor

I would say most freelancers produce bespoke courses and each course is different. If I am trying anything outside of the usual or using a different piece of software I will add a supplement but also expect to absorb some of the learning costs at my end. This normally works out in the long term as you have another skill to sell.

Jacquelyn Edwards

Hi Christina & Niomi

I am a freelance Instructional Designer working with ASX listed companies and might be able to assist with a few of your questions.

1. Design Time:

I don't believe it's possible to work with fractions as there are too many variables but I can show you a tool I use for quoting.

When quoting a customer I always follow a simple method 

A = Initial Content Delivery: meeting for client to transfer all content and workable assets such as images/videos. Allow time for course outline and basic learning objectives to be discussed. Also receive branding guidelines. (Approx 2-3hrs with client & Approx 5-10hrs to review provided content and create a few basic templates based on branding guidelines)

B = Storyboard Workshop: workshop with relevant stakeholders to storyboard content based on learning objectives and delivery methods eg. via basic learn, check, assess or gamification or videos etc (Approx 3-6hrs with client & Approx 3-6hrs post workshop to finalise storyboard & Approx. 25-50hrs to create/develop storyline file (this is based on a basic 10-15 min module))

C = First Review: provide clients with an opportunity to review product and provide critical feedback. Allow time for adjustments based on client feedback. (Approx 10hrs)

D = Final Review: provide client with an opportunity to review product and provide feedback for minor adjustments. (Approx 5 hrs)

E = Final Product Meeting: allow time for a final product meeting with product handover and technical assistance (Approx 2-3hrs)


A+B+C+D+E = DESIGN TIME plus 20% for F*Up + Production costs + Taxes (double the design time if client wants gamification) 

*Production costs include anything you commission such as photography, video, voice over, stock images etc. don't forget to add your fees regarding time to execute/research these assets

This is how I run through an INDICATIVE quote with a new client when presenting for a basic 10-15 module and generally A, B & E are deliverables based on multiple modules required by a client bringing the cost per module down. Based on the indicative quote I send a 50% upfront invoice to be paid prior to commencement of work. When you reach B = Storyboard workshop, this will be when the quote adjusts and is finalised based on the clients needs. Make sure this is outlined when presenting to your client in the initial meetings prior to taking on the project and have the client sign an agreement with this variable clearly stated.

2. Rates/Fees

In the end I never charge 'per hour', I charge 'per project'. So customers are not privy to an hourly rate or the calculated hours it takes to complete a project, just the particulars. It is up to you to determine what you are worth and what your experience level is. Your rate can also be affected by competitors bidding for the same project so be wary of who you may be up against. Always allow time for mistakes and always allow time to be able to outsource the project and still make a profit if you have the opportunity to take on more work than you can physically manage. 

If you are unsure on what the going rate is in your area then put an ad out for quotes as if you were a potential client. Always know your competition.