Guidance on development times

Apr 04, 2011


I was wondering if the helpful people at Articulate could offer some advice.

We are just starting to develop e learning courses internally at my organisation and I have been asked to try and find out how long they take to develop.

I’ve looked on the web and understand that it is a very difficult question to answer with many factors to consider but wondered if anyone has some guidelines that they work to?

I have seen the survey from an earlier post which looks at number of hours it takes to develop 1 hour of elearning training and this then leads on to my second question - what is an hours worth of e learning?

For example, in your experience, roughly how long does it take for someone using e learning to go through the materials covered during a 1 hour instructor led session? (I know this is a difficult one to answer too!)

Any advice relating to this area would be very welcome - the web has a baffling array of facts and figures on offer and I don't know which are right/wrong.

Thank you for your help


5 Replies
Sarah Newman

You're right, that is a complicated question to answer! I'll do my best to give you a practical answer, though.

In my experience, the time it takes to design and develop a course depends on the level of interactivity. If you're doing a relatively straightforward linear course and the material isn't super complicated, a good estimate for development time is 8-16 hours for 50 screens. That said, this doesn't allow much time for creativity and can leave your learners feeling underwhelmed.

I take a LOT LONGER for my courses when my client/boss will allow me to. For example, my most recent course (which is about 50 screens long) has taken about 3 weeks to get through the completed first draft, which doesn't have all of the functionality built in yet. The reason for this is that it's not linear, I'm still pretty new to the Articulate suite, and I'm doing a lot of custom graphics and custom interactivity. As I learn the suite more thoroughly, I'm sure this time will be cut down... I've spent a lot of time figuring out how to make my slides look like they aren't slides. :) My previous job was at an instructional design consulting company, so I'm used to working with a full graphics team and programming team... my standards are far too high to put out a product that looks like a glorified slideshow!

As for how to estimate the time for a course, I think the best way to understand this is through practice. In general, I think that eLearning takes less time than instructor-led training (ILT), mainly because there's no time built in for getting sidetracked or asking the instructor questions that they have to try to answer on the spot. An hour long ILT course, in my experience, can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes in eLearning format... but of course there are always exceptions to that.

I hope that information helps... good luck incorporating eLearning into your company's training program!

Steve Flowers

This was discussed in a recent thread:

Don't forget to roll time into your schedule / estimates for these reviews:

  • SME
  • Legal Compliance
  • Target Audience (iterative)
  • Quality Assurance

The forces that these apply to your estimates are real and necessary That said, estimates are tough. Accurate estimates depend on a whole lot of factors. The two that can produce the largest divide between your estimate and reality are (1) your expectations and (2) your team's or hired-guns capabilities.

Design takes time. Design from an inexperienced team will take longer. Extracting design solutions from a stakeholder that doesn't know what they want is going to add even more time and iteration to your process. This can be mitigated by performing good pre-design analysis.

If the expectation is shovelware / bookslides, you can crank those out just as fast as you can copy and paste from your source materials. But that's not really design and it's not really very considerate of your audience.

It's not always realistic, but I like to shoot for applying the most energy to the biggest paybacks in a training program. This requires some investment upfront to discover what the biggest gaps are so you know where to prioritize your energy. I've found that when teams focus equal energy on all parts they end up with a flat solution that wasn't much better than doing nothing at all.

Interaction / interactivity is a funny term. I think it' a misunderstood concept. I've been in the industry for awhile and most of the estimation models I've seen are based on interactivity. Conflating interactivity with complexity is counterproductive and doesn't accurately reflect the effort to value ratio that results in a quality solution. I've done some study / searching for a great definition of interactivity and I haven't found one that fits my view. So I made one up:

"Interactivity can be considered as the application of intentional forces to propel an experience and compel a predictable outcome. There are generally two types of interaction forces. One type of force pulls the user into the experience. The other type of force pushes a user in a particular direction, influencing cognitive abilities or beliefs with methods that leverage the science of psychology to achieve a task."

I think interaction is too often confused with clicking, dragging, or branching paths without consideration of the thing that the designer really wants to accomplish. In my opinion, interaction is too powerful to be wasted on gimmicks (/soapbox).

All of that blow-hard stuff out of the way, I think any team new to eLearning will be well served applying these principles:

  • Keep it simple (expand complexity only when necessary)
  • Prioritize goals (everyone will go hungry if world hunger is the solution - just plan for snacks)
  • Iterate and test often (successive approximation)
  • Sprint collaboratively (short working meetings at short and regular intervals)
  • Know your audience's needs
  • Leverage "just good enough" media (Flipcams are great for bottling up expert snippets - these little bits of story can be really powerful)
  • Hire a specialist if you need specialized help (getting little bits of help will save you huge $$ in the long run)

Good luck!

Steve Flowers

One principle I forgot... This is probably my favorite principle of all. This helps to define and prioritize the "influencing events".

I call this the Jack Palance "One Thing" Principle.

Ideally (which means sometimes) I like to have the power to define these influencing moments. I like to think in terms of "one thing". As in, if this solution could do one thing and nothing else, what would that be? You can repeat this exercise by assuming that "you've done this one thing" now what other "one thing" would this solution do if it didn't do anything else.

This helps to frame up the most powerful elements of the solution Once those power centers are setup, I consider it a success if everything else falls away - those things that matter less (or sometimes really not at all) can disappear without impacting the power of the solution.

nicola hicks

Thanks to you both.

It's really good to hear form both a relative newbie to Articulate and someone who's been in the business for a while.

Sarah, your infomation on timeframes is a really useful guide for me and thanks Steve for the tips on prioritizing and the "one thing" - I think these will really help the SMEs when we develop content.

logan gibs

It's not always realistic, but I like to shoot for applying the most energy to the biggest paybacks in a training program. This requires some investment upfront to discover what the biggest gaps are so you know where to prioritize your energy. I've found that when teams focus equal energy on all parts they end up with a flat solution that wasn't much better than doing nothing at all.

This discussion is closed. You can start a new discussion or contact Articulate Support.