How do you estimate seat time?

Sep 17, 2018

Everyone learns at a different pace, so when we're asked to create a course that will take learners about 30-minutes to complete it often boils down to making an educated guess about the right length and depth of content and interactivity.

I've seen many different formulas and techniques for calculating seat time over the years. What's your favorite method and why?

8 Replies
Dave Goodman

Can "seat time" still be a valid measurement especially with mobile learning, gaming, personal/adaptive/responsive learning etc? My "seat of the pants" approach is: one classroom day is 6.5 hours of potential learning time; take that into an online world and you should see a 30% reduction in seat time. If we have a 45-55 PPT deck, that will be about a 1 hour online course BUT IT DEPENDS, is the training team building, sales training, cognitive functions, stat for non-statisticians, pain management? Some intensive one hour seat time courses might be only 10-15 screens due to the nature of the content. If your instructional designer is highly creative, they may be able to accomplish the same terminal outcome in 30 minutes while a different instructional designer would need the full hour to convey and accomplish the same. We have too many moving targets today to still talk about "seat time" - maybe we need to talk about achievement time investment, terminal outcome time or something similar.

Kenneth Villaruz

My best practice is to do a test run of a course I'm developing. You would need at least 20 test learners with almost similar demographics.

With my module duration estimate (MDE), I'll group them into 4 groups and tell each group that:

Group 1 - they have (MDE minus 50% MDE) minutes to complete the module.

Group 2 - they have (MDE) minutes to complete the module.

Group 3 - they have (MDE plus 50% MDE) minutes to complete the module.

Group 4 - the module has no time limit to complete.

The reason why we added a "no time limit" test group is to check what will be the ceiling duration and to check if learners will learn better without constraints (as being pushed by MicroLearning practitioners).

Another important factor is to make sure that the test module has an assessment at the end.

After all test learners completed the test module, I then put all data gathered (time of completion and assessment scores) in a spreadsheet.

The best module duration estimate would be from the group who performed best - count the number of individuals who got high marks plus the group score.

I also would check the time of completion vs assessment scores. Sometimes, I would as far as doing some standard deviation calculation if the numbers are so spread out and hard for me to analyze.

I hope this will help. :)

Cammy Bean

This may not be quite answering your question, but I think good to put larger context around why so-called seat time matters.

Yes, it's important to know how long your users should plan on scheduling to work through your content. That matters, absolutely. We need to set learner expectations and help them plan appropriately.

But the other reason so-called seat time REALLY matters? Because it translates into how many screens you're developing, how much script you're writing, how much graphics you're doing. Ultimately, it determines your budget. And your project schedule.

We take a thumb in the wind kind of approach with seat time and say that one screen's worth of content in Storyline roughly equates to (on average) about a minute of the user's time. Some will take longer, some will take less. It generally works out about right.

Robin Weggeman

I personally dont like if someone else decides for me how long I should do, before I'll understand the lesson. I want to learn as long as it takes and i want to practice, as long as it takes. 

Some things you understand immediatly, sometimes it takes a few days. 

If your training consits of videos and softwaresimulations, its more easily to determine the time it will take. If your course consists of dilemmas, puzzles and thoughtexperiments, it will be a lot harder to estimate how long someone will take..

of course its always possilble to cap the amount of time a student can spend to complete the training. In that manner you Use time as a pressuretool. Only then, you can guarantee a student doesn't spend more than the half hour. 


christiaan botha

Hi Trina

For me your question, highlights your predicament of time, quality and resources, your question asks, what will I compromise with? Graphics, interactions, animations, content, design, etc.

We don't always get to choose what is optimal for our learners, so I rephrase the question and so also the expectations of who ever asked me to have a group of people learn something in a limited time, with nothing less than time and budget on the mind.

Here is my rephrase:

"how do I best get this particular group of learners to learn as best they can, what they are expected to learn, within the limited learning time constraint?"

This allows me to change how I approach the problem and focus only on what is most needed and critical by working backwards from the time constraint but also opening the space that there must be a core of learning that needs to fit into the volume of the bell curve.

Maybe not so conventional, but maybe some ideas


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