How long does it take to develop one hour of training?

People often ask how long it takes to develop one hour of self-study e-learning. The answers vary wildly, from under 50 hours to more than 300, depending on the amount of research that is needed, the complexity of the interactions, the richness of the media, the capabilities of the authoring tool, and the experience of the designer. These figures nearly always surprise people, because they wouldn’t normally spend anywhere near this time developing for the classroom. However, because they have to stand alone, self-study materials are notoriously hard to develop and they can only therefore make economic sense when there’s a reasonably large audience of users. The estimates are also open to question on the basis that self-pacing is, by definition, variable – what’s one hour for one learner, is 20 minutes for a second, and 2 hours for a third.

However, with live online learning, the concept of ‘one hour of e-learning’ really does make sense. An hour is an hour is an hour. That’s why I was interested to read the analysis by Karl Kapp (see Time to Develop One Hour of Training):

“In 2003, the low estimate for developing one hour of instructor-led, web-based training delivery (using software such as Centra, Adobe Connect, or WebEx) was 30 hours and the high estimate was 80 hours. In 2009, the low estimate is 49 and the high estimate 89. Both higher. Is it taking us longer to develop e-learning than it did six years ago?”

These figures are low compared with self-paced e-learning but higher than I would have expected. I can’t quite see why it takes 1-2 working weeks to assemble a really good hour of training. Am I missing something here? What’s your experience?

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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  1. Liz Preedy says

    A need to meet higher expectations of learners, deliver at better standard, in 2009 than in 2003 might be a partial explanation. Different modes of recording time spent by developers and accuracy of perception of how time is spent might come into it. Not a fatuous remark! It was not a scientific study and the variables may not all be directly related to the issues the survey was intended to study. And, as the analysis acknowledges the number of respondents to the survey was small.

    Nevertheless it seems reasonable to assume that the trends indicated by the numbers have some validity and, it is not just the time spent developing live web-based training that seem (unacceptably) high to me.

  2. says

    Based on a recent vendor contract my government agency signed with a vendor to develop a text-based page turner, one hour of eLearning takes 383 hours to develop at a cost of $116/hour (yes, that’s $44,606 for one hour of HTML page-turning goodness).

    Please confirm my fears that we’re getting royally screwed?

  3. says

    I’ve read a number of articles recently about the time taken to prepare an hour. In all cases its important to think about the tool being used and at a very basic level is it custom development or rapid style?

    80 hours could be seen as 10 day working days. Reading, designing, coding, testing, client revisions, phone calls, meetings etc. it could take 80 hours just as easily as it could take 20.

    In creative industries such as e-learning I think that is very difficult to assess how long something takes unless you are able to take a true comparision. I’d be interested for someone to take a script/course and prepare several versions of the course in a number of different tools – all for the same client. This was we can get a true idea of the actual development time and also the time taken to refine the requirement.

    Liz also makes a good point about quality? A notoriously difficult thing to quantify but important when looking at a report like this one.

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