Time Estimates for eLearning Development

“How long will it take to create this elearning?” It’s important to estimate the effort and time required for different tasks.

One common question is “how long will it take to create this elearning?” It’s important to estimate the effort and time required for different tasks.

Because I work for myself, I have to create good estimates. If I don’t, I either bid low and lose money or bid high and lose a project.

Time Estimates for eLearning Development

Benchmarks

The two primary sources I use for benchmarks are Bryan Chapman’s research and Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice’s ATD research. Of the two, I usually go for Chapman’s data, since it’s broken down with more detail. I find it helpful to refer clients to these sources, especially if they think training development should take barely any time.

IconLogic also has benchmarks for development, including breakdowns for different tasks. The biggest difference in their benchmark is the time to develop in an authoring tool, which is significantly higher than if you use Chapman’s data alone. This estimate says that Captivate and Storyline development generally take 2 hours per finished minute to produce, or a ratio of 120:1. That’s not including writing a script or recording audio. Chapman’s estimate is closer to 20:1 for the authoring/programming section, so there’s a pretty large discrepancy. That’s partly due to how tasks are classified, but I can’t completely reconcile the numbers. My own data matches IconLogic’s data more closely.

I also track my own time for every project I create so I can compare my actual numbers to the benchmarks. I use a time tracking template that lets me analyze my time on different tasks and projects. That’s the best situation, but it takes time to build up enough data to create your own personal benchmarks.

Applying the Benchmarks

For example, let’s say a client asks me to convert an existing full day training program to self-paced e-learning. This will be mostly linear with 25% interactivity but no branching scenarios. A “full day” or training in this case means 6 hours of actual content. The content itself is in pretty good shape; there’s slides, a participant guide, and a facilitator guide, and it’s all fairly complete. There’s no video, only limited animation (the kind I can build in Storyline or Captivate), and professional voice talent will be used.

I’m going to assume this can be compressed to about 3 hours of e-learning. That’s 50% of the original time, which is a standard estimate backed up by research.

This project a Level 2 by Chapman’s study, so the ratio for development is 184:1 (that is, 1 hour of e-learning takes 184 hours to develop). For 3 hours, that’s 184 * 3 or 552 hours total work. That’s the work for everyone on the team, not just me.

Chapman’s study provides this breakdown of tasks and the percentage of time for each (see slide 18).

  • Front End Analysis: 9%
  • Instructional Design: 13%
  • Storyboarding: 11%
  • Graphic Production: 12%
  • Video Production: 6%
  • Audio Production: 6%
  • Authoring/Programming: 18%
  • QA Testing: 6%
  • Project Management: 6%
  • SME/Stakeholder Reviews: 6%
  • Pilot Test: 4%
  • Other: 1%

Thinking Through the Numbers

I always weigh different factors to tweak these benchmarks. Chapman’s numbers are for everyone on the team, not just my role, so many of these estimate should be lower.

Analysis, Design, and Storyboarding

  • Front end analysis is 9% of 552 or about 50 hours. The analysis involves other stakeholders, so it’s not just my time. I’ll call this analysis 30 hours.
  • Instructional design is 13% or about 72 hours. I’ll call this 60 hours for me, assuming the SME will need to spend some time supporting and reviewing.
  • Storyboarding is 11% or about 61 hours. I’ll estimate 55 for my portion. I know from my own personal data that I tend to write faster than this benchmark.

Development

  • For graphics, my estimate depends on how much custom development I’m doing and how much will be provided by the client. If the client has a standard template and a large library of images for me to use, this might be 30 hours. If I’m creating a custom template and a lot of graphics, this should be 66. Let’s assume that although the content in the slides is good, the graphics are awful, and I’ll create a template myself. I’ll use 66 hours for this example.
  • Since there’s no video, I use 0 for that value. Audio will be created by someone else, so I won’t include that in my estimate either.
  • Authoring/Programming is 18% or 99 hours. That seems low for building in Captivate or Storyline, based on my experience, even assuming that we rely heavily on templates. IconLogic’s estimate is 2 hours per finished minute (120:1), or 360 hours. That’s a big discrepancy between the benchmarks. For my work, there’s some overlap between creating the template and authoring, so I can probably reduce this from the IconLogic estimate. I’ll split the difference and call this 180 hours.
  • QA Testing is 6% or 33 hours. Again, I think this is part of the difference in the IconLogic benchmark, since it doesn’t split testing out as a separate task. Generally a full review of a course takes me 2-3 times the length of the course, plus testing interactions throughout the process.

Project Management and Pilot

  • Project Management is also 6% or 33 hours. How much project management I do varies depending on the project and who else is on the team. I’ll assume 20 hours for this example.
  • The Pilot Test is 4% or 22 hours. I assume other people will be involved in that test, so I’ll estimate 6 hours for my part.

Total Hours: 450

Adding it all up, it’s 450 hours. How much padding I add to that estimate depends on a number of factors. If I’ve worked with the client before and I know they’re always responsive and very clear with feedback, I might use that estimate as is. If the client seems unclear about what they want or I suspect that reviews and revisions will be complicated, I’ll add more and call it 500 or 550.

The above breakdown also helps me determine an estimate if I’m not creating the entire course. I often work in teams with other multimedia developers, so I might only be doing the analysis, design, storyboarding, and project management. It’s easy to take those components and come up with a rough estimate for my portion of the course.

Resources

Use these resources to create and compare your own time estimates (or to show stakeholders why you can’t create 5 hours of elearning in 3 weeks!).

Originally published 3/18/2014, last updated 5/16/2019

25 thoughts on “Time Estimates for eLearning Development

  1. Christy, thanks for all the detail. When I come up for air on my own projects, I’ll have to blog on this same topic. My numbers are so different from yours. Here’s a suggested blog post for you though: I’d like to see a post from you on what you do in the front-end analysis (which you budgeted 20 hours for above). My clients tend to feel that they’ve done this analysis and I almost never get a chance to sit with learners and really dig down to needs. So it’s a three-pronged post: what do you do in your analysis and how do you organize it, what’s the deliverable (course outline?), and how do you sell the client on doing it? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks in advance. Kevin

    1. A version of this post sat in my drafts folder for about a year, so I understand not having the time to blog. I’ll look forward to seeing your numbers though. My guess is that your numbers are higher since you’re doing more graphic design and more development. Because I do more projects where I’m only doing design and writing and not development, I don’t trust my numbers for Captivate development as much as for earlier stages.
      As for selling the client on doing analysis, I don’t actually break it out for clients this way. I roll it into the design document stage. That’s both analysis and early design, and it gives clients a deliverable at the end. My design document is an overview of the course including a high level outline and plan for activities. I’ve never had a client push back on having an outline and plan at the beginning of the process.

  2. Thank you Christy, this article was very informative. And also thanks for sharing your resources, the time management tools could be particularly useful for my own work in the future.
    Chris

  3. Christy, this is an invaluable posting. Most often we are asked how much time incrementally we feel it would take for development. What I specifically enjoyed reading about was your breakdown of time on task. Often I am not only asked how much time on task incrementally that I feel a resource is needed for, but also how much time from the provider that they can expect to contribute. It is all very lucrative including looking at the various levels of development, but having some static baselines are a great asset.

  4. Christy,
    Thank you for all the detail and comprehensive time analysis for your benchmarking methods. I found this incredibly valuable as an instructional designer that is handling the whole process including training team members. The bucket is quite large and trying to micro-manage the basis for e-learning for test out options and digging deep on the types of learning methods that are best suited, software support (Captivate 17), Snip It, and Audacity. I am building the e-learning mechanisms and found your time table analogies extremely valuable as I am trying to determine the scripting, building, and developing the learning matrix based upon the workflow. Your list of resources I will definitely be checking out as I am trying to be as efficient as possible with the items I would like to see implemented.

    In your opinion what advantages does Storyboard have over Captivate? Any advantages for one over the other? Also, the compatibility with certain types of LMS (Learning Management Systems) that seem to work the best with one or the other?

    1. Many developers prefer Storyline over Captivate. I think Captivate is better for software training, especially interactive software simulations. Just about anything that can be created in Storyline can be created in Captivate, with the exception of the slider and dial interactions. Captivate can do more than Storyline, including creating interactive video, VR, and responsive training. Captivate is also much cheaper: around $360/year compared to $1000/year for Articulate 360 (the suite including Storyline). There’s no significant difference in how they work with an LMS.

      However, Captivate is harder to learn. Many people find it slower to develop in Captivate than in Storyline. If you’re paying developers hourly, you might save the difference in purchase price with the cost of speed to both learn the program and develop in it. In particular, working with fluid boxes in Captivate adds additional time to development, maybe up to 30%.

      Articulate 360, the suite that includes Storyline, also includes a Review tool. I find that Review tool saves an immense amount of time over spreadsheets and other review systems. The suite also includes Rise, which works well for certain types of projects.

      Although it’s a few years old, I think Diane Elkins’ comparison table here is pretty accurate. I would put Captivate above Storyline for software simulations, but otherwise I agree with her assessments. http://elearninguncovered.com/2016/02/updated-e-learning-authoring-tools-comparison-2/

      It’s also helpful to understand how the different tools handle responsive design. http://elearninguncovered.com/2017/02/four-ways-e-learning-authoring-tools-handle-responsive-design/

      I used Captivate as my primary tool for years, but I’ve been doing much more in Storyline since Articulate 360 came out. The few features I was really missing in Storyline have now been added, so I would now default to using Storyline for most projects. Software training is the exception, where I’d prefer either short videos in Camtasia or simulations in Captivate.

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