Author: Christy Tucker
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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.
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.
- 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.
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!).
- My time tracking template. Now that I have multiple years of data, most of my estimates are based on my own stats rather than these benchmarks. However, I still use the industry benchmarks for comparison and sharing with clients.
- Bryan Chapman’s research on how long it takes to create learning
- Karl Kapp’s ASTD research on the time to create one hour of learning
- eLearning Development Time: How Much Time Does It Take to Create eLearning? by IconLogic
- IconLogic’s Captivate Time Estimator. This is a free interactive PDF download, but it requires registration. Answer questions about factors that affect development. Using this estimate for a 3 hour course, I got a the total time is 562 hours, close to Chapman’s mid-range estimate for a Level 2 course (187:1).
- Estimating Time to Develop Training: This post also refers to the Chapman and ATD data, but uses some different factors like team experience into the estimate.
- Estimating Infographic: What I like about this infographic is the estimates for other tasks, such as creating job aids.
- E-Learning Estimates Made Easy: Start with a Blueprint: Sarah Mercier explains her process for doing analysis before providing an estimate.
- Estimating Time and Costs in Instructional Design: Don Clark’s overview of multiple sources with time estimates. The Chapman averages cited are from an older survey than the one I cited above.
Originally published 3/18/2014, last updated 5/16/2019
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