How long does it take to produce e-learning?

Can we ever give a definitive answer?

26 January 2017 | Rosalind Scott | , ,

The Zombie Apocalypse is finally here. Terrifying, brain-eating multitudes of the undead are roaming the streets. The last vestiges of the human race are surviving day by day, trapped in their houses and helpless. And the last, faintly glimmering hope for humanity…is you.

The few individuals who represent what is left of government, have asked you to create a one-hour e-learning course that will train the remaining population in basic self-defence and zombie-slaying skills. This will mean that people are trained and can protect themselves, and will save the time and effort of a face-to-face training workshop, as well as costing less in terms of money and lives. Who knew the world could be saved by e-learning?

Can you do it, Agent Z?’ the Absolute Leader asks. (You have no idea why he calls you this.) ‘It is time for you to put your particular set of skills to work to protect your fellow humans.

Yes, sir,’ you say, your heart filled with patriotic fervour.

Excellent. How long do you think it’ll take?

How many times in your former life did clients ask you this question? And how do you reply? How long does it take to produce e-learning?


No one knows how long it takes to produce e-learning

A mere half-hour of googling will show you that suggested timescales for producing an hour of learning differ wildly. A single source I found suggested that an hour of e-learning could take between 50 and 700 hours to create. There are so many factors in play that it is difficult to give clients the simple answer that they want.

But surely we can make some assumptions! It would make sense to assume that length of course and the level of treatment and interactivity of the course would have an impact on how long it takes to develop.


Length of course

Well, let’s start with length of course. It’s obvious that a one-hour e-learning course would take longer to develop than a 20-minute e-learning course, right? Wrong. As we all know this is not always the case. I remember working on two projects, which began at roughly the same time; one of which involved a 30-minute compliance refresher, whilst the other was a 14-hour suite of modules with complex subject matter. We finished the 14-hour course in about six months but, over a year after we had started, the compliance training was still not signed off.


In the case of Zombie Survival for Beginners Module 1, the learning will need to be approximately one hour long, as this is the length of time that rationing will allow people to have the power on for.

Yes, one hour,’ says the Absolute Leader, ‘approximately an hour. Give or take. It’s important to be flexible, Agent Z.


Time penalties: 1

  • Length of the course
  • Level of treatment and interactivity


Level of treatment and interactivity

What about level of treatment and interactivity? This may be more promising, since it stands to reason that a simple course largely made up of text and image pages is going to need far fewer resources to create than a course which has high level of interactivity including branching, or interactive games and quizzes.

Again, although we do need to factor it in, we can’t rely on this one. Clients often have differing expectations as to what ‘interactivity’ or ‘design’ mean in a course. You may begin by designing a simple course, but find that the client’s expectations are wildly different from what you thought at the start.

Surely for a zombie survival e-learning created in a post-apocalyptic sort-of-society the expectations won’t be that high though, will they?

Well of course people will need to be able to replicate the self-defense moves that we teach them about,’ says the Absolute Leader, ‘so some level of design will be needed. And I like it when things move around on the screen, what’s it called? Yes, animation. Or I get bored.

Time penalties: 2

  • Length of the course
  • Level of treatment and interactivity


Other factors

That’s not to say that these things do not need to be factored in. They are very important, but unfortunately they cannot be your only measures.

On top of these, there are other factors which will probably come into play, such as:

  • Content - how finalised is the content? Will you need to spend time scoping, structuring and researching?
  • Stakeholders - obviously if there is more than one person’s sign-off required on the client’s side you will need to allow time for opinions to be given and collated. Similarly, if subject matter experts are scattered across the world, you must allow time for them to be contacted.
  • How the course is being built - the tool or method used to create the course will have an impact on timescales, as some are quicker than others.
  • Whether you have worked with the client before - this will have an impact, not only because you will need to spend time finding out what the client wants and building a relationship, but because you may not get things right the first time when working with a new client.

The Absolute Leader tells you that your SMEs will be two guys who live in the woods. He says it will probably best for you to have a face-to-face with them, so you’ll need to factor in the time to make the trip out there. Gulp!

Time penalties: 3


Effort versus duration

The other important thing to remember is that when we are talking about ‘time’ to develop e-learning, we are really talking about two different measures - effort (as in the actual time it takes to do the task) and duration (the time elapsed between beginning and finishing the task - which includes time in which you aren’t working on the task, the time it takes for people to get back to you about questions etc). 

It may, for example, take 20 hours to complete a certain task, but you do ten hours one day and five several days later. You also have to wait two days for a response to a question and finally finish the task a week and a half after you began it. So it’s important when estimating the time it takes for things to be done, to think about effort versus duration. And to always be aware that however well you keep to your plan, the client may not answer a question/review a storyboard/provide a graphic within the allotted timeframe.

Sometimes, the question the client asks will not be, how long will it take, but can it done by [date]? In all cases you will need to balance the time available with the resources available and the scope of the project. If time is a critical factor and involves a fixed deadline, you will need to allow more resources or reduce the scope. If the deadline is less important, you may be able to balance time, resources and scope differently.


Time penalties: Meaningless!


So what’s the answer?

Superhero defeats the zombies

At this point you are forced to explain the Absolute Leader that, unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to his question. Your plan, you say, interrupting him as he begins to stutter with fury, is:

  • to make some basic calculations based on the length of the course and the level of interactivity and design required
  • to be as prepared as possible
  • to plan up front and make some realistic assumptions about how long things will take
  • to not make promises you know are not realistic (come on, lives are at stake here!)
  • to do your best.

He grunts. ‘Is that a fancy way of saying it’ll take as long as it takes?’ he asks.

‘Ahem. Yes.’ You reply.