Just what is an hour of eLearning?

By on Dec 2, 2013

eLearning development is both an art and a science, and the combination of these two elements makes this question a complex one—like nailing jello to the wall. eLearning is often quantified in terms of costs per finished hour, but what constitutes that hour is not clearly or universally defined. It’s one of our frequently asked questions, so it bears some examination so that those of you interested in our services know where we’re coming from.

There are two fundamental ways to approach the question:

From a creation point-of-view

This is the relatively easier one to answer due to the excellent research done by the Chapman Alliance. Their study, How Long Does it Take to Create Learning?, is based on the findings of their research with data collected from 249 organizations representing 3,947 learning development professionals who have created materials for almost 20 million learners.

The study outlines the various levels of eLearning per finished hour and the average costs and percentages of time that go into all the tasks: front end analysis, instructional design, storyboarding, graphic/video/audio production, programming, QA testing, project management, SME and stakeholder reviews and pilot testing.

We draw on this comprehensive research as we work with clients to determine the cost per finished hour of eLearning from a development point of view.

From a learner’s perspective

This one is tougher. No two people go independently the same way through an e-learning experience, so basing a module design on an average person is difficult. The literature available shows many models and statistics for that average person. Organizations also bring along their own variables including a range of local learning cultures, ESL issues, distractions amidst learning, assessment incentives—and whether or not they actually allot specific time during work hours to online training and capacity building.

There are two common measurements: average time to complete and number of screens or interactions. The first is highly dependent on the variables listed above. The second is highly dependent of the level of complexity, number of interactions and requirements for reflection.

Typically, simple content would allow a learner to get through one slide per minute (60 slides per finished hour of learning). Moderately complex content would be one and a half minutes per slide and highly complex would be two minutes per slide.

Some people assume a simple equivalence between one classroom/workshop hour and one eLearning hour—but the challenges there are obvious. Seat time refers to the time spent by the learner in the learning environment. eLearning compared with face-to-face learning can offer an advantage if the course is traditional and heavy in text content—we can read two times faster than we can listen. But if we are practicing a new skill, making decisions, choosing or analyzing, then there is no real time advantage between eLearning and face-to-face.

 Crafting a quote

As we sit with each client at the beginning of a project, we take both perspectives into account in determining costs and timing. Here are some of the things we take into consideration:

  • The learning objectives that you have in mind for your course and the scope of what you hope to cover
  • How long you think your learners will have to sit down and complete your course
  • The state of the content for the course—whether or not it is currently being used in face-to-face or whether it needs to be created from documentation and subject matter experts
  • Types of interactions required—assessments, learning games, exercises and critical thinking challenges will require more time both from a learner perspective and a development perspective
  • Inclusion of finalized multi-media components—these would be considered as a screen as opposed to the amount of time it would take for a learner to watch or listen to the component.

All this is to say—we look forward to connecting with you to discuss your eLearning needs and aspirations! Let’s talk soon.