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How Long Does It Take to Develop eLearning?

It seems like a simple question: How long does it take to develop eLearning? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. In addition to not being so simple, that is likely the wrong question.

Why?

It’s too general, and no answer to the question would be accurate. It would be more accurate to ask how long it takes to develop eLearning on the topic or problem you need to solve. That’s more specific to your situation, but it still doesn’t account for the problem of not requiring eLearning.

Another issue with that question is that it doesn’t consider the other steps necessary to create good training.

Development isn’t the only step and is not what takes the longest in creating training.

But maybe it’s a more abstract question, and you’re just looking for an estimate to develop 15, 30, or one hour of eLearning. Even that is impossible to answer. Then there’s the fact that it takes more time to create something simple and concise than it does longer, more verbose, and less effective.

If I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter.

Who knows?

It almost without fail always takes longer to develop something shorter than it does longer. And, with training, the goal should always be to create something shorter rather than longer.

Many steps factor into the length of time it takes to develop eLearning. Before we get too far down that rabbit hole, it’s essential to understand what exactly eLearning development is since you cannot confuse it with instructional design.

A topic that’s complex enough to be one hour or more should be broken up into more manageable courses that create a curriculum. It’s not possible to make an expert in one session; that has to occur over time. But that’s rarely the goal of any training.

That’s why it’s necessary to break content up into chunks. Perhaps the goal for the majority of users is to teach them the essentials for their role, but this doesn’t make them experts. Another tier of people might be few in number but need to become experts.

Depending on the number of experts needed, dealing with that tier through coaching could be more efficient if there are only a few. eLearning is only efficient to design and develop if the time required to design is less than the time employees save. With ten people, that’s a considerable challenge (impossible).

What Is eLearning Development?

This may be where some confusion about how long it takes to develop eLearning comes from. eLearning is part of a more extensive process called instructional design. To look at it isolated from the instructional design process is deceiving at best.

The instructional design process has many steps, and development is just one. Developing eLearning is relatively quick, thanks to rapid development tools, but it’s not what takes the longest to create good training.

eLearning development is the task of taking the plan that comes from analysis and design of a training project and making it come to life.

That means eLearning development doesn’t take long because you’re working from a well-documented and thought-through plan. eLearning development is a small part of a bigger process. When we develop eLearning after the analysis and design steps, it takes between two and four weeks.

That time is similar to when we are tasked with converting a PowerPoint deck into eLearning. While we do shy away from projects like this, a PowerPoint deck can be converted easily into eLearning, cleaned up, some interaction added, and completed in a few weeks rather than a few months.

The problem is that eLearning development isn’t a complete process, and converting PowerPoints into eLearning isn’t an effective way to solve training problems. It leaves many of the most essential steps of creating training out of the picture.

Creating an excellent eLearning course requires more than just eLearning development. It requires the analysis and design phases also.

The development process of eLearning used to take a long time, but with the advent of rapid eLearning development tools like Storyline and Captivate, development has been reduced tremendously. However, the time to complete other steps of the instructional design process has not been sped up.

eLearning development used to require programmers, graphic designers, possibly web designers, and more. Now, it requires just one or two people with a rapid development tool, and it takes less than half the time.

To understand why the question of how long it takes to develop eLearning is the wrong question, you need to know everything involved in developing a custom self-paced eLearning course.

What Else Is Necessary to Produce eLearning

eLearning development is one small part of a larger process. Sometimes, that means an eLearning developer takes the plan from an instructional designer and makes it come alive.

Now more than ever, every step of the process to develop eLearning is done by one person. That person should be an instructional designer who knows the process and can work methodically through it.

Instructional designers use a thorough process that can be boiled down in its simplest terms as ADDIE, an acronym for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate, which is still the gold standard model for instructional design.

Development is one small step in a larger process. Without a plan, development is misguided at best.

See the development step? That’s where eLearning development comes in, which is one small part of the process. It’s important, but it’s far from the most important.

techstructional ADDIE process

ADDIE is a process for a reason, you can’t simply skip steps and expect a good eLearning course or the best results. Heck, you might even be shooting for the wrong results entirely without analyzing them properly. Or you could create something that doesn’t move the needle at all or harms employees.

Skipping a step would be akin to trying to build a structure without blueprints or figuring out what the goal of the structure is. The result will be a huge mess trying to solve the wrong problem, if it solves a problem at all.

In today’s world of rapid development, here is who typically does each step of the process.

  • Analysis: Instructional designer or a training program manager.
  • Design: Instructional designer
  • Development: Instructional designer or eLearning developer.
  • Implement: Instructional designer and other learning & development roles.
  • Evaluate: Instructional Designer and/or other learning & development roles.

Who performs each one can vary a lot, but this is generally close to accurate. You also can’t forget that none of these steps occur in a silo. It’s a group effort, and it’s always necessary to work with stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) during each step.

As you can see, eLearning development is one small step in a process, so it’s impossible to say how long it takes to develop one hour of eLearning.

In a bit, I’ll cover a few scenarios that will help you better understand how long it takes. Just know that it’s never simple and, unfortunately, cannot be classified simply into a categorized table (with vague levels of interaction), no matter how much you see it attempted online.

Factors That Affect Development Time

A lot of different factors can affect the development of eLearning. It depends on how complex it is, how available subject matter experts are, and even if all the content is available or requires some internet sleuthing.

If eLearning is simply a step in the ADDIE process, it will take much less time than the entire project. Analysis and design take the lion’s share of time in creating eLearning. Those two steps alone can take two to four months, depending on the responsiveness of SMEs and stakeholders.

Regarding eLearning development, a simple project can take only two weeks. However, that isn’t realistic in most cases, at least for quality eLearning.

Then there’s the fact that no project work is done straight through. That means there’s always communication, collaboration, downtime, admin time, etc. So, while some try to boil a project down to the number of hours, that isn’t realistic or productive. Any project or work boiled down to hours will be poorly done and planned for.

Output is more important than hours.

Nobody receives quality work when work is reduced to hours rather than the output itself. The amount of time it takes is irrelevant, except for project deadlines.

It’s all about the results.

So, from a project management perspective, 100 hours to develop an eLearning course isn’t realistic. Nobody can work on eLearning straight through; there’s active time and passive time.

Let’s take a look at those two.

Active Development

This is in the context of eLearning development only, not the rest of the self-paced course process. If an eLearning developer is working with an instructional designer, strictly having active development time may be possible.

Active development time is working on creating an eLearning course or finding content for the course. If an eLearning developer gets handed off a plan from an instructional designer, they have almost everything ready to go for them.

That means they have the copy already finished and the plan for how everything should look, and sometimes they may even receive multimedia content such as images and videos. It’s up to the eLearning developer to put it all together and modify the multimedia to look a little prettier or fit the course better.

How realistic is that, though?

Many questions need to be answered, collaboration is required, and even with the best-created plan, not everything will always be accounted for. That means a lot of passive time in a project where nothing on the course will be done.

Passive Time

This isn’t development at all. Many projects will involve back-and-forth, meetings to ask questions, and just looking for the right image.

If the instructional designer isn’t doing eLearning dev, there’s probably a bit of back and forth. The eLearning dev might need to go to the instructional designer for something to which they might not have the answer. If that’s the case, then it could be a long process of waiting, meeting, and more waiting.

If it takes 40 hours to develop eLearning, it should be done in one week, right?

Wrong. In reality, 40 hours of eLearning development can easily take two or even three weeks.

Sometimes, the quality expectations aren’t high for eLearning, though. It may be as simple as converting PowerPoint into eLearning with some cleanup. While that’s likely a horrible experience for users, it’s sometimes all that’s required or financially viable. In that case, there’s not much passive time, just straight-up active development.

It’s sometimes more helpful to look at an actual scenario for developing eLearning. While we go through the process for most clients, breaking out the time needed for development is relatively easy. Remember, it will not always go back to the number of hours since that’s not a realistic measurement.

Examples Of How Long It Takes to Develop eLearning

There are many different types of eLearning, including the level of interactivity and complexity of the design. If it’s a comic book style that requires custom images, it will take much longer than stock photos. It can even vary between computer software simulations. If recreating a software simulation is very complex, eLearning will take longer to develop than a straight walkthrough with no scenarios or complexity.

That’s pretty boring, though.

More complex eLearning requires the full process, not just development.

So, in each category, I’ve put together a few real-life estimates of how long it takes to develop eLearning in each category. Just don’t forget that much more happened before eLearning development to make the output higher quality. Without a purpose and a plan, eLearning is nothing.

Remember that all our time estimates are based on the ability to accept the work and begin immediately. That may not always be possible with prior commitments and the inability to start immediately.

PowerPoint Flip

We despise these projects for many different reasons. First, they avoid the instructional design process, which never creates good learning outcomes. They’re also highly unengaging, provide little value, and risk much of the content being irrelevant.

But, putting our dislike of them aside, they’re the quickest to develop if the audio is already recorded and included in the PowerPoint or well-labeled folder (what audio file goes with what slide) then a PowerPoint flip can be completed in one to two weeks.

If audio needs to be recorded, that can add a few days to the project if done in-house or (shudder) by AI or a week or so if done professionally and the turnaround isn’t within a few days.

Most work on PowerPoint flips is to clean up the content so it looks good when output as an eLearning course for an LMS and functions as required.

Pretty straightforward, right?

In a way, yes, just don’t expect any significant movement of learning, just simplicity of delivering the content.

Reading With Minimal Graphics

This one is somewhat similar to a PowerPoint flip. The content might come from a PowerPoint, but instead of being a click-through eLearning course, it might be a scroll-through. That means similar topics are grouped, and users scroll through them rather than getting only part of a topic on each slide.

Using a tool like Articulate Rise, bundling a course in a website-like package for an LMS is easy. That also means they’re typically mobile-friendly (aka mobile learning or mLearning). Each topic can be scrolled through to completion, and then the user clicks to the next topic. No more next button required!

Okay, that’s no more impressive than a next button.

Users scroll through and read the content, occasionally there’s an image that illustrates the text, etc. Maybe you even throw in one or two questions.

If the instructional design process is skipped (please don’t do this), this project should take no more than two weeks. With some activities added, add another week or so for development as long as all the logistics and content are provided.

As you can see, these two types of projects aren’t very interactive and take little time if no proper analysis or design is done.

The content won’t be amazing and may be long, verbose, boring, and ineffective. But it’s cheap and simple to create, which could be enough if the audience is small and there’s little to gain from a robust instructional design process.

Computer Software Simulation

We start getting a bit more complex here, but even this varies. We specialize in all levels of complexity for software simulations for company technology, so we know this one well. A linear software walkthrough takes much less time than a complex simulation with many variables or a scenario-based eLearning software simulation. We’ve done both, so here are our time estimates.

Creating a software simulation that allows users to test out of the course is also more complex. It essentially requires creating two courses in one.

Linear Software Simulation

Some software systems are relatively simple, and learning them is pretty linear. We recently worked on an eLearning course for social workers in a medical setting who help their patients get transplants. The course involves several processes but is relatively linear overall.

  1. Create a new transplant referral.
  2. Continue a transplant referral.
  3. Find a transplant referral based on the transplant location.

While there are a few twists- for example, the user must save the new transplant referral and then continue it later- the course is still relatively linear.

These types of eLearning courses take about three to five weeks to develop. That means the content has been worked through (we did that), the audio is recorded (done in-house), and we have a training environment ready to go.

Linear With Test Out

Sometimes, a test-out is created with these courses for certain audiences. One course we built was for a technical crowd. Support desk staff were getting a new system to log into employee computers for support calls remotely.

I’m technical, so I would be fine without taking the entire course. In fact, I might feel insulted to have to take the whole thing to access the tool. That’s why we built a function where the technician could take a test and show how it all worked without actually taking the course. If they didn’t pass, they had to take the parts of the course relevant to their weaknesses.

This process saves employees a lot of time, as they can breeze through if they are already comfortable with the content. Instead of 20 to 30 minutes, it could take them less than 10 minutes to complete the required course.

How long does that take to build?

More planning is involved with this, but for the development side, three to five weeks of a normal simulation turns into five to seven weeks.

Complex Variable Simulation

Computer programs aren’t always straightforward. As you make changes in them or work through processes, other processes may change. One such computer simulation we developed recently was complex in this way. While there are varying degrees of complex software, this was on the lower end.

It was an eLearning course for recruiters who needed to work through temp timecards daily using this system. We recreated the system in a course to allow the recruiter to choose how they proceeded through the course.

They could choose which type of alert they worked through and even build their emails with blocks. These emails allowed them to contact temporary employees who could provide information. The complex and open-ended course allowed them to choose their adventure.

The more complex level of computer simulation can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to develop.

Wrap Up

These are all estimates and can never entirely answer how long it takes to develop eLearning. We’ve done our best to give you some realistic scenarios that we’ve described to help you get a better handle on timing.

One of the most important things you can understand in these and all estimates for developing eLearning is that it’s not an isolated process. While eLearning development can be performed in isolation from the larger process, much training effectiveness will be lost. This should only be done when risks are low, and the benefits of better training are limited.

eLearning development isn’t an isolated process. Good eLearning is reliant on a more thorough instructional design process.

Developing an eLearning course can take two to eight weeks or more. But anything but a PowerPoint presentation or reading with minimal graphics requires a more robust process that will take much longer. You simply can’t skip the entire process for more complex eLearning that demands positive performance results.

Even if you have plans for simple training, whether a project manager or change manager, it’s always helpful to bring training professionals into a project at least for a consultation as early as possible. That ensures that training professionals can correctly estimate how long creating training will take for your project.

If you think training might be required or would like to find out, schedule a free consultation. We can discuss your project and help you make the best decision. We’re always ready for a quick consultation to review your requirements, and we always have instructional design consultants prepared for a more in-depth analysis that will help put your project on the right path to success.

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