How Long Does It Take To Develop eLearning?

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


It’s too general and no answer to the question would be accurate. It would be ideal to ask how long it takes to develop eLearning on the topic or problem you need it to solve. That’s more specific to your situation. Another issue with that question is that it doesn’t take into account the other steps necessary to create good training.

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

But, maybe it’s a more abstract question and you’re just looking for an estimate in general to develop 15, 30, or one hour of eLearning. Even that is impossible to answer easily. Then there’s the fact that it takes more time to create something simple and succinct 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 important 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 eLearning 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.

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 doesn’t make them an expert. Another tier of people might be few in number but need to become experts.

Depending on the number of experts needed, it could be more efficient to deal with that tier through coaching 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 saved by employees. With 10 people that’s a huge challenge (impossible).

What Is eLearning Development?

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

The process of instructional design is made of many steps and development is just one step of that process. Developing eLearning is relatively quick thanks to rapid development tools, but it’s also 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 in the eLearning process, development doesn’t take that long because you’re working from a well-documented and thought-through plan. When we develop eLearning after the analysis and design steps, that process takes between two and four weeks.

That time is similar if 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. It leaves a lot of the most important steps of creating training out of the picture.

Creating a good 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. But, 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 just requires 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 it takes to develop a 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.

More so now 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 through it methodically.

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 develop 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.

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 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 building without blueprints or figuring out what the goal of the building is. The result will be a huge mess that will be trying to solve the wrong problem if it solves a problem at all.

In the rapid development world we live in today, here’s 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 in general, this is 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 as well as subject matter experts (SMEs) during each step.

As you can see, eLearning development is one small step of the process. That’s why 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 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 done as simply a step in the ADDIE process, it will take a lot less time than the entire project. Analysis and design take the lion’s share of creating eLearning. Those two steps alone can take two to four months depending on the responsiveness of SMEs and stakeholders.

When it comes to the development of eLearning, a simple project can take only two weeks. That isn’t realistic in most cases, though, at least for good 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 ever receives quality work when trying to boil down any type of work to hours rather than the output itself. How much time it takes is irrelevant other than deadlines that need to be met for projects.

So, 100 hours to develop an eLearning course isn’t realistic when looking at it from a project management perspective. 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, it may be possible to strictly have active development time.

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

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

How realistic is that, though?

There are lots of questions that need to be answered, collaboration is required, and even with the best-created plan, not everything will always be accounted for. That means there’s a lot of passive time in a project where nothing on the actual course will get done.

Passive Time

This isn’t development at all. A lot of a project will be back and forth, meeting to ask questions, and also time just looking for the right image.

If the instructional designer isn’t doing eLearning dev then there’s probably also a bit of back and forth. The eLearning dev might need to go to the instructional designer for something they might not have the answer to. 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 then 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 a bit of cleanup and sending that out. While that’s likely a horrible experience for users, it is sometimes all that’s required or financially viable. In that case, there’s not a lot of passive time, just straight-up active development.

It’s sometimes more helpful to take a look at actual scenarios for developing eLearning. While we work through the whole process for most clients we work with, breaking out the time needed for development is relatively easy for us. Just keep in mind it’s not always going to go back to the number of hours since that’s not realistic to use as a measurement.

Examples Of How Long It Takes To Develop eLearning

There are lots of 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 that will take a lot longer than stock photos. It can even vary between computer software simulations. If there’s a lot of complexity in recreating a software simulation, eLearning will take longer to develop than a straight walkthrough with no scenarios or complexity to it.

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 a lot more happened before eLearning development to make the output of higher quality. Without a purpose and a plan, eLearning is nothing.

Keep in mind that all our time estimates are based on the ability to accept the work and begin immediately. That may not always be possible due to varying workloads and the inability to start immediately.

PowerPoint Flip

These are projects that we despise for many different reasons. First, they avoid the instructional design process which never creates good learning outcomes. They’re also extremely unengaging, provide little value, and risk much of the content being extremely 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 then that can add a few days to the project if done in-house or a week or so if done professionally and the turnaround isn’t within a few days.

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

Pretty straightforward, right?

In a way, yes, just don’t expect any great 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 it being a click-through eLearning course, it might be scroll-through. That means that similar topics are grouped and users scroll through them rather than only getting part of a topic on each slide.

Using a tool like Articulate Rise, it’s easy to bundle a course in a website-like package for an LMS. That also means they’re typically mobile-friendly (aka mobile learning or mLearning). That means 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 relatively unimpressive.

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) then this type of project should take no more than two weeks. With some activities added in there, add another week or so for development as long as everything is provided.

As you can see, these two types of projects aren’t very interactive and they also don’t take a lot of time if no proper analysis or design is done on them.

The content won’t be amazing, it may be long, verbose, boring, and worst of all ineffective. But they’re cheap and simple to create. That could be enough if the audience is small and there’s very little to gain from going through 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 simple software walkthrough that is linear takes much less time than a complex simulation with a lot of variables or realistic job-specific scenarios. We’ve done both so here are our time estimates for each one.

It’s also more complex to create a software simulation that allows users to test out of taking the course. That essentially requires two courses in one.

Linear Software Simulation

Some software systems are relatively simple and learning them is fairly linear. We recently worked on an eLearning course that helps social workers in a medical setting help their patients get a transplant. There are several processes involved in the course but they are all relatively linear.

  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, such as in the course the user must save the new transplant referral and then continue it at a later time. It’s still relatively linear, though.

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

In some cases, 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 remotely log into employee computers when they needed support.

I’m a technical person so I feel like I’d be just fine making my way through without taking the full course. In fact, I might feel a bit insulted to have to take the whole thing to get access to 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.

That saves employees tons of time because now they can breeze through if they’re already comfortable with the content. Now it took them less than 10 minutes to take the required course instead of 20 to 30 minutes in many cases.

How long does that take to build?

There’s more planning involved with this, but for the development side of it, three to five weeks of a normal simulation turns into five to seven weeks.

Complex Variable Simulation

Computer programs aren’t always simple. 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 were able to recreate the system in a course to allow the recruiter to choose how they proceeded through the course.

They got to choose which type of alert they worked through and even got to build their emails with blocks. These emails let them get in touch with temporary employees who they needed information from. It was a complex and open-ended course that 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 the question of 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 for you to understand in these estimates 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, a lot of 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 vary in time required anywhere from two weeks to eight weeks or more. But, anything but a PowerPoint flip 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 you’re 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 properly estimate how long creating training will take for your project.

If you’re thinking that training might be required or would like to figure that out with experts, schedule a free consultation and 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 ready for a more in-depth analysis that will help put your project on the right path to success.

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