Often when providing the cost to develop a custom e-Learning course, vendors will quote their clients based on the cost per “hour of e-Learning”.
After all, this does seem to make perfect sense logically. When it comes to creating custom e-Learning, the longer your course is, the greater the proportional cost.
So while this hour measure is a fair way to estimate cost, figuring out what “an hour of e-Learning” tangibly means and how much content that actually entails in the real world is not so straightforward.
In fact, doing some quick Internet research will find you various opinions and proposed definitions scattered about. Most of which could be boiled down to two generally accepted ideas, which we will explore in more detail.
Average Time to Complete
The first idea is the notion simple sounding notion of “how long would it take for the average user to complete the developed course in one sitting”. So if the average user would take an hour to complete a developed course then that would translate into 1 hour of e-Learning development.
So while this measure could indeed work in some scenarios, it is hardly a universal definition. For example, what if you had 2 hours of pre-recorded and mastered videos that you wanted to include in your to be developed e-Learning course?
So by this definition, the average user would have to spend a minimum of two hours on this course since they would be expected to watch the video content from start to end. So would your course now be however amount time is required to develop the rest of the e-Learning components plus these 2 hours?
Surely, you can see how this could give you a cost that would be hardly accurate or fair.
While the inclusion of pre-recorded, finalized multi-media components such as videos and audio pieces will technically increase the duration of a course, all things being equal, embedding an already created piece would not take significantly more development time than including an image or text block and should be therefore treated as such.
From this example we can see one area where this definition falls short of being ideal. Which then leads us to our second proposed definition.
Number of Screens
Another way of measuring what constitutes an “hour of e-Learning” is the idea of the number of “screens” of developed content a course would have.
So in this definition, it is proposed that a course with simple content could take a user about 1 minute per screen (60 screens per hour of developed content), while a moderately complicated course would incur around 1 1/2 minutes per screen (40 screens per hour of developed content), and a highly advanced course would produce roughly 2 minutes per screen (30 screens per hour of developed content).
We can already see how subjective and broad this definition is. How do we exactly determine which complexity level our content would fall into?
Even if we were able to do that by matching our proposed course against a set of pre-defined scenario courses, it is preposterous to assume that this standard value would cover all types and courses regardless of the courses layout, learning objectives, required tasks, technical aspects, and curriculum.
As a simple example, recognize that any interactive components including assessments, learning games, “try it” exercises, critical thinking challenges etc. will require the learner to spend some time analyzing the content and then choosing and reflecting on their responses. Often these components could require several minutes to complete if not longer.
So it would be hardly appropriate to arbitrarily consider these pieces as 1 or more screens from a set of predetermined set time values.
In fact in this situation, the first definition would lend itself better as we could estimate how long the average learner would take to complete each of the assessments and consider that value instead.
Conversely and perhaps ironically, this screen definition however seems to solve the previous shortcoming of the first definition of counting the duration of a video or audio file into the completed development time. Using the screen definition in this case, embedding an already created audio or video file would simply constitute as being one screen just like how a text block or image would be just one content screen.
Moving Towards a More Concise Definition
After studying these definitions and their relative merits and shortcomings, we propose that what would be more helpful in aiding users with determining the length of their course is a measurement method that includes a set of guidelines from both definitions.
As such, what in what follow are the guidelines we have created for our upcoming comprehensive e-Learning pricing calculator:
1. While a qualified instructional designer will help you determine the actual specifics, it is helpful to have a board idea of the learning objectives for your course and scope of roughly what you would like to cover within your e-Learning course. From this you can organize which topics and content pieces you may want to include in your course from a potentially larger set of content.
2. Next, consider how long it would take the “average” user to complete your course once fully developed if they were to sit down and do it all at once.
2. In helping you determine how long one hour of content is, consider breaking up your finalized text into a standardized or average amount. For example, if you were to create 1 1/2 minute reading chunks or “screens”, then using this guideline, one hour of content would be about 40 “screens” of developed content.
3. Recognize that any interactive components including assessments, learning games, “try it” exercises, critical thinking challenges etc. will require the learner to spend some time analyzing the content and then choosing and reflecting on their responses. So be sure to consider this time when determining how long the average user will take.
4. While the inclusion of pre-recorded, finalized multi-media components such as videos and audio pieces will technically increase the duration of a course, embedding an already created piece would not take significantly more development time than including an image. As such, consider all of these components to be “one screen” rather than their actual duration.
5. Recognize that generally, if a course is being adapted from an existing face to face training or in class course into an e-Learning course, the e-Learning course will compressed by about 30-70% in terms of course duration. As an example, a 2 hour face to face course could result in a 1 hour or so e-Learning course.
In our defined parameters, we ask you to first try and approximate the number of hours you would like your course to be. Now if you have prior experience with delivering education and a solid understanding of your course’s proposed learning objectives and scope, I imagine that you should be able to ball park where you would like to end up fairly reasonably.
Next, we ask you to then check if your assumption is reasonable by dividing your course into roughly equivalent time chunks or screens. What is different here is we do not have set levels or values for the duration of these screens. Rather, you are able to create the lengths based on the average length of your actual content.
You are also encouraged to consider pre-recorded items as one content screen and conversely, take into consideration the amount of time needed to complete all interactive assessments, and recognize that generally, an e-Learning course will be shorter than an in-class equivalent.
So while this is still not an exact formula for determining the length of any specific course, we believe it to be a much more usable and concise definition.
However, in actually determining the final price for an hour of e-Learning the other component in addition to length is the relative complexity or sophistication of the developed course.
Our upcoming calculator will address both of these factors but in the interim we encourage you to take a look at our e-Learning pricing infographic which explains many of the factors that can affect the complexity of your course.