We’re often approached by a client who wants a a training course but hasn’t been involved in developing one before. This is especially true about eLearning courses because online learning course development is new for a lot of organizations. So how long does it take and why?

So where do we start? How do we come up with the timeframes?

After we learn as much as we can about the performance objective or why the client needs training, we put together a proposal. We then meet to discuss the proposal, answer questions, and then discuss the timeline and costs. This is where first-time clients are often shocked about the development time we’ve included in the quote. I’m often asked “can’t you just throw a PowerPoint deck together?” I’ll leave the full answer to that question for another post. For now, check out Tom Kuhlmann’s series on the subject (Articulate Community Manager and all-around-eLearning-guru). Let’s walk through a few things that might help you understand what goes into an eLearning course. Let’s talk in terms of the timeline for course development instead of budget since time and money aren’t quite the same here.

Actual time versus productive time – what’s the difference?

These are my terms for it. I’m sure proper project management guidelines have proper names for these but here’s how I explain it.

Actual time is the time in calendar days from when we start a project (also known as project kick-off) to when it launches for end users. Our experience has shown that the vast majority of eLearning projects take between two and six months of calendar time to come together. This doesn’t mean we charge for six months of development work though. This is where productive time comes in.

Productive time is the actual time myself and my team spend actively working on a client’s course. I won’t go into all of the details (that can be yet another post) so for now, examples of this time are designing the course, writing the outline, developing the course’s structure, templates, project meetings, and all the other tasks we do related to a project.

In order for a project to move forward, all of the tasks need to move forward. An on time, on budget project moves through the development stages and tasks like clockwork according to a set schedule.

So what’s the biggest impact to the timeline?

This is a hard one to quantify. The biggest tasks and time periods within any online course development project are the time to build the course itself and review cycles. We generally do two review cycles for each deliverable. So, if your project requires a course outline (most do) then there are two periods where that outline goes back to you (and your team) to be reviewed. Another review cycle happens when the first draft of the working course is ready. The more time the feedback takes to collect, the longer the calendar time to completion.

All of our project timelines allow ample time for clients to review drafts, submit edits, and generally reply to any questions. We generally allow at least one week in the project schedule for each phase of review but have extended these review cycles much longer depending on the clients’ needs. We respect that building and reviewing training courses isn’t a client’s full-time job. That’s why you hire us! We’re not experts in the topic areas so we rely on our clients to provide details and answer questions as needed to ensure the course meets their needs. All of this takes time.

Of course there is also the actual development time. If a project is expected to take 100 hours to complete, then you can assume that at least 75% of the time is going to be spent on the tasks directly related to building the final product – building it in Articulate Storyline, for example. 75 hours of work is at least 10-15 days of working time. We don’t charge clients for our breaks, lunches, and other administrative work that isn’t related directly to their project. For this reason, we don’t have a standard 8 hour work day. The other 25% is spent on analysis, project meetings, testing and publishing, and many more tasks.

So, what if we need our online course development done faster? Can you do it?

Well, this is a very tough question to answer in a blog post. As you’ve seen if you’ve made it this far, online course development is complex and has a lot of moving pieces. The best way to know what we can do is to reach out to us and ask! We’d love to discuss your upcoming project with you. As always though, try to provide as much lead time as possible. Ready to start? Contact us today to get some more information.