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Learning & Development Blog

elearning development ratios

Why eLearning Development Ratios Can be Hazardous to Your Career

Brandon Hall, in partnership with Chapman Alliance, recently published the results of its latest survey about eLearning development ratios. Based on survey responses from nearly 4,000 learning professionals at 249 companies, the survey provides the average time required to produce one hour of training of various types:


Learning Type Development Ratio
Instructor-Led Training (ILT) 43:1
Level 1 eLearning (Basic) 79:1
Level 2 eLearning (Interactive) 184:1
Level 3 eLearning (Advanced) 490:1


These numbers can be very helpful when used to estimate staffing levels for a training department, or gauging resource requirements across multiple projects.

More often than not, however, these guidelines can be dangerously misleading. Before you commit to delivering a project based on these ratios (or buying services from someone based on them), it is useful to keep a few things in mind about eLearning Development Ratios:

1. Economies of Scale - the more material you produce for a single project, the less time each unit/module/course will take to develop (this might seem so obvious that it doesn't need mentioning, but the story below illustrates why it bears repeating)

2. Subject Matter Matters - These surveys do a good job of accounting for varying levels of course complexity. However, there they don't include much discussion about the learning subject matter itself. A course on thermodynamics will clearly take significantly longer than one on basic office procedures.

3. Who's Doing the Work - Skilled training developers will write and develop training faster than less experienced ones - frequently by a factor of two, three, or even more.

A quick story to illustrate the point above about Economies of Scale: A couple of years ago, a client asked us to estimate how long it would take to develop both classroom and eLearning materials for 44 learning modules. The content had to be gathered from SMEs in North America, Europe, and Asia. The subject matter – teaching consultants how to configure ERP software – was unusually complex.

Initially we told our client the project was too big to estimate without first performing some kind of assessment. “There’s no time for an assessment” said the client, “We need to plug a number into the budget!” After much wrangling, we came up with a number that knocked our client off his chair. Without getting too specific, it was over $500,000. (Keep in mind, we were talking about 44 hours of learner time – developed in both instructor-led and eLearning formats).

So, what to do when a “boutique vendor” (our client’s label for us) gives you a number that sounds outrageously high? Simple: Off-shore it! The client engaged a vendor with development resources in India. At this point, we figured we were toast.

Then, something unexpected happened. Our off-shore competitor, whose development rate we later learned was a thrifty-sounding $20/hour, came in with a surprising bid: $2 million.

How did the offshore vendor come up with such an astoundingly high estimate? Simple: they figured out how long it would take to develop one hour of eLearning, and one hour of instructor-led training, and multiplied it by 44.

Our model, on the other hand, took into account the content of each learning module, and a significant reduction in development time per module as we progressed through the material. In the end, our estimate was based on a plan that had us producing Module 44 in less than one-fifth the time it took to develop module 1.

Most learning professionals understand the point I’m making about economies of scale in estimating projects – but the size of the project described here really underscores how big a difference can be made by paying attention to quantity in addition to quality.

To learn more about the cost of eLearning, use the pricing calculator on our eLearning Services page. 


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