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The Mystery of Determining Instructional Design Time

Posted by Jeff Welch on 11/17/11 4:34 AM
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Since the dawn of time, mankind has searched for answers to various mysteries. Folklore has no shortage of quests to find answers to mysteries such as Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster, and the strange events that have occurred in and around the so-called Bermuda Triangle. A big mystery that seems to baffle and perplex many in corporate and organizational training is determining the exact amount of days or hours required to design training.

While facilitating Langevin courses, I often get asked questions similar to this one: “Jeff I have to design a one-day ethics course. How long should that take?”

Just as I’m unable to give a solid answer regarding the truth of a supposed dinosaur-like creature lurking the depths of a Scottish lake, it’s usually not possible to give an exact number of days or hours to instructional design time either.

Still, the mystery lingers on—and rightly so, as most instructional design projects always have a deadline and there’s usually a shortage of design time.To help demystify the design time dilemma, Langevin Learning Services has some suggested design time ratios that could prove helpful with your project planning; however, before I suggest our ratios, it’s important to note a few criteria.

When it comes to calculating design time for Instructor-led Training (ILT), it’s usually done so in increments of days. When calculating design time for e-learning, however, it’s typically done using hour increments.

Also, the numbers that you’ll see below are not reflective of the time it takes a certain number of people to work on any given task. They are simply suggested time frames regarding how long it takes to design a course, following a solid instructional systems design model from start to finish.

Design Time: Ratios and Considerations

Based on our own independent research and professional experience, we find there is a 25-60 to 1 ratio when designing ILT. In other words, for one day of instruction, it’s likely to take 25 days of design time on the low end and 60 days of design time on the high end. On average, it usually takes about 45 days to design a one-day course.

When designing e-learning, we find that it’s about a 75-500 to 1 ratio, meaning, for a one hour WBT/CBT tutorial, it’s likely to take 75 hours of design time on the low end and 500 hours of design time on the high end. On average, it usually takes about 290 hours to design a 1-hour WBT/CBT module.

Keep in mind there are various factors that affect the time required to design training; these will need to be considered, too. These factors are the likely reasons for the differing amounts of days/hours on the low end of the scale versus the high end of the scale.

Content: the degree of complexity

The complexity of your content will certainly affect your design time. Let’s say you are designing training that teaches the tasks of repairing a model train. For that course, your instructional design time is going to be much shorter than the design time required when designing training that teaches the tasks of repairing a railway locomotive.

Design experience of both the designer(s) and subject-matter expert(s)

As with most things, if someone has expertise or experience in a particular area, they can usually complete their duties faster. If one is new, there is a normal learning curve which can slow down the process. Simply put, experienced designers can usually crank out courses faster than inexperienced designers.

Design: special requirements or degree of sophistication

I briefly worked in the Corporate Education Department of a healthcare company. The majority of our training was designed for our internal clients as e-learning. When those clients approached the instructional design staff with tight and often unreasonable deadlines, in turn, they usually got what we jokingly referred to as “Electronic Page Turners.” Sadly, the degree of sophistication was nothing more than a PowerPoint deck downloaded as an e-learning course on our LMS.

However, if we were given ample design time, we were usually able to design e-learning courses that had all the bells and whistles that our clients wanted (e.g. animation, discussion boards, streaming video, virtual coaches, etc.) In order to design e-learning that is that sophisticated and robust, it takes time! And believe me it took lots of negotiation and bargaining to get the substantial instructional design time we needed.

Documentation: availability and completeness

To explain this factor, I’ll use the analogy of cooking a meal. When cooking a meal, if you have recipes on hand, a well-stocked refrigerator and cupboard, as well as the proper utensils and cookware, that meal will be on the table pretty quickly. Conversely, if you have to search the internet for recipes, travel to the grocery store for ingredients, and borrow pots and pans from your neighbor, it will take a lot longer to prepare that meal.

The same holds true for instructional design projects. If your documentation such as task analysis, design templates, and standard operating procedures are available, current and complete, the design process can usually be sped up; however, if those things have to be developed or updated, it will likely add extra days or hours to your design time.

Hopefully these design time ratios and various design factors will give you some information to consider, as well as help you effectively plan your instructional design projects. Best of luck!


Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

Topics: instructor-led training, instructional design

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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