“How long does it take you to develop an eLearning course?” Part 2

Good Fast or Cheap--How Long to Dev eLearning

I know: last time, I didn’t answer the question, so here we are again.

In case you missed it, check out part one of this series!

First, let’s talk Project Management.

Accomplished project managers will have to excuse me for using a rather crude version of a concept that comes from this field. I live in the trenches as a learning professional, and my customers are typically internal. I may be accused of dummying this down a bit, and maybe that’s the only way I can use it. Please forgive.

I’m getting to the answer to the question; really I am. But first, let’s look at this graphic related to service design. Here is the project management triangle, a model about the constraints of project management, where each side represents a constraint. One side of the triangle cannot be changed without affecting the others. Scope, cost and schedule all affect the whole. It’s a useful model.

Proj Mgt Triangle







Project Management Triangle at Wikimedia Commons


Here’s the down-and-dirty model that I use, and it’s used frequently, today:

Euler Diagram

The project triangle as a “pick any two” Euler diagram at Wikimedia Commons


The model demonstrates that in any give project, you can have two, but never three—but you get to pick which two you prefer. If you want all three, keep dreaming. There really are no free lunches, no shortcuts to quality. Might some use this model to justify laziness or poor work quality? Sure, but that is a different issue. This model is really about managing the opposing forces of quality, speed and cost against each other.

Said a bit differently…

Good Fast Cheap

Good + Fast = Expensive. In this approach, the answer is always yes. We will drop everything, cancel all appointments, and getterdone! Just open your wallet. Yet this option is difficult, because deploying more resources on a project doesn’t necessarily lead to greater efficiency (See Brooks’ Law of software development). Often, it just takes what it takes!

Good + Cheap = Slow. We will do great work, in between all our other projects and while waiting for the elusive SME (Subject matter Expert) to find time to sit down with us, since he has other priorities. Just don’t ask us for hard-stop deadlines.

Fast + Cheap = Bad. It’s still true that you get what you pay for. We can tweak a PowerPoint deck and throw it into a software program and post it. But, don’t expect sound course development, learning objectives, or learning transfer. But the truth is, delivering a project where the result is low quality is rarely an option today.

Some say you can have all three; others say you can really only pick one. The best chance of getting all three? It’s a small, agile team with adequate resources and flexible timelines, provided the team has enough expertise to get the job done. Now, back to our question.

Clock large

How long does it take to produce an eLearning course? Here’s the answer…

It depends…on what you want most.

There are always trade-offs; the speed of business often doesn’t allow for as much time and resources to be dedicated to a project as we might like. We might not have enough dedicated staff. Timelines can be shorter than we’d like. So, you can pick two. Speed depends on what you pick as your focus.

Here are some other items that the answer to the question depends upon:

• How available and motivated are your SMEs, needed to provide content?
• What sort of budget is available for graphics, software, and time-on-task?
• What level of support is there for this project or program, from senior leadership?
• Do you have current, quality branding, logos, and colors available?
• Is there an overall instructional design and content development strategy already in place?
• Who is empowered to make decisions about this project, in a collaborative environment?
• Who is on the development team and is this team empowered, supported, and believed in?

Here, now, is the rest of the answer to the question…

1. Realize that beginning a new eLearning development program, internally, is a much bigger task than you may think. It needs staffing, budget, and a tool kit suitable for the task. Do not begin without careful consideration and consultation with a learning professional.

2. You can use a vendor rather than developing your courses internally, but custom course design is often billed by finished course minute. Know what you want, and what your budget is. Off-the-shelf course packages are available, often priced by head count—the number of people viewing a course. Over time, this can grow to be expensive, so be strategic in your decisions.

3. To do the job well internally, don’t rush to hire an instructional designer. Build your program. Hire a learning architect (a fairly new term for one that leads the learning function), a learning professional with broad and deep expertise to build a learning function that will accomplish your goals. In the end, this approach will be cheaper than attempting to do it without adequate resources, and you will avoid the resulting false starts.

4. Start here: find a person that you can trust to build it, trust him, and let him build the functionality you need. Support him. See number 3.

5. Structure matters. Structure can’t cause growth, but it can limit growth. The learning function needs to be structured well. See number 4.

6. Decide what you can commit to, and commit fully. You have to build a clear vision for your goals, and then staff to that vision. Resist trying to find shortcuts. See number 4.

Beginning an eLearning function in your organization and producing quality, effective courses is a journey that takes time. It needs to be done well the first time, or you the risk having false starts, poor quality, and the loss of credibility and enthusiasm resulting in greater risk of eventual failure. Much depends upon the types of content that you will develop as well as what dedicated, trained staff are deployed for the initiative. Many tools exist to manage time lines, budgets, toolkit deployment, development priorities, and so forth. But I maintain that it isn’t really about that. It’s about leadership, and that requires a person: a leader-practitioner that knows how to get the job done, that you can trust to own and manage the eLearning program–for the entire journey.

The answer to the question, how long does it take to produce an eLearning course?

It depends.