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How long does it take to develop a course?

Course Development Times

It is always difficult to predict how long any project will take - the news is full of projects that have overrun and overspent. You could estimate the time by using Murphy's Law of Time Management:

  • Estimate how long you think the project will take.
  • Double the time.
  • Move the time up into the next time unit.

So, if you have agreed to take on one of those notorious five-minute jobs, double the time to ten minutes and then move the time up to the next time unit. This means that the job is more likely to take ten hours!

Another approach is to apply your and others' experience of how long it took to do similar work in the past. The following guidelines are based on my own experience of developing courses.

The time required to develop a new course depends on:

  • the complexity of the course;
  • how much material has to be produced;
  • the standard of materials;
  • what is already available.

The following are some guidelines for course development times (a ratio of 10:1 means ten hours development for every one hour of course time):

Computer-based 100:1
Complex/technical 40:1
Extensive revision 17:1
Moderate revision 11:1
Using existing modules 6:1

Of course, all this depends on the length of the course. Estimating this is another difficult feat of time estimation, but this is often taken out of your hands because you are told how long you've got to do the training - and with budget constraints and cut-backs, it's nearly always much less time that you know you need to do the training how you would like to do it.

Courses or modules that intend to teach a specific skill, or set of skills, range from half a day to two days (longer courses usually comprise a series of modules). Although the length of a course depends on the skill and knowledge complexity, the following guidelines will give you some idea of what can be done in a fixed time.

Course/module length What can be done
day You can teach some basic concepts, models and terminology. There will be little or no time for practice. Unless the students practise the skills very soon after the course, there is little chance that the learning will be transferred. However, half a day of theory in the classroom combined with coached practice in the workplace is a powerful combination.
1 day A full day's course allows time for some practice but not enough time for a significant amount of learning to take place. As there is only enough time for one practice session, the students end the course on a low note. The practice will give them feedback on what they cannot do. They will not have the confidence they can perform the skills correctly.
1 days An extra half day sees significant skill improvement so the chances of effective learning transfer are greatly enhanced. The intervening evening also helps because the students can reflect on what happened during the day. Learning still goes on even after the practice has stopped.
2 days Two days of training also allow the students to start a post course project or to rehearse an application.

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