A Word on ELearning Course Duration

featured-stopwatchIf you have been creating elearning for any length of time, you know that one important aspect to accurately track for your courses is the total course duration. The thing is, this can sometimes be an art more than a science.

The more interactivity you build into your elearning, the less certainty you have over the length of each lesson, and ultimately how long it would take someone to finish the course.

If your courses are light in content, then a best guess is generally okay for duration – especially if it is one hour or less. As a rule of thumb, your time estimate should consider how long it would take someone that has absolutely zero previous exposure to the content.

What about complex course content?

Following the same estimation strategy, assume that the audience has no prior experience with the content being delivered. However, in addition, it is helpful to make time estimates on a lesson-by-lesson basis as you build out your wire-frame for the course.

This doesn’t mean that you have to publish the time estimate by lesson in the finished product, but it does help you gain an understanding of which sections will be the “pain points”. You can then focus on ensuring that this content is fully flushed-out and clearly explained.

In addition to the duration of each lessons, I generally recommend that elearning courses never exceed two hours total – and that is only for the most complex of subjects. Heck, sitting in a live classroom for two hours can be grueling.

If your course material is more than two hours, then break it up logically into Part 1 and Part 2. Psychologically, having two courses that are each an hour and a half is his is more appealing than one three hour course. Besides, towards the end of a three hour course, the learner will be so tired of the training they’ll be trying to finish it rather than learn the content.

Of course, these recommendations are a matter of opinion, but they are based on my own personal experience in building out large-scale elearning programs. While no instructional designer should over analyze course duration, the estimates should be made in good faith so that the curriculum can be tailored for the audience.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

2 Comments
  1. Belal

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for the insightful article.

    Do you think the 2-hour upper limit for course duration would still apply even when:
    * a course is sequenced lesson by lesson
    * and progression can be tracked
    * and if the user can stop and resume at any time?

    Best regards,
    Belal

    • Hi Belal-
      Thank you for the comment. I think the best way to approach this is to put yourself into the learner’s situation. Personally, sitting 2hrs at a computer looking at an elearning course is rather taxing – towards the end I would be clicking “next” just so I could finish.

      If the user can stop and resume, it might help. But the trouble here is that you lose control as to when they can resume. If they resume the next day (or better yet, the same day), then not much is lost. If they come back 2 or 3 days later, then I believe this to be more detrimental to the learning.

      When building out elearning programs, we wanted to deliver the content in one go wherever possible. Our informal rule was 1.5hrs max (although sometimes we would put “2hrs” as a buffer for those who may be entirely new).

      As the article points out, it is a rather subjective topic with many possibilities, and it can also be easy to over-think all of it – but interesting to think about nonetheless!

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