Creating a price estimate for learning development can be an intimidating task, and it’s one that’s critical to get right. Luckily, lots of resources exist to help.
In this post, I share four online tools to help you estimate development time and prices for your learning projects. Be sure to check out the list of additional resources at the end for even more information.
eLearning Development Calculator from eLearningArt.com
This eLearning Development Calculator takes you through a step-by-step process for estimating project costs.
Step 1: Course Length
First, the tool helps help you estimate the course length (if you don’t already know it). For example, let’s say your client has given you a slide deck with 100 slides. Enter that information into the calculator, and it estimates an eLearning course length of about 45 minutes.
Step 2: Development Time
The calculator estimates the development time based on interactivity level and development effort. For an average level 2 course, it estimates about 149 hours for development time.
Step 3: Development Cost
Next, the tool multiplies the development time by an hourly rate. For example, if you charge $65 an hour, the tool estimates a cost of $9,700 for the 45-minute average level 2 eLearning course. The tool also lets you use a salary instead of a contractor’s hourly rate. It does not, however, allow you to split tasks among a team of people with different salaries or rates.
Step 4: Summary
When you reach the last step, the calculator provides a summary.
eLearning Art’s calculator provides explanations of the metrics and processes used to arrive at the estimates. It also provides some metrics for instructor-led training so you can develop your own time estimates for those types of projects.
eLearning Production Time Calculator from IconLogic
This eLearning Production Time Calculator is another step-by-step tool. Instead of asking you to choose the interactivity level or complexity, it asks several questions to determine those variables.
For comparison purposes, I’ll enter a course length of 45 minutes. Then I’ll tell it I’m developing a scenario-based course in Storyline. I don’t have a storyboard or look and feel yet, and the layout will be scaled to fit the screen.
Let’s assume the course will use some custom programming (but no complex animations), professional voiceover with audio synced to screen content, and accessibility features.
The course will include a quiz with custom questions and will be uploaded to an LMS. This is what, in my mind, would be an average level 2 course.
Using all this information, the tool gives me a development effort estimate of 178 hours.
Selecting the “How’d you get that?” button displays a summary of my choices. It does not provide the metrics used to develop the estimate.
Project Budget Calculator from Writing Assistance, Inc.
This Project Budget Calculator is a versatile tool for estimating project costs. Designed for estimating writing project costs, it allows you to select from 20 different content types, including training products.
For this example, I’ll choose a 12-hour instructor-led course with moderate complexity. The tool estimates a development time between 720 and 960 hours. With an hourly rate of $70 per hour, the project would cost between $50,400 and $67,200.
Contract-Awarded Labor Category (CALC) Tool
What if you’re not sure what to charge per hour? The CALC tool from the Federal Acquisition Service is a useful market research tool, especially if you work with the federal government.
This tool lists fully burdened labor rates from awarded contracts. “Fully burdened” means the rate includes overhead expenses and administrative costs. These rates are tied to certain labor categories the federal government uses. Each labor category has education and experience requirements associated with it.
Some useful titles to search are:
- Instructional Designer
- Senior Instructional Designer
- Instructional Technologist
- Instructional Systems Designer
Avoid using vague titles like “Consultant” that can apply to vastly different jobs such as engineers, architects, and health care professionals.
Even if you have 30 years of experience and a master’s degree, adding those into the filters will not give you useful results. The rates are based on job requirements, not individual qualifications.
Example: Instructional Designer (5 yrs exp.)
The tool shows an average rate of $97 for an instructional designer with up to five years of experience. Unfortunately for your pocketbook, that doesn’t mean a freelancer with these credentials should charge $97 an hour for consulting. (Sorry.) I’ll discuss my recommendation for converting this rate in a moment.
In addition to the chart, the tool provides a list so I can see the exact rates charged by the required education and experience level, and there are links to the pricing schedules used.
Using the CALC Tool to Determine Freelancer Rates
So, how do you use this information to determine a reasonable freelance rate? I recommend charging about half the average CALC rate, adjusting up or down based on your specific skill sets, experience, and expertise.
Based on the above example, if you’re an instructional design freelancer with about 5 years of experience, you could reasonably charge $49 an hour—give or take about $10 depending on your qualifications and type of client.
Some freelancers charge different rates based on the task they’re performing, so that is something else to consider.
There are some additional resources below you can use to help identify your rate.
Here’s a comparison of the development time estimates from each calculator for a 45-minute eLearning course with level 2 interactivity and average complexity:
- eLearning Art: 149 hours
- IconLogic: 178 hours
- Writing Assistance: 90 to 165 hours
Using the average rates reported to Federal Acquisition Services, a freelance instructional designer with five years of experience could expect to charge between $37 and $57 per hour.
What do you think? Do these estimates ring true to you? Let me know in the comments!
Estimating Development Time
- Experiencing eLearning by Christy Tucker: Time Estimates for eLearning Development
- The eLearning Coach: Five Resources for Estimating Development Time
- Raccoon Gang: How much does it cost to develop an online course?
- ATD: How Long Does It Take to Develop Training? New Question, New Answers (2021)
- Chapman Alliance: How Long Does it Take to Create Learning? (2010)
Determining Salaries and Rates
- Devlin Peck: Instructional Designer Salary Report 2020
- Experiencing eLearning by Christy Tucker: Instructional Design Hourly Rates and Salary
- Freelance Rate Chart from Writing Assistance, Inc.
- Ray Pastore: How Much Money Do Instructional Designers Make?
- Ray Pastore: Instructional Design Hourly Rates (2014)