4 Online Tools for Estimating Learning Development Time and Price

a woman entering numbers into a calculator
In this post, I share four online tools to help you estimate development time and prices for your learning projects.

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Introduction

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.

eLearning Development Calculator screenshot of step 1, course length

eLearning Development Calculator

Step 1 of 4: Course Length

What information would you like to use to estimate course length?

  • I know it and will enter it below
  • An instructor-led training (ILT)
  • A voice over script
  • A slide deck (selected)
  • A "messy source" like a stack of paper, some notes from training, etc.

Number of slides in deck you're converting to eLearning: 100

Your eLearning Course Length: 45.45 (rounded)

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.

eLearning Development Calculator screenshot for step 2: Development Time

eLearning Development Calculator

Step 2 of 4: Development Time

Adjust Development Time by Interactivity

Development time is calculated by multiplying course length by a development ratio (we'll help make that simple).

How much interactivity will be included in this program?

  • Level 1: Text and graphics only, "click and read"
  • Level 2: Text, graphics, with simple branching, quizzing, and user participation (selected)
  • Level 3: Highly interactive, with branching scenarios and non-linear navigation
  • I know my interactivity ratio and would like to enter it manually

Need more details on interactivity? Read the article below.

Level 2 course development falls within a range. What would you like to use?

  • Low End: eLearning output, Rapid development through templated interactions, simple animation, efficient or low-end media production
  • Average: eLearning output, Most typical (average) Level 2 projects (selected)
  • High End: eLearning output, advanced and custom interactions, embedded simulation activities and lots of media

Ratios from Chapman Alliance. More info in article below.

Your Development Ratio: 197

Your Development Time: 149.24 hours (rounded)

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.

eLearning Development Calculator screenshot for step 3: Development Cost

eLearning Development Calculator

Step 3 of 4: Development Cost

Who will be performing the work?

  • Contractor (selected)
  • Employee

What is the contractor's hourly rate? 65

Hourly cost of eLearning development: $65 per hour

Total Cost of Your Project: $9,700.76 (rounded)

Step 4: Summary

When you reach the last step, the calculator provides a summary.

eLearning Development Calculator screenshot for step 4: summary

eLearning Development Calculator

Step 4 of 4: Summary

Summary of Your eLearning Project

Your eLearning Course Length: 45.45 minutes 

Your Development Ratio: 197

Your Development Time: 149.24 hours

Hourly Cost of eLearning Development: $65 per hour

Total Cost of Your Project: $9,700.76 

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

Screenshot of the eLearning Production Time Calculator's Begin screen. A logical production by www.iconlogic.com.

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.

Screenshot with the question, "Which tool are you planning to use?" and the following choices: Captivate, Lectora, Presenter (PowerPoint plug-in), Storyline, Camtasia, or another tool.

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.

Screenshot displaying the following questions, with "Yes" selected for each one: For accessibility, will you need closed captioning? Accessibility text? Keyboard accessibility?

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.

Screenshot displaying an estimate of 178 hours for a development effort.

And BAM! The estimate for your development effort is 178 hours.

Please Note: This estimator is to be used only as a guideline. The actual level of effort could vary depending on numbers factors such as familiarity with your development tool and the quality of coordination among collaborators.

Button labeled "How'd. you get that?"

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.

Screenshot of a summary screen showing choices selected. See graphic description.

Storyboard/script/step-list ready? No

Course look and feel ready? No

Are the PPT slides ready? No

Responsive course? No

Advanced functionality? Yes

Complex animations? No

Voiceover? Yes

Sync audio? Yes

Enable accessibility? Yes

Include quiz? Yes

Upload to LMS? Yes

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.

Project Budget Calculator screenshot with Instructor-Led Training selected. See graphic description for full text.

Project Budget Calculator

Please select one of the services to continue.

Technical Communications

  • Developer Guide
  • Editing
  • Online Help
  • Operator's Manual
  • Policy and Procedure Manual
  • Proofreading
  • Proposal
  • Security and Disaster Recovery Manual
  • User Guide

Marketing

  • Articles
  • Press Releases
  • Marketing Flyer
  • Web Content
  • White Paper
  • Infographics
  • Brochure Copy
  • Newsletters

Training

  • Instructor-Led Training (selected)
  • eLearning
  • PowerPoint to eLearning

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.

Project Budget Calculator screenshot showing estimated project time of 720 to 960 hours and cost of $50,400 to $67,200 for 12 hours of moderate ILT. See graphic description for full text.

Project Budget Calculator

Instructor-Led Training

Complexity Considerations: Assumes availability of support materials, research required, SME availability, subject complexity, graphics along with required handouts, presentation material, assessment. 

  • Simple
  • Moderate (selected)
  • Complex

Estimated hours of ILT: 12

Project Time: 720 to 960 hours

Contractor Rate: $70 

Total Cost: $50,400 to $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.

Screenshot showing the hourly rate data for instructional designer with zero to five years of experience as $97 on average.

Hourly rate data for instructional designer

52 results with experience: 0–5 years

Histogram showing ceiling price (hourly rate) from $46 to $201, with the average rate being $97.

Note: 68% of the prices fall between the +1 and -1 Standard Deviation (between $70 and $124).

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.

Screenshot of a price list by labor category. See the graphic description for full text.

Table with 8 columns listing the following information:

  • Labor Category
  • Price
  • Education
  • Keywords
  • Certifications
  • Experience
  • Vendor/Contract
  • Contract Vehicle

Labor categories included are Instructional Designer (2), Instructional System Designer (1), Instructional Designer/Developer (1), and Senior Instructional Designer (2).

Prices listed are:

  • $68.51
  • $81.04
  • $86.77
  • $94.81
  • $102.49
  • $121.44

Under Education, Bachelors is listed for each item. Keywords and Certifications are N/A. Experience ranges from 2 years to 5 years.

Vendors listed are:

  • Crittenton Consulting Group, Inc.
  • Endyna, Inc.
  • Erprosource360, LLC
  • Prometheus Federal Services, LLC
  • Professional Solutions1, LLC

Four of the prices are listed under consolidated contract vehicles. The remaining two use PSS Legacy and MOBIS.

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.

Summary

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!

Resources

Estimating Development Time

Determining Salaries and Rates

More To Explore

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