How long does it take to develop one hour of training?

Examines the results of a US survey on the time taken to create an hour of live e-learning.

People often ask how long it takes to develop one hour of self-study e-learning. The answers vary wildly, from under 50 hours to more than 300, depending on the amount of research that is needed, the complexity of the interactions, the richness of the media, the capabilities of the authoring tool, and the experience of the designer. These figures nearly always surprise people, because they wouldn’t normally spend anywhere near this time developing for the classroom. However, because they have to stand alone, self-study materials are notoriously hard to develop and they can only therefore make economic sense when there’s a reasonably large audience of users. The estimates are also open to question on the basis that self-pacing is, by definition, variable – what’s one hour for one learner, is 20 minutes for a second, and 2 hours for a third.
However, with live online learning, the concept of ‘one hour of e-learning’ really does make sense. An hour is an hour is an hour. That’s why I was interested to read the analysis by Karl Kapp (see Time to Develop One Hour of Training):
“In 2003, the low estimate for developing one hour of instructor-led, web-based training delivery (using software such as Centra, Adobe Connect, or WebEx) was 30 hours and the high estimate was 80 hours. In 2009, the low estimate is 49 and the high estimate 89. Both higher. Is it taking us longer to develop e-learning than it did six years ago?”
These figures are low compared with self-paced e-learning but higher than I would have expected. I can’t quite see why it takes 1-2 working weeks to assemble a really good hour of training. Am I missing something here? What’s your experience?

Podcast: Clive Shepherd on synchronous online communications for learning

Links to a new podcast by Clive Shepherd.

Xyleme Inc has just released this podcast in which I attempt to answer the following questions:

  • Why is real-time online communication so hot right now?
  • What does an organisation gain or lose when they switch from face-to-face to online communication?
  • Why communicate live when you have the option of self-pacing?
  • Is it possible for synchronous communication stand alone as an intervention?
  • How are we doing so far in our use of synchronous communications?
  • What does it take to facilitate a successful online event?

Thanks to Dawn Poulos for hosting the podcast so ably.

Cisco shows the way with TelePresence

Extract from The Economist showing Cisco’s use of its own Telepresence technology.

This week’s Economist contains an interesting feature on Cisco. In Reshaping Cisco: The world according to Chambers, the article reports on Cisco’s own prolific use of it’s top-end video conferencing tool TelePresence:
“The firm—to borrow a choice Silicon Valley expression—eats a lot of its own dog food: digital tools that allow cheap and efficient communication. These include wikis, social networking and web-based collaboration services, of course. But the most important tool is TelePresence, so that nuances such as body language and tone of voice, essential ingredients of face-to-face meetings, are no longer lost. The number of TelePresence meetings at Cisco averages 5,500 a week. This has also helped the firm to cut its annual travel budget by $290m, or more than half.”

Edufire – live video learning

Reviews the live online video site Edufire.

Edufire provides a very different take on synchronous online learning. This new site brings together teachers and students for webcam-based online classes. These could be on any subject imaginable, but right now the majority are for language learning.
As a teacher, you set your own price and EduFire takes 15% of the sales. Sounds like a good deal to me and the exact reverse of the usual royalties you’d expect from a book publisher.
In true Web 2.0 style, the teachers are rated, so demand for the good ones (and presumably the price) will increase, while the poor teachers will look in vain for somewhere to hide.

Pecha-kucha online

Proposes the Pecha-kucha format for webinar presentations.

In reading Garr Reynold’s excellent Presentation Zen, I came across a great idea for webinars called Pecha-kucha. Apparently, Pecha-kucha (Japanese for chatter) was started in 2003 by Tokyo expatriate architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein as an alternative presentation format. Each speaker has 20 slides, each of which must be shown for 20 seconds, with which to tell their story or make their point. The slides advance automatically and so after 6 minutes and 40 seconds you’re done.
According to Reynolds, Pecha-kucha nights are now being held in over 80 cities around the world. I reckon a Pecha-kucha hour would work just great as the basis for a webinar.
Now all I’ve got to work out is how to pronounce it.

Web meetings, webinars and virtual classrooms compared

A table comparing the three principle uses of real-time online communication.

Unless I’ve missed something important, there seem to be three distinct uses for real-time online commmunications. The following table represents a first attempt at clarifying the discriminating characteristics of these three:

  Web meetings Webinars Virtual classrooms
Primary purpose To solve problems and make decisions To share ideas and experiences To facilitate learning
Secondary purposes To provide updates To promote the speaker or organiser None
Face-to-face equivalent A short business meeting A session at a seminar or conference A classroom session
Who’s in charge? The chair of the meeting The host and/or presenter The teacher / trainer
Typical activities Presentation of situation updates and proposals; discussion of proposals; decision-making; action planning Presentation of ideas and experiences; demonstrations; polling of audience opinion; Q&A; discussion; participant-to-participant text chat (back channel) Ice  breakers; presentation of formal content; software demos (for IT training); group exercises and activities; discussion; formative and summative assessment
Visual focus Participant webcams; shared documents; slides Slides; presenter webcam; text chat; polls; website tours Slides; electronic whiteboard; questions/polls; shared applications; website tours; text chat
Auditory focus Participants’ vocal contributions Host / presenters’ voices; possibly also participants’ vocal contributions Teacher/trainer’s voice and participants’ vocal contributions
Most frequently used interactive devices Voice; text chat Voice; text chat; polls Voice; text chat; electronic whiteboard; questions/polls; application sharing; break-out rooms
Tangible outputs Agreed actions / minutes Recordings; participant feedback Recordings; participant feedback; assessment scores

If you believe there are other, distinct forms, or feel you could refine or add to this table, I’d love to hear from you.

A first time user's hints and tips

Extract from a Towards Maturity case study of Devon Countil Council.

I was interested in the experiences of web conferencing beginners Devon County Council as reported on the Towards Maturity site – see Devon County Council improves efficiency with web conferencing. In particular I thought I’d share their hints and tips:

  • If you are conducting a programme for over 16, you need to have 2 of you supporting learners, one leading the event and the other supporting individuals via the chat room.
  • We found that a half day workshop could be compressed into a 1 hour webinar.
  • If you are asking staff to interact with the content (through note taking, mind maps etc) then an hour on the end of a telephone is quite a lot – it’s better to make a small investment in headphones that can be loaned to staff on the programme which leaves their hands free.
  • Make sure you have a quiet venue to conduct the session from – an open plan office isn’t the best.
  • PC’s in the council are timed to shut down if inactive for a certain period – we had to be proactive in introducing time for ‘mouse wiggle’ into the programme – a bit of fun that kept both staff and their machines engaged!
  • Without the face-to-face contact, we found that we had to concentrate on varying style and content within the webinar to engage staff.

How people buy webinars


Lee Salz runs an interesting blog called Business Expert Webinars, which focuses on the business of selling webinars. Yes, you read that correctly, places at webinars can be sold – they don’t have to be freebies. In The Unique Buying Process in For-Fee Webinars, Lee describes how differently the buying process works when you’re offering free and paid-for events:

  • When the webinar’s for free, the majority of attendees register a month in advance, probably on the basis of the first promotion. However, as Lee explains, “only 25 – 35% will show up to the free webinar since they did not make a commitment to attend.”
  • With a paid-for event, the process is the exact opposite. The prospect makes a note of when the webinar is to be held, then waits right until the last moment to see whether they will be free to attend. Once they’ve made the payment, they’ll definitely turn up.

There’s no reason why someone shouldn’t pay for a place at a webinar, as long as the topic is sufficiently interesting and there is no hidden agenda, usually promotional. After all, they pay big bucks to see the same speakers at face-to-face events.

The multitask assumption

Makes the case that multitasking is natural and only to be expected for webinar participants.

The multitask assumption. Sounds like a good name for a spy film, probably starring someone like Michael Caine, and with a plot so intricate that you never really know which side each character is on – who’s a friend and who’s an enemy.
So what is the multitask assumption? It’s the assumption you can safely make with any webinar that a good proportion of the audience is multitasking – you know, checking emails, answering the phone, listening to music, finishing off a report, and so on. They intend to concentrate on your webinar – after all, that’s why they signed up – but they just can’t help themselves, the distractions are so persistent and so inviting.
This sounds like a situation where it’s quite clear who’s a friend and who’s an enemy: the friends are those who are listening to you with rapt attention; the enemies all those others who can’t even pay you the respect of tuning in with all faculties engaged for a single hour of their lives.
But are these people your enemies? Do you behave any differently when you’re attending someone else’s webinar? I don’t think so. For many, attending a webinar is like listening to the radio or watching TV – you tune in and out depending on the the attractiveness of what else is on offer. You would do exactly the same if you were at a conventional meeting or conference too, but you can’t because it looks bad; it’s disrespectful and insensitive.
As far as participants are concerned, multitasking is a benefit of the webinar format, not a drawback. For the facilitator, it’s a challenge. You could fight it by insisting on continual interactivity, demanding that participants use webcams so you can see what they’re up to (I know, not really practical for more than a small group), or using one of these new platforms that let you know when each participants’ web conferencing window is active or submerged behind a host of others.
Here’s what Ken Molay had to say in Must your webinar be interactive? on The Webinar Blog: ‘I prefer to work on presentation style and techniques that subtly (or not so subtly) refocus attention on your content and your presentation, over and over, in a continuous barrage of attention recapture cues. I assume that people are multitasking and drifting. So I use vocal pitch and speed changes to recapture their auditory attention and interest. I use verbal directions that tell them to refocus on the screen: “So, as you see at the top of the first column…” or “Look at the picture I used to illustrate this concept…” And of course I use direct interactions through chat dialogs, polls, whiteboards, or other technology features. But even when you have strong content and do everything right, you can simply get an audience that prefers a passive experience.’
A webinar is not a virtual classroom session (see So what exactly is a webinar?). With a webinar, there isn’t the expectation that there would be in a classroom that everybody should be fully engaged and participate in every activity. So by all means try your hardest to maintain their attention – after all, you must believe that what you have to say is important – but don’t get upset if you don’t succeed. Assume multitasking and don’t take it personally.