Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Estimating Course Completion Time

clockWe often see estimated completion times in the introduction of e-learning courses. How are these estimates actually derived? I am sure many are educated guesses or estimates simply based on the number of pages and word count on each page. Bad idea, whether the course is a simple page-turner or not. Here are variables NOT accounted for in such approaches:

  • Interactivity within the course (games, simulations, questions and feedback, etc.).

  • Variations in learning styles and the time people dedicate to reading the content, and possibly reading content repeatedly.

  • Audience familiarity with e-learning and/or computers. Time may be required just to learning how to use the technology and becoming comfortable with it.

  • Complexity of content. The more complex the longer it may take to digest the content.

  • ESL (English as a second language) as a factor among the audience.

Now I know a seasoned e-learning designer can get a "pretty good" idea of how long it will take to complete a course, especially if they know their audience well. But if you want to be confident in your estimated completion time, and I think we owe it to our audience to give them a reliable estimate of the time they will be investing in a course, then you must time the course during a beta test. You will get varying times among your participants, but you will be taking the average time to estimate the completion time. FYI: If you beta test the course on an LMS, which you should, the exact times will be recorded for you. Your beta testers must be a diverse selection from the course’s target audience. Plus, any changes to the course as a result of the beta test must be accounted for in the final estimated completion time, if needed. 

If you do not have the luxury of implementing a thorough beta test of your course, then minimally get a number of diverse people to complete the entire course even if done remotely and not observed in a testing lab. Capture their completion times and in the end give your audience a realistic estimate of the time required to complete the course.

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