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What are Development Ratios and How Do They Affect eLearning Courses?


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As Learning and Development professionals, you’re tasked with the strategic planning and execution of eLearning courses. One crucial aspect that often poses a challenge is estimating the time commitment involved. This is where the concept of ‘development ratio’ becomes important. This blog post aims to demystify this term, which essentially quantifies the time required to bring an eLearning course to life. It’s a strategic tool that aids L&D professionals in effective planning and resource management.


What is a Development Ratio?


A development ratio is a measure that reflects the amount of time required to develop an eLearning course. It is expressed as the number of minutes (or hours) of development time required per minute (or hour) of the eLearning course.


The development ratio is influenced by the complexity and interactivity of the eLearning course. For instance, a basic eLearning course with minimal interactivity will have a lower development ratio compared to an advanced eLearning course with complex interactivity, branching, gamification, and animation.



Why is it important?


The development ratio is essential for in-house L&D teams, as it gives a realistic estimate of the time and resources needed to create eLearning courses. It enables L&D professionals to set realistic deadlines, allocate the right amount of staff, and manage expectations of learners and stakeholders. By understanding the development ratio, teams can ensure a smooth course creation process, balancing learning goals with practical limitations, which is crucial for the effectiveness and credibility of L&D initiatives.


When L&D teams think about outsourcing their eLearning content development, to eLearning Content Developers, the development ratio becomes really important. It helps them decide whether outsourcing is the right choice. Knowing this ratio is key to picking the best external company for the job. It ensures that the chosen eLearning content developer can deliver high-quality work within the required timeframe. This is crucial for making sure the outsourced eLearning content meet the organization's learning goals and maintain high standards.



Determining the Development Ratio of an eLearning course


The concept of the development ratio and Level Factors was introduced by Bryan Chapman from the Chapman Alliance, and it has been widely adopted in the eLearning industry for project estimation and management. 


Development ratio can be determined by considering three key factors: Development Time, Course Length, and the Level Factor. 


  1. Development Time: This is the total time required to develop the eLearning course from start to finish. It includes every aspect of project development, from the initial discussions to the final testing on the Learning Management System (LMS).

  2. Course Length: This refers to the duration of the eLearning course. The course length can be determined in several ways, such as the number of slides present, the word count of the voiceover, or the actual instructional time required as determined by the Subject Matter Expert.

  3. Interactivity Level: This refers to the level of interaction incorporated into the eLearning course. The level of interactivity directly influences the development time the more interactive the program, the more time it will require to build. The Level Factor is typically categorised into three levels:


Level 1 - Basic: This level includes simple eLearning programs, similar to automated PowerPoint presentations, often referred to as 'click and read.'


Level 2 - Interactive: This level combines ‘click and read’ content with learner interactions such as drag and drop, tabbed interactions, timelines, etc. This level is considered typical of most eLearning produced today.


Level 3 - Advanced: These programs incorporate significant amounts of branching, gamification, animations, and/or customizations for a unique end-product.



Once these three factors have been determined, we can then proceed to calculate the development ratio. This is done by multiplying the course length by the Level Factor. The Level Factor is like a score that tells us how complex an eLearning course is. The higher the score, the more interactive and complex the course is. 


This score helps us estimate how much time and effort we’ll need to create the course. So, when we talk about the development ratio, we’re basically figuring out how much time it will take to create a certain length of eLearning content based on its complexity (Level Factor).


Understanding the Level Factors


Level Factors are ratios that reflect the number of minutes (or hours) required to develop 1 minute (or hour) of eLearning at a given interactivity level. For example, if a 1 hour course has a Level Factor of 20, it means it’ll need about 20 hours to create the course. Understanding why these factors are important is crucial. Here's why:


  1. Estimation: Level factors provide a precise framework for estimating project time, considering course length and interactivity level.

  2. Resource Allocation: Understanding Level Factors helps allocate the right resources and budget.

  3. Project Planning: Level factors help in creating realistic timelines and managing expectations.

  4. Learning Quality: Proper time allocation based on Level Factors enhances the quality of the eLearning program.


Let’s delve deeper into the nuances of Level Factors for each interactivity level, as outlined in the Chapman Alliance’s study on development ratios.


Complexity

Level 1 - Basic eLearning

Level 2 - Interactive eLearning

Level 3 - Advanced eLearning

Low

Rapid development, simple content, possible repurposing from existing source material.

Rapid development through templated interactions, simple animation, efficient or low-end media production.

Templated interactions, games, simulations, efficient simulation development practices categorised as rapid development.

Development Ratio

49:1

127:1

217:1

Average

Interactive elements like clickable items for navigation, and simple assessment methods like multiple-choice questions.

Interactive scenarios, software simulations, and more engaging assessment methods.

Includes interactive elements like games, extensive media.

Development Ratio

79:1

184:1

490:1

High

Complex projects, often very custom, extended time spent on formatting during production.

Advanced and custom interactions, embedded simulation activities and lots of media.

Highly complex projects featuring advanced learning simulations, games, and extensive media production.

Development Ratio

125:1

267:1

716:1


The findings from the Chapman Alliance’s study are presented in the form of ratios, specifically illustrating the number of hours required for development to produce 1 completed hour of learning output. This data is invaluable in making informed decisions concerning resource allocation for eLearning endeavours, encompassing every aspect of project development, from the initial discussions to the final testing on the Learning Management System (LMS). Therefore, the total minutes requirement is spread out over tasks, time, and people.



Final Thoughts


Now that you've grasped the concept of the development ratio, it's time to put it into action. Start by calculating the ratio for your eLearning projects, tailoring your estimates to their unique characteristics. By doing so, you'll pave the way for more efficient resource allocation, realistic timelines, and enhanced learning experiences. Embracing the development ratio is the next proactive step towards ensuring the success and credibility of your eLearning initiatives.

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