magic elearning matrix

Magic eLearning Matrix: Development Time & Cost

Magic eLearning Matrix

How long does it take to develop an eLearning course and how much should it cost? Answering this question requires an understanding of the type of specialized expertise you will need and the number of work hours required to achieve your objectives. Use the Magic eLearning matrix to document and understand and calculate the estimated level of eLearning development effort your project will require. Whether you hire a company like or you develop projects in-house, the largest cost factor that goes into custom eLearning is human labor.

The easy answer is:

  • Time:  Between 70 and 320 hours | 2 – 6 weeks
  • Cost: Between $5,995 – $14,995

The more complete answer is:

The time it should take to develop custom eLearning depends upon:

  • Your Starting Point: Where you are when you start the process
  • Your Project Complexity: How complex your subject matter is and how media rich and interactive you want the learner experience to be
  • Your eLearning Development Team: How skilled and experienced your internal employees and/or external vendors are

Since 2006, has been producing high quality custom eLearning quickly and affordably. The Magic eLearning Matrix below was developed (Originally written April, 2008 and updated periodically) based upon our extensive experience developing courses and working in close collaboration with our clients. Whether you develop courses in-house or you partner with companies like ours, if your projects are taking too long, costing too much, or both, then give us a call at 866-771-4449. We are happy to help you achieve your goals faster, less expensively, and with superior results.

The hours estimated in the Magic eLearning Matrix are ballpark ranges based on producing 30 minutes of finished audio/visual eLearning. often beats these time estimates and delivers superior eLearning designs and programming, so contact us for a free quote and compare to any other quotes you may receive.

Task Task Description
Instructional Design Great eLearning starts with great instructional design. Put simply, your goal should be to understand what your organization wants to achieve, determine what you need your learners to know and/or do in order for the organization to achieve it’s goals (learning objectives), and sketch out your course or learning program structure (list the order of courses, modules, lessons, etc.) You can spend a great deal of time performing a wide range of instructional design analysis tasks covering many other areas like employee behavior assessments, skills definitions, ideal training modalities, etc. Our Magic eLearning Matrix presumes this more complex ID work either is already done or is otherwise unnecessary for this project.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Instructional Design Time

  • High ( 20-30 hrs):  You are starting from scratch and have yet to perform instructional design tasks including identifying your organizational objectives (do you want to increase sales, decrease expenses, improve customer service, comply with regulatory requirements?), documenting learning objectives (what do your learners need to know and/or be able to do in order for your organization to achieve it’s objectives?), selecting training delivery modality (instructor-led, self-paced eLearning, blended model, etc.), analyzing current and proposed business processes, and so on.
  • Moderate (10-20 hrs): You already have been training upon this subject and/or have performed a substantial amount of instructional design. Now  you simply need to create an instructional design document to get your plan down on paper. Perhaps your current eLearning initiative and source content includes general concepts, ideas, and flow, but a formal instructional design document (content outline, learning objectives, test questions, etc.) does not yet exist.
  • Low (0-10 hrs): You already have a complete content outline mapped to your learning objectives, test/quiz questions and answers, design ideas for activities, and other instructional design elements. Your project now requires little-to-no additional instructional design.
Content Writing Content is king! No matter how flashy, whiz bang, and interactive your course may be, if your source content does not effectively communicate to your learners exactly what they need to know or be able to do upon completion of the course, then the project is doomed to fail. If you find that you want to add activities simply because the learner hasn’t “clicked something” in a while, your content probably needs work. If you want to add pretty graphics because you are afraid learners will be bored, then your content is probably boring and pictures aren’t going to fix that. Activities and visuals should always be used to reinforce the quality of your content – and not try to make up for its shortcomings.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Content Writing Time

  • High (30-60+ hrs):  If you have little-to-no source content, plan on spending between 1-2 hours per minute of content to research, interview subject matter experts, write, edit, obtain approvals/feedback, and produce a final draft. Naturally the total time may be impacted by the technical complexity of your subject matter. 
  • Moderate (15-30 hrs): If your content largely written down already and is nearly ready to be inserted into an eLearning storyboard, then expect to invest between 30 minutes to an hour per minute to draft a production-ready script and visual storyboard. The narrative may require some limited re-writing and expanding upon concepts including performing light research, subject matter expert interviews, and other limited fact-finding. (Design-ready Content)
  • Low (0-15 hrs): If you already have an eLearning narration script drafted and you have prepared a detailed storyboard that include accurate and complete graphic design requests, on-screen text, and other specific development instructions, the you may be ready to go, or perhaps spend a few working days refining the content. The content essentially is delivered in a rock solid “blue-print” fashion that simply needs to be developed into audio/visual eLearning. Magic eLearning Matrix – Key Term: Development-ready Content
Visual Design At, we broadly group eLearning visual design approaches into three basic categories: Novice (think Stock Templates & Cut/Paste Graphics); Graphic Designer; and Graphic Artist. Novice design is generally performed by someone who is untrained in graphic design but knows how to insert stock graphics into PowerPoint, for example. Organizations go this route when they wish to use an existing employee to design their course. A Graphic Artist, on the other hand, is a highly experienced and trained professional who can create high impact custom visual designs that set the look and feel (design standard) that conform to a company’s branding standards. Between these two extremes is the Graphic Designer. This person is more skilled with tools like PhotoShop, Illustrator, etc. than the Novice, but may not be as skilled as the artist when it comes to overall design complexity and artistic touches.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Visual Design Time

  • High (40-60 hrs):  If you want to develop a course that has a beautiful, professional, and “high gloss” design aesthetic, you will need to hire a professionally trained and experienced eLearning Graphic Artist.  Projects that require that most or all graphics be or look to be custom created by an experienced graphic artist and whereby little-to-no stock imagery will be used require time to produce. Expect to invest at leased 1 hour per minute or eLearning content (or per screen if you average 60 seconds per screen) and up to 2 or more hours. Stock imagery may be used, but is modified by a graphic artist to fit the look and feel of the eLearning course.
  • Moderate (15-40 hrs): If your course will be “semi-custom”, meaning, some custom imagery will be created including charts/graphics, which are then supported by some royalty-free stock photography modified by a Graphic Designer to match client’s branding/style guide, then the time required will be less.
  • Low (5-10 hrs): If you are OK with a course that looks essentially like a “glorified PowerPoint” and it is sufficient to simply use royalty-free stock photography with little-to-no professional graphic design work required, then you’ll probably be able to knock out a quick and dirty eLearning design in under 10 hours for a 30 minute / 30 screen course. This can be produced by a novice.
Activity Complexity eLearning courses can range from simple “page turners” to complex interactive scenario based learning experiences. Adding interactivity requires development time during both the instructional design / storyboarding phases and the eLearning programming phases. The more interactive the course, the more time and budget you’ll need.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Interactivity Complexity 

  • High (30-70 hrs):  Add Complex interactivities such as multi-step branching scenarios, hot spot, drag-and-drop, custom point tracking system, and other interactive elements and custom programming.
  • Moderate (15-35 hrs): Custom drag/drop, labeling, categorizing, and other custom designed activities that match client branding and utilize custom graphic design and programming techniques.
  • Low (0-8 hrs): Any activities included leverage built-in activity types (e.g. native Storyline activities) or that make use of 3rd party eLearning activity templates.
Multimedia eLearning courses can range from simply including basic images to complex full-motion video. The more professional grade video-like experience you desire for your course, the more time and money will need to be invested.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Multimedia

  • High (40-70+ hrs): Commercial-grade web video production using tools like Adobe After Effects, Premiere, and other advanced tools. May also include custom 3D objects and animations using tools such as Maya and 3D Studio Max, VRAY, etc.
  • Moderate (10-40 hrs): Consumer-grade web video production using tools like Camtasia and Captivate for screen capture and subsequent editing in Premiere or comparable tools.
  • Low (0-10 hrs): Simple and rapid screen captures with little-to-no post production/editing required – or no video whatsoever. Most animations are simple animations synchronizing text and images to audio using the built-in features of tools like Articulate Storyline or Captivate.
QC Review Some organizations have extremely precise requirements and expectations while others are very loose. For example, some organizations are happy to simply “rubber stamp” their eLearning course reviews because they are simply concerned that the course sounds good, looks good, and does not break. Other organizations have detailed grammatical and visual design expectations that must be adhered to.  The more detailed and complex your requirements, the more time is required in the QC process.

Magic eLearning Matrix: Quality Control / Quality Assurance

  • High (30+ hrs):  Expect 1 hour per minute of content if you wish to assign a dedicated internal QC expert to exhaustively review and test all aspects of the courseware and endeavor to catch most or all errors. The review process is “iterative” and require multiple reviews of the storyboard and media production.
  • Moderate (15-30 hrs): If you want to perform a basic quality control review to ensure all course elements work and there are no obvious grammatical errors, then the QC process can be streamlined.
  • Low (5-15 hrs): If your course is not very complex and you do not need to adhere to ridged and explicit design standards (for example “all bullet lists must start with Upper case letter and end with a period, but all numbered lists must not have a period unless they complete a sentence”) then your QC requirements will be significantly lower.
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