The Rapid Elearning Blog

At a recent conference, I was talking to someone about rapid elearning strategies and how to best use the tools they had.  My approach is to start with a rapid elearning tool and the build from there.  It allows me to speed up production and allocate my resources to get the most bang for the buck.  It’s something I outlined in this post on saving time and money when building courses.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - rapid elearning strategy

Click here to view the demo.

Another way to get the most out of your rapid elearning tools is to step away from the training event mentality.  What happens is that we equate training with learning, and then we create a training event rather than a learning process.  So we have a whole catalog of great courses, but the learning is typically confined to the course and doesn’t offer much support outside of it.  How often do you get reinforcement after taking an elearning course?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sent to training sessions or taken elearning courses that were completely irrelevant to what I did.  And when they weren’t, they offered no follow up or feedback to help me grow after the training session was completed.  It used to annoy me that my manager would assign a course and then never questioned whether or not I learned anything or if the course even had value, let alone how I could start to use what I learned in my work.

2000 Hours to Learn 

Let’s look at a year in the life of a trainee.  The typical work year represents about 2000 hours.  During that year people learn.  In fact, they’re always learning.  You don’t have an on and off button when it comes to learning.  It just happens.  In that sense, we can say, that a person has 2000 available learning hours.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - 2000 learning hours

So the question when building a training program is how to make the most of the 2000 learning hours.

Training as an Event

Most training and elearning courses are built like events.  You built it and the learner attends it.  If it’s a really great course, it’s relevant and has some good interactivity.  However, it’s usually still a single event, no matter how good the course is.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - training is an event that is only part of the learning process

So you end up with something that looks like the image above.  You have a course and then on a lot of white space.  As you can see, there’s a lot of missed opportunity.  Let’s say you have the world’s best elearning course and it’s 2 hours long.  Two hours out of 2000 doesn’t seem like it would have a lot of impact.  Especially when those two hours are compressed into a single event.  Odds are that without follow up or some sort of reinforcement, what the person learns soon falls to the wayside.

Learning is Always Happening

As Bono says, “I can learn with or without you.”  A person doesn’t learn because we decided to create a course.  The reality for a learner is that learning is always happening.  Sometimes it’s part of a formal process and sometimes it’s not. 

A person’s learning throughout the year will consist of formal courses, interactions with peers, management, and customers.  It’s a continual process of taking in information, making decisions, and getting feedback.  Even the world’s best elearning course can only contribute so much to that process. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - learning involves formal training, experiences, and social interactions.

It seems that to craft the best learning experience and really make the training stick, we’d find a way to make the most use of those 2000 hours.

Building Effective Learning

Let’s review a few things about elearning.  First, elearning can be expensive.  Assuming a ballpark figure of about $100 an hour, here are some rough estimates of what an elearning course can cost.  The ratios represent total development and production hours per completed hour of training.  I got the numbers from Bryan Chapman’s research with Brandon Hall.

  • $35,400 – 3rd Party Courseware (354:1)
  • $22,000 – Standard elearning (220:1)
  • $3,300 – PowerPoint-based elearning (33:1)

Obviously these numbers don’t reflect every elearning course or the types of projects you might work on.  In addition, the $100/hour represents one developer. For example, many of those high-end, award winning courses can get well over $500,000 if not more.  However, I’ve been involved in hundreds of elearning projects and can’t recall getting a budget that was anywhere close to that. 

From my experience most elearning courses fall in the $15,000 to $40,000 range.  They can get a lot less expensive with rapid elearning tools.  In either case, they give you some general numbers to work with.

Most of the cost for elearning goes into the development and implementation of the course and leaves little for follow-up.  From the studies I recall that’s about 90% to create the course and usually less than 10% for follow up and post course activities.  So even if you wanted to do more with the 2000 learning hours, you just don’t have the resources. 

This is where rapid elearning presents some interesting opportunities.  Instead of committing your resources on large and limited events, rapid elearning allows you to build a strategy that’s agile and adaptive to change.  You’re able to create just in time training events.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - rapid elearning is agile and easy to implement

You can create a few milestone courses instead of one
large course.  Then build a series of elearning interventions around them.  Since the software is easier to use and doesn’t require specialized programming skills, the courses can be built by just about anyone, even a monkey.  And because you offer more opportunities for feedback and interactions, you can worry less about designing the “right” type of interactivity in a one shot deal.  This means you can get away with a fewer bells and whistles.

I created a course once where we emailed simple scenarios and case studies to the learners at scheduled intervals.  They’d go through them and discuss the solutions with their managers.  The managers would review their progress and forward the results back to close the loop. 

This worked really well for us.  We were we able to offer some refresher training and follow-up spaced between formal sessions which are good for the learning process.  We also were able to pull the managers into the learning because they were the ones reviewing and giving feedback.  This helped us train the managers on their management skills as well as contribute to developing the relationship between the employee and manager.

Rapid elearning tools make this type of approach very practical.  It’s less likely to work if you’re dependent on a Flash programmer or other multimedia resources.  In addition, many of those follow-up type activities only take a few minutes to build.  I built a real quick demo as an example.

Here I used an Engage tabs interaction to present a simple scenario*.  Because Engage is a form-based product, I can create these in minutes.  This demo took about 15 minutes from start to finish. 

In this example, I used the introduction screen to present a scenario and then used the tabs to offer choices.  The learner clicks on a tab and gets feedback. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - rapid elearning example scenaio

Click here to view the demo.

This approach works great.  They require no programming skills.  The scenarios look nice and it’s an effective way of delivering coaching and reinforcement after someone completes and elearning course.  I could easily create a series of 20 interactions like this and deliver them throughout the learning process with minimal time commitment and at a very low cost.  That’s the power of rapid elearning.

Can you imagine building an elearning course and then getting feedback 90 days later that 60% of the learners are still not getting it?  If you followed a more traditional development process it would be hard to pull a team together to make changes to the course and roll it out again.  Especially if your courses were expensive to start with.

I talked to someone who said her company paid $500,000 for three courses.  When you commit that type of money to a course, you’re kind of stuck if you need to make adjustments don’t the road.  And to avoid making adjustments you end up spending all of your time up front developing and implementing the course.  That’s why there’s usually little committed to the post course activity.

However, a rapid elearning solution is flexible and agile.  If you need to do a refresher or reinforcement course or module, you can do so quickly.  This means that you can truly offer a solution at the point of need without pulling in a lot of expensive multimedia developers.

A sound rapid elearning strategy makes sense.  You save time and money.  I’d love to hear how you’re using the rapid elearning courses as part of your learning process.  Feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link.

If you liked this post, you might also find these interesting:

* Ethics sample content from The Ethics Quiz.


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30 responses to “Ignore This Post If You Don't Care About Effective Learning”

Hi Tom,

Another great post! We are always exploring ways to find better elearning solutions for our clients. Our current method is to create as many re-usable interactions, graphics, and media assets as possible to support an ongoing elearning program. I call this the AFLAC duck approach. AFLAC has been able to get more mileage off their marketing using the duck concept than anyone would have ever thought possible.

One of the great accomplishments of Articulate is creating and supporting their community. Can you comment on this in a future post as I would be very interested in how you see rapid elearning fitting into social learning programs.


First off – Amazing tips you bring to us. I have really utilized the ones that will work in our environment. I work for Schering-Plough Corp and since we are a pharmaceutical company with a lot of regulatory, compliance, and legal input on training materials Articulate products are so welcomed. One way we convey Rapid eLearning is with our Clinical Reprints. It starts with a PDF version of the reprint, Snag It, and of course a knowledge of the content. We utilize Presenter to “dissected” the reprint to help the representatives to communicate to the physicians about relevant information that these articles have with our products. After the script is written, PowerPoint crafted, and then approved – by the 3 above mentioned, we have the training piece up on our website within a couple of hours. To your point in this week’s article about “contracting” with a vendor would only delay the response time when a new Clinical Trial is published. Again thanks for all the work you do to make us successful. If you have and retro tips while using PowerPoint 2003 (the version we have at this time) please let us know. We are eager to enhance our training.

I agree with many of your points on providing multiple “just in time” events instead of one large course. I think many organizations have conditioned their staff/audience that training occurs and then they move on. To take this approach it is important to recognize there will be a cultural shift that needs to be addressed. I know when we have taken similar approaches people had attended the first event then attendance would drop at following events. It may have been a combination of a “been there, done that” attitude and also lack of support from their managers. All of which can be addressed by ensuring that the events are very relevant to the audience, engaging, and most of all, supported by the managers, including follow-up discussions by their managers.

Great post, thanks.

Tom, You need to shift the decimal point a place to left for these two examples,
$345,000: 3rd Party Courseware (345:1)
$220,000: Standard elearning (220:1)

Nonetheless the cost difference is startling compared to PowerPoint based elearning.

Another cost consideration for any elearning program is the cost of learners time to take the course, administrators to cajole and coerce completion, and reporting/tracking after the course is completion. These costs can rise quickly especially for annual compliance training programs.

April 28th, 2009

Tom, I work in a company with a broad range of learning requirements. Our students cover the spectrum of learning challenges, from Scientists & Engineers to Labors. Our training staff has historically developed our technical training course as multiple-hour or multiple-day, instructor-led training. This takes a huge investment in developer resources, both for initial development and for revisions.
Last year we challenged our instructor/developers to look at their courses and decide if the content was knowledge-based, skill-based, or both. I asked them to look at the knowledge portion of the learning to decide if this could be delivered separately from the skill-based portion. This effectively creates a “blended learning” curiculum. To date, we have converted only 2 courses, but the other instructor/developers are beginning to see the advantage to this method.
The first program we modified required detailed knowledge of a procedure, before learning the skill to apply it. Once we developed a rapid e-learninig module for that, the course time was reduced from 8 hours to 4 hours. More importantly, when the procedure was modified, it took less than a day to make the appropriate changes to the web-based module. This previously might have taken weeks.
The battle to shift from instructor-led to blended learning isn’t always easy, but the benefits can be substantial when the concept is applied.

Our on-boarding training is a series of ‘events’ or better known as the ‘blended-learning’ approach. New hires attend an 8-hour workshop day one. For the next 12 weeks, they begin each week with an eLearning course that covers a broad overview of a specific topic. The remainder of that week they are ‘shadowing’ a co-worker and following a checklist to ensure they are learning. At the end of that week, they take an assessment of that topic.

12 weeks later (90 days) they’re done….but then what!? We’re in the midst of developing an actual eLearning strategy that hopefully answers the question of what we do for the first six months, first year, and so on.

Tom, this post is great and has spurred some thought into how I can present an effective eLearning strategy. Oh, and Articulate is part of that strategy 🙂

April 28th, 2009

Tom, thanks for this “Just in Time” reminder with this post – I need to supplement the eLearning I’ve delivered to my sales force just 7 days ago. Counting on results from user surveys is not enough. I think that a call to action such as this can help our learners identify on their own where they may still experience a learning gap or confusion after taking the training. Perhaps I’ll see an increase in the number of learners approaching their managers to discuss how to apply the learning in the field. I am happy to see that you a simple engage interaction – the tabs – as a way to test knowledge. Will try this myself!

Great post as usual, Tom, but as developers I think Bryan Chapman’s 33:1 number for rapid eLearning gives our bosses and clients *very* unrealistic expectations. Writing (and rewriting, and reviewing, and rewriting, and polishing) the narration script alone for a one-hour course can take a *very* long time. That can be 20+ pages of script.

Sure, rapid eLearning development tools cut down on development time significantly, but probably not from 220:1 to 33:1. Unless the companies surveyed have found some magical development tool that actually writes the *content* for you. 🙂

(And if they have, I’d love for someone to point me to it.)

Perhaps his 33:1 number applies to *bad* PowerPoint to E-Learning conversion? You know, the garbage-in garbage-out courses we’ve all seen and hated?

My background is in K-12 teaching, and you have just described our school year. Teachers don’t have time nor money to create huge, custom elearning packages. Real teaching and learning is in constant flux as things are modified for the situation. The goal is to tie all the learning throughout the year together. I realize that learning in the corporate world is different, but it is all learning, isn’t it? It is refreshing to see this idea of learning happening all the time make it’s way to the corporate world.

Tom, your wonderful blog always elicits great comments from the Articulate community.

I agree with Chris’ remark about Bryan’s 33:1 ratio. From my experience, that’s more closely aligned to converting existing PPT slide decks into an e-learning course using Presenter, Engage, and Quizmaker.

Clients still ask for image manipulation beyond what PPT 2007 does (although, it now does a great deal for us!), and they still want Adobe Flash animations and FLV videos.

Then, there’s the voice over narrations… editing audio files… adding music….

@Chris, I’m on board with what you say. 🙂 Bryan’s 33:1 ratio… I’d like to see what he based that on and how he got those numbers.

Clients are choosing the Presenter course player over native Flash or other “containers” because they like it: it’s flexible and very customizable. And, with the recent upgrades in QM ’09, they’re really excited about creating assessments.

@David Richard, I too, create “libraries” of reusable learning objects. I thought of that after learning Adobe Flash, and seeing how Flash developers use Libraries over and over. I even wrote a blog post about it at:

@Greg: I caught the wrong figures but too late to change before the post went out. I did amend the post, though.

@the 33:1 ratio – I’m not confident about those numbers but they’re the only ones that are available. Perhaps we should do a survey through the blog and see if we can come up with more accurate numbers.

I am assuming that they represent very basic PowerPoint conversions. The challenge with Rapid Elearning is that it is more than just PowerPoint to Flash. If you have simple content and use a form-based tool, it is really fast. However, if your content is a little more complex and you’re building triggered animations and thigns like that, you’ll spend a lot more time.

My guess is that a decent rapid elearning course will take 2-3 weeks to complete.

For example, I’ve done projects like a Glossary interaction that took me about 15 minutes with Engage. Initially we were going to build something similar in Flash. It was going to take a couple of weeks for our Flash developer to get to and then probably a couple of weeks to get a completed project, with a bunch of meetings in between.

Tom: I am a new subscriber to your blog and am very impressed with the posts that I have read. However, regarding this post, I think that Chris@eQuixotic raises a critical point. Tools like Articulate offer rapid development, but they don’t ensure quality instructional design. In fact, they invite “quick and dirty” course development, often by people who have no training in how to organize information to enhance learning. So, rapid eLearning development is a double-edged sword: it can be a boon to capable instructional designers on limited time and cost budgets, but it can also be an excuse to turn over course development to subject matter experts who have no idea how to create effective training or to simply take a bunch of boring and ineffectual PowerPoint presentations and turn them into a bunch of boring and ineffectual eLearning presentations. Training should be seen as an investment toward improved job performance and increased productivity and not viewed strictly from a lowest cost perspective. Effective training is based on quality instructional design; choosing the method of delivery (ILT, eLearning, or a simple job aid) is an efficiency question. Comments like, “with rapid eLearning tools, anyone (even a monkey) can develop eLearning,” undermine arguments for reasonable time and cost investments to produce training that actually impacts job performance. Such comments also undermine the argument for hiring experienced instructional designers to produce training.

@Terry: You raise a valid concern. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we publish this blog. I’m not sure that there are any authoring tools that “ensure quality instructional design.” That is still dependent on the talents of the instructional designer, which goes to the heart of your point. As far as the monkey comment, I might have stretched the truth there a little, although I’ve met some pretty talented monkeys.

April 28th, 2009

How does this assessment compare with simply hiring a firm to make custom elearning that fits your needs. It would seem to me that hiring one firm of specially-trained people would be cheaper since they do almost all of the work–except the review–but I’m not positive.


I agree with your “just in time events” approach, and I’d like to add another argument.

Various studies state varying lengths of time and varying degrees of effectiveness, but indications are that a learner’s ability to absorb additional material starts to fall off beyond 30 minutes. In addition, retention and application is better when a learner can take a small bite, chew on it, digest it, put the nutrients to work, then when they are ready, come back for another bite.

Yet there are many expensive seminars that go on for 2 days (or more). You can’t put the whole sandwich in your mouth at once. You wouldn’t be able to chew. You probably couldn’t even breathe. It would be far more effective to send a person to twenty-four 30 minute seminars. Ah, but the cost, particularly if you have to fly to those seminars. And what happens if a learner misses one?

Then there’s eLearning. And Tom Kuhlmann’s “just in time, bite-sized events”.

“If you have simple content and use a form-based tool, it is really fast.” – Tom

True Tom, but the assumption here would be that the content itself has already been written. In the comments at the end of Bryan Chapman’s article, one of the readers asks whether the 33:1 was for converting *existing* content or did it include writing the content as well. Bryan’s response was that it should include the full ADDIE process (so, writing the content as well), but the results could be flawed based on the respondents’ understanding of the question.

My view: the results must be flawed (or they have a drastically different definition of PowerPoint-based eLearning than I do). If my SMEs turned over a *perfect* storyboard (text-only slides, no visual design) with a *perfect* narration script for a one hour course, I *still* don’t know that I could turn it around (full visual design, animations, narration recording & editing, building interactions, knowledge checks, review, testing, etc.) in 33 solo man-hours, even using the Articulate tools that I love. And I’ve always considered myself a fairly fast worker (though obsessive – maybe that’s my problem). And that’s with the pre-written content (script included) being handed to me in a ready-to-go format.

And we all know how rare (read: nonexistent) perfect storyboards and perfect narration scripts are.

Tools like Articulate are a great boon to us as developers, but they’re not magic. Well, they *are* magic, but not all-powerful magic. 🙂

Ultimately we (read: the eLearning industry) sabotage ourselves when we make grandiose claims about the ease and rapidity of eLearning development using modern tools: eventually our superiors and clients begin to devalue our talents and expertise. We never want to make our work sound easier (or faster) than it really is. I’ve learned this the hard way:

And now I’ve gone *way* off track from the original post. Sorry Tom…

April 28th, 2009

Hey Tom,

One of the biggest things I have been experiencing is that it is not only my job to build courses but also to load all courses onto the LMS. My courses, built with articulate, work every time. Each time I load a new course from an external provider we can spend more of my & their time trying to debug it than the course originally took to build. And for what? A fancy navigation system? Furthermore it blows out their deadlines because debugging is something very hard to predict in terms of time lines.

That’s as good reason as any I think to use rapid tools.

April 28th, 2009

Another great blog!

Yes – eLearn software is a tool. It does not replace the need for good holistic instructional design or training needs analysis. For any learning to effective, whether class-based or self-paced, you need to use a variety of methods. At my last job, the induction was 100% eLearn and people HATED it. There were three key problems: no follow up, no practical activities and no socialisation. Here is an example of how we mixed it up a little:

1) eLearn: Booking meetings
2) Follow up task: Book the office camera, and a meeting with the studio OHS officer, and a marketing team member and a meeting room all using outlook
3) eLearn: OHS module (part 1: Risks & hazards)
4) Task: Photograph potential risks & hazards in the office using office camera
5) eLearn: Our electronic policies
6) Meeting: Marketing Team rep: learn where to load pictures on our drives and about our documentation standards.
7) Task: Produce a document that met our documentation standards with the photos they took and fill out an OHS hazards & risk form
8) Meeting: Meet with the OHS officer to discuss their findings and show them the document

We used this methodology throughout their trainig. We had great feedback from both management and participants. And they actually remembered stuff and applied on job (who knew!!).


@Chris- you make a good point about script design and narration. Even when a script looks good on paper, when you go into the recording session many times certain wording just does not “flow.” and you need to rewrite on the spot. I’ve found that recording voice over to go with PPTs takes anywhere from 1 to 2 hours per set of 10 PPTS. (and a crew of 2 or 3–the writer, the voice over talent and the ISD “technician”). This is not counting the editing time!

As for the 33:1 ratio, this is for the conversion of just PPTs an “already developed course” –and that course originally took 34:1 to complete.

I take this to mean just redoing the graphic design and flow of the course–not to include ANY media (or am I reading it wrong)

Bryan states that to add audio, some vide, test questions and 20% interactivity it takes 220:1

I do believe this figure is closer to the real time it takes to create what we call “basic” ISD nowadays. The problem with this figure is that many managers don’t believe that it takes that long to create “basic” eLearning.

I’m with you guys. I think the 33:1 is not an accurate number. However, I used it because it’s the number that’s always quoted. I am going to do a follow up post where we can explore this a little more. Perhaps we can do some sort of survey to help produce better numbers.

When I look at the value of the tools, I always assume about the same time for the ID and content development with the real savings in the production of the course after the content is developed.

Great discussion! I want to chime in with Chris and Terry on this one. As an e-learning developer (not Articulate… I use that other authoring tool) I tend to dislike “flat-rate” approaches to development, especially ratios with no details of how the numbers were arrived at. You never really know what is actually behind those numbers; do they include loading the course on an LMS, writing exam questions, performing a quality control check in a production-like environment, ect? Honestly, I’ve spent more than 33 hours (given the 33:1 ratio in Chapman’s article) time interviewing SMEs and trying to hammer out what and how they perform their tasks, and still have the design work to do.

I tend to base my design and development time more on the times published by the military, the E-Learning Guild, and I like what Karl Kapp has done in his book Winning E-Learning Proposals. These sources tend to categorize development as levels of interactivity which I believe are more accurate. Check out for a summary of several approaches.

And finally, why am I spending all this time and money working on a degree in Instructional Design if perspective employers will be conducting their recruiting efforts at the zoo?? 😉


@Tom and @everyone:
Tom, what a great post on learning as a process because it started a great thread on the design side of rapid e-learning development. I look forward to your next post that will address what Chris and others wrote above.

For simple PPT conversion to OLT, a 30 minute course ratio is about 40:1 and that includes conference calls, e-mail messages, and two revision cycles. One week for a 30 minute course… straight conversion, no instructional design.

So, a 60 minute course, a straight conversion into Articulate Studio, no ISD, is about 80 hours.

The Levels of e-Learning (Level I through Level 5) are a great reference point. For consultants/freelancers/subcontractors, the Levels help us manage the client’s expectations.

Maybe, Tom, you straddle two worlds: Selling a rapid development tool and supporting the community of users… yet, emphasizing that rapid development does not mean rapid instructional design.

However, the point I really wanted to make is “Kudos” on the reminder that learning is a process. I hope you can plan future posts on effective assessments and evaluations (immediate, 3 months, 6 months, a year)…. especially with all that we can now design and develop in the newly upgraded Quizmaker ’09. 🙂

First of all, thanks to Tom for the post and thanks to everyone else for the discussion points. A lot of these points are of personal interest to me as a training vendor. In today’s recession-based economy, I am noticing a trend toward the use of rapid development tools within the marketplace. I personally am a big fan of Presenter/QM and have been championing the use of it within the confines of my company even though we are a custom Flash shop.

The discussion points that relate to development ratios using rapid tools are a bit subjective to me. I agree that a 33:1 ratio could be accomplished by a competent user given agreed upon content and a previously established expectation of the final deliverable. The problem that I struggle with is that clients want “rapid” pricing but expect the deliverable to be “sexy” and rich with media attributes that drive up labor costs and subsequently price. I think someone else alluded to this in their earlier post.

My question is what (if any) are some models for establishing reliable, repeatable, and profitable frameworks using Articulate (and the like) that can be price competitive and recognize a lower development ratio. (I know, I’m not asking for much;-))

It seems like the discussion is spending more time deciding how much time it really takes to create an hour of training than the point of the post that training should be spread out over the 2000 work hours of a year…

It has been a while since any of my employers kept good metrics on projects. I wish they would as it might help them see how much time goes into a project and some of the dependencies. Waiting until the last minute to have the audio recorded doesn’t give me enough time to get it into the course and have everything synched up. And sometimes, I think that I spend as much time making edits and revisions to courses after they have been programmed as I do with the initial programming task.

But, back to the point of Tom’s post. I think that the LMS is the biggest enemy of spreading out learning over the course of a year. Everyone wants a course, quiz, and the ability to report numbers of courses created and completed. There are some skills that I can learn today and apply every day. But most courses include content that is not used every day.

How many companies have rolled out a new travel software and required all employees to take the associated training? The employees who travel frequently will be able to benefit from the training, but other employees who may only travel one or two times a year will likely go months before they need to use the system. When you are developing the system and related training, you need to plan for the smaller, “How Do I…?” questions that employees will have. Making them log into the corporate LMS, sign up for the course, and complete 10 lessons in search for their answer is not the right solution. A better solution would be to have a brief introduction course in the LMS and a more robust help system outside the LMS that includes tuitorials for individual tasks and frequently asked questions.

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