The One-Hour Training Challenge

If you were tasked with creating a one-hour training module on some particular topic, how long do you suppose it would take? There are lots of reasons why taking the time to realistically and accurately answer this question is an important thing to do. You might be required to more accurately assess the cost and budget of what your company’s learning department is doing. If you’re savvy, you want to know this in order to calculate the return on investment (ROI) that your company gets from your learning and training efforts. Either way, if your company’s leadership is asking you to develop a training program and want to know how long it will take, it would be nice to give a real answer instead of something vague or unsure.

How Long to Develop a One-Hour Training?

One-Hour Training Challenge

The good news is that there are people out there who have actually spent a good deal of time trying to figure this out, beginning with Dr. Karl Kapp back in 2003, then by the folks at the Association for Talent Development (ATD) in 2009 and 2017. Having three major studies addressing the question makes for good comparison opportunities over time. But first, it obviously matters what kind of training is being delivered. These studies looked at six different types of training: 1) Traditional face-to-face classroom instruction, 2) Live instructor-led training delivered virtually, 3) Level 1 eLearning (passive), 4) Level 2 eLearning (limited interactivity), 5) Level 3 eLearning (complex interactivity), and 6) Level 4 eLearning (real-time interactivity). Here’s how the data comes out on the average number of hours it takes to develop a one-hour training by the learning professionals who responded to the survey:

Type of Training




Traditional classroom




Live instructor virtual




eLearning Level 1




eLearning Level 2




eLearning Level 3




eLearning Level 4




The data raises all kinds of interesting questions. Why did several forms of learning see an increase in the average number of hours it takes to create an hour of learning from 2003 to 2009 before dropping back in 2017? The data for levels 2, 3 and 4 eLearning seem to present more the way we would expect, decreasing over time as the tools get better and workflows become more efficient. Part of this has to do with how the different surveys were structured and how they asked questions to eLearning professionals. It’s also possible that there’s an experience factor at play here. Maybe there was a big turnover in learning staff among the survey respondents leading up to the 2009 survey such that a new wave of less experienced developers took more time to develop trainings. There might have been a large skills gap among 2009 respondents that was subsequently filled. The possibilities are endless, and future research projects would need to get more specific about collecting different kinds of data from the survey respondents to see what factors are affecting development time. 

Creating training in one hour - it can be challengingThe point is that this data has to be considered within the context of your own company and the capabilities of your learning staff. If your company’s learning staff only have experience developing live instructor virtual trainings and are suddenly asked to develop a real-time interactivity eLearning program (Level 4), it’s probably going to take them a lot longer than the average of 143 hours to create a one-hour training of Level 4 eLearning. Use the data wisely and with caution. But at least it’s a starting point for discussion.

It’s also useful to know what percentage of survey respondents in the 2017 study were involved in the six different types of eLearning:

Type of Training

2017 % of respondents

Traditional classroom


Live instructor virtual


eLearning Level 1


eLearning Level 2


eLearning Level 3


eLearning Level 4


The percentages in the above table do not total 100% because most eLearning professionals are involved in developing more than one type of training. What’s striking about the data here is what a large percentage of eLearning professionals are still working on traditional classroom trainings. And by the same token, how those figures drop precipitously when comes to eLearning Levels 3 and 4. Once again, having so few people involved in developing Level 4 eLearning content indicates that it’s still a relatively new field of endeavor, helping to explain why it takes so much longer to develop a one-hour training for that type of learning.

Avoid Reinventing the Wheel

There will always be times when you do need to create completely new learning and training content from scratch because it’s entirely unique to your company or industry, but it’s always good to first ask yourself if the learning program you need might already exist out there in a format you can use. A lot of learning content has been created in the 21st century, and some of it is bound to apply to your company. For example, at eLeaP we’ve collected a robust library of more than 850 video courses on a variety of topics your company can make use of in the following categories:

One-Hour Training Challenge Takeaways

  1. Data from the 2017 study of how long it takes to develop a one-hour training for the six different types of learning methods are best used as a general starting point supplemented by the real-world experience of your learning staff to hone in on a figure that is accurate for your company or department.
  2. The newer or more advanced the type of learning, the longer it takes to develop a one-hour training. This will change over time as the skills and tools for more advanced learning types improve and deepen.
  3. Taking the time to come up with a real answer to the one-hour training challenge is important for eLearning professionals for at least two reasons, including estimating timelines for project completion and more effectively calculating the cost of learning program development to improve the ROI calculations that company leadership always want to see.
  4. It’s always worth asking if the next learning or training program you need might already exist in a form you can use rather than reinventing the wheel.

Now that you have a good understanding of how to use past one-hour training challenge data, you’re well on your way to answering the challenge more accurately for your own company or department.  

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