eLearning can be a significant investment for any business or organization. Don’t be surprised when CFOs and executive management show concern about return on investment – especially if this is the first time your business has tried eLearning.
Before you start constructing your argument to implement a new project, make sure you’ve got clear training and business objectives. And that these have been agreed upon by all key stakeholders. You’ll need these objectives to make the right decisions further down the road as well as measure the success of your training program.
The Four Cost Categories
There are a variety of direct and indirect costs associated with eLearning course development. Some of them are obvious and you’ve probably already thought of them (like choosing the right LMS). Others aren’t that obvious.
In the beginning, all these different costs may feel overwhelming. But once you’ve read through this book, you’ll be better prepared.
In this chapter, you’ll learn about four broad categories of eLearning development costs. These are the first major costs you’ll want to consider as you prepare for your training. Being aware of these key cost categories will help you make the best development decisions for your budget and your eLearning course objectives.
When we talk about “media” in eLearning we mean all the media you will use to create content for your course. Costs can go up and down depending on the type of media you will use.
How media-rich does your course need to be?
The best way to decide how much media and the type you will use is to go back to your learning objectives. Does your course need video, interactive graphics, infographics? While these can certainly be seductive, are they important to your particular project?
For example, clickable, interactive infographics are fun. But when it comes to training tech-support employees on a new customer live-chat feature, the inclusion of several of these infographics could skyrocket eLearning development costs – when the same learning outcomes could be achieved with a simple screencast.
And sure, imagery can be important for engaging learners. But it’s not more important than understanding your audience, and knowing what you need to achieve.
To make an educated decision, here’s what you can do:
Make a comprehensive list, like the one below, with all the media types available:
– Low-intensity videos, like screencasts
– Talking head videos
– Interactive videos
– Interactive infographics
– Branching scenarios and decision-making trees
– Case studies
Then, scan the list and map out how each will practically benefit (or not benefit) your course, your audience, and your learning objectives.
eLearning interactivity is the “dialogue” between learners and eLearning tools through which learners become engaged and involved in the eLearning process.
eLearning courses are created on a spectrum of interactivity. Some are basic, with exclusively static content that learners engage with only by watching or reading. Others include multiple components that tap into learners’ senses and thought processes, prompting them to make choices, explore new information, or even collaborate with others.
How important is interactivity?
Interactivity is one of the most obvious benefits of eLearning, but it can have a significant impact on eLearning development costs. A highly interactive course can cost about twice as much as a basic eLearning course.
This is because interactive components often require more skill and time to plan and execute. The more interactive a course, the more likely it is you’ll also need to invest in newer, or varied technologies to create and deliver it.
To judge how important interactivity is to your eLearning course, ask yourself:
– Is narrative important to delivering the content?
– Do the learning outcomes depend heavily on decision-making in nuanced situations?
– Is gamification important in motivating learners on this course?
If you’ve answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, your course is probably on the higher end of the interactivity spectrum. This could have an impact on the scope of your training team and the technology they’ll require for development.
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
If you’re building an eLearning course, no matter how basic, you’re going to need a Learning Management System. An LMS isn’t just a platform for learners to access the eLearning content you’ve created; it also enables regular communication with learners and between learners and offers assessment and reporting tools to monitor course completion and performance.
If you haven’t used eLearning before, choosing an LMS is one of the most significant decisions affecting the user-experience of your course. Remember, an LMS acts as the face of your eLearning course, because learners interact with the platform directly.
Your choice of LMS will also have a significant impact on training costs. Different vendors offer different pricing schemes. For instance, choosing a Learning Management System which offers a forever-free version, like TalentLMS, will allow you to test it with no time restrictions. This means you’ll be able to build your courses and share them with your team without having to commit to a costly pricing package before you’re even sure it works for you.
Also, knowing how media-rich and interactive your eLearning course will be, will also inform which features you require (like different media types supported by an LMS), which will, in turn, help you to choose the best LMS for your needs and budget.
Having a good understanding of the types of media you want to create, and how interactive the overall course should be, will also help you make another important tech decision that can affect eLearning development costs. i.e. the type of eLearning authoring tools you’ll need.
Some eLearning tools can produce the more basic types of media, such as simple graphics, slideshows, and screencasts in a relatively short time frame, and with a decent user-experience for the training developer. Others have greater functionality, but require more expertise to use, and cost more to buy or license.
Unlike when choosing an LMS, eLearning authoring tools can be mixed and matched when necessary (as long as they export to common file formats). So, you don’t need to choose the most expensive eLearning authoring software from the start, just in case you want to create more complex training materials later.
Instead, you can opt for a more basic suite first and scale up your software if your eLearning courses become more interactive or complex. Just keep in mind that your training development team might need to be upskilled, too.
Without the right team, your eLearning course won’t yield the return on investment (ROI) you’re looking for. But, putting together a dream team does have implications for eLearning development costs.
Even if the eLearning course only uses simple media types with low interactivity, like charts, tables, text, and screencasts, team members will still need to be equipped to assess your training needs, manage a training project, and create training materials. If you’re lucky, you may only need a diligent and available internal Subject Matter Expert, and a small team of jack-of-all-trades Instructional Designers.
But, if your course is incorporating higher production values, things become significantly more complex. Creating an eLearning course that’s moderately interactive typically requires at least the following team members, some of which may be contracted:
Who do you need on your team?
– Instructional Designers
– Project Manager(s)
– Subject Matter Expert(s)
– Graphic designers
– Video presenters and voice-over artists
The labor costs of all these team members all contribute toward eLearning development costs – and it’s worth keeping in mind that special expertise usually costs more.
There are many other ways in which the structure of the eLearning development team could affect eLearning development costs, including whether your Subject Matter Experts are internal employees or consultants, and if you need significant input time from functional managers. These factors and others are often overlooked and become “hidden” training costs.
Let’s recap this chapter:
Before diving into the more nuanced costs, make sure you’ve got a good handle on the four cost categories discussed here. Because once you know the impact of media, interactivity, technical needs, and team structure, you’re well on your way to understanding eLearning development costs.