Three years ago yesterday (September 14), the remnant winds from Hurricane Ike reached up from Texas and hammered us here in Louisville.  Other areas got beat up as well.

The Ike winds uprooted trees, flattened utility poles, basically switched most of the city off for a few days.  At our house about one third of a Bartlett pear tree in our back yard blew over (we lost another third of it during an ice storm several months later) as did a part of our privacy fence.  Part of a neighbor’s tree broke off and landed in our front yard.

I provide that context because at that time I was slowly being disengaged by a client with whom I’d been working since February.  From the time I started the assignment, the woman who was managing me was always skeptical of the time it took to develop a single e-learning module.  In their case, each module was a demo of a new application the company was adding to its suite of products.

Since these were being created from scratch, my turnaround time was, depending on the complexity of the module, 14 business days at most.  That included meetings with programmers, QA, the project manager; developing a script/storyboard; review and revisions to the script; recording and editing audio; capturing the application’s process; putting the whole thing together; submitting for review; revising; reviewing again; and, finally, releasing.  I even developed a template that would make production of subsequent demos faster.  If the teams got their edits to me sooner, that would easily shave two to three days off the total production time (for the record, that happened only once – any other time I would wait up to two weeks for someone to even look at the script or the first pass at a finished module).

The manager’s VP approached another training development company in town.  They turned over a module in one week.  A copy was forwarded to me by a friend at the client.  It was made in Camtasia (I work in Captivate) in 640 x 480 screen size (I work full-sized screen) that moved too fast with an audio narration that was full of “ummms” and mouth noises and background ambient hum. In short, it looked like it was done in a week.

I heard from my friend it was more expensive.  But it was done in a week.  That was all the manager needed to hear.  A week after the wind storm, I was told by the manager’s project coordinator via e-mail that “we will let you know when we need your services again.”  They never did.

All of this is preamble to this report on how long it takes to develop an hour’s worth of e-learning.

The modules I developed for the client ran roughly 10 minutes each.  Using the report’s low-range criteria, it was taking me an hour-and-a-half to create one minute of e-learning, including everything from initial project meetings to review and release of the final product.

To put that in perspective, a recording engineer friend of mine told me that it takes one hour of mixing for every one minute of music recorded (which means that the full version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” took more than 17 hours).

Quality takes time, and when you’re dealing with helping people understand a new concept or a new way of doing (fill in the blank), taking that time is essential.  And if during development you discover something that eventually saves time, that counts as well.

To paraphrase a famous quote from Robert H. Heinlein (and others):  there ain’t no such thing as free or cheap e-learning development.