Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

Time and Cost Considerations in Developing an Online Course

Two of the most frequently asked questions about the development of an online or blended course are: 1) how much time will it take? and 2) how much will it cost? The answers vary significantly based on a number of factors:

  • Who does the majority of the work: faculty or professional staff
  • Level of instructional design applied to the course
  • Amount of "media richness"
  • Number of people who work on the course
  • Type of staff who work on the course
  • Role of the instructor/faculty member
  • Whether development costs are subsidized by an academic technology unit, made available through central services, or paid for directly on a fee-for-service basis
  • Whether materials have already been developed for a face-to-face course

Duration of project from start to finish

Unless faculty/instructors have a dedicated leave period, it will take 6-9 months to develop an online course from an existing classroom-based offering. Designing and building a new online course may take a year or more. This assumes that team members are not working on the project 100% of their time and review periods are needed between developing modules. This figure is important in scheduling lead time needed to ensure a course can be offered blended or online in a particular term.

Cost of project

If a unit has a subsidized academic technology service group that develops online courses or is able to obtain services through U of M central services, the only cost to faculty is usually their time. If a unit does not have an academic technology group or receive services centrally, the fee-for-service cost to develop a course needs to be considered based on hourly rates from external contractors.

Financing methods

  • Selected projects will be eligible for centrally subsidized services.
  • Academic technology service groups (where subsidized by collegiate units) provide online course design and development services.
  • External grants can provide the initial resources to develop many online courses.
  • Faculty release time – some faculty have secured release time to develop their online courses.
  • Continuing education units on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses may partner with collegiate units to provide initial design and development services in exchange for sharing of future revenues where there is a strategic fit with their programs.

Design cost factors

  • Level of instructional design — the more design, the higher quality the course, but this will also increase time and cost.
  • Amount of “media richness” (videos, graphics, simulations, interactive exercises) that will be included — increased richness can translate to better instructional outcomes and less need for direct instructor involvement in course delivery, but it will also increase cost and development time.

Staffing and budget considerations

  • Number of people who work on course development — the more people involved, the faster the development but cost will also be higher.
  • Type of staff who do the work — faculty members, graduate students, professional designers and developers have different skill levels for course development and different hourly rates. Specialized staff can get the job done more quickly and with higher quality, but will cost more.
  • Role of the instructor/faculty member — the more roles instructors fill vs. instructional design professionals, the lower the external costs. The tradeoff is that faculty incur increased “opportunity costs” (they are not able to use the time for other work) and, because not all faculty possess the skill-set needed for instructional design and development, instructional outcomes may not be as positive.
  • Explicit vs. implicit costs — in collegiate units with in-house instructional designers and developers, design and development costs are usually not made explicit. In these units, there may not be a specific dollar amount paid for design and development costs. However, the value of the designer/developer time should be included in calculating the cost of the course.

Rough time estimates

The number of hours required for course design and development covers a wide range from 70 - 600 hours, with an average of about 250 hours.

The following estimates are based on models currently being used at the University of Minnesota.

  • Content Upload for Delivery. On the low end, some units take the existing text-based materials instructors have produced for a face-to-face class and load them into Moodle for blended or online delivery. In this model, there is little or no instructional design employed to convert the classroom-based course. A blended or online course produced in this manner would require about 60-80 hours.
  • Basic Instructional Design. In this model, faculty consult with an instructional designer to ensure that basic learning outcomes are met. Content is restructured to provide for a better blended or online organization. This type of course development project would require 160-280 hours.
  • Good — Better — Best Model. The unit that preceded the Center for Educational Innovation developed a "good-better-best" model which sets dollar figures for faculty, design and development work. It includes tiers that range from 300 to 600 hours. In this model, the “good” level would be appropriate for many lower division level courses. As more time and money is invested, students receive a richer blended or online experience and learning objects will be created which can be reused in future courses. 

For more information, contact the Center for Educational Innovation or the instructional design/development group that serves your collegiate unit or campus. See our Faculty Resource Directory

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