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How Long Does It Take To Build An Online Course?

Table of Contents

I always see these posts online about how you can create a course in one day. ONE DAY?! If this was true, I wouldn’t have a job.

So let’s set the record straight. While you can create an online course in a day, you absolutely should not. Here’s why:

  1. What you can create in a day probably doesn’t even qualify as an online course. It’s probably a video or a basic PDF.
  2. These posts are promotional materials. They’re meant to generate interest, introduce you to the creator, show you what they can do for you, get you hooked, and then stop short of providing any type of value that’s going to help you achieve your goals. Because when you can’t build that course in one day (big surprise), you just might come back for more–and this time you might be willing to pay for it.

Here’s the truth. A lot goes into creating an online course if you want quality results. I created this guide to show you that creating an online course, and all it’s component parts, takes time and a broad skillset.

Deliverable Ratios from Corporate Training

In corporate training, we use ratios to predict workload and project plan. These ratios are based on past work and fluctuate depending on the available resources, timeline, budget, and scope of work.

Here are some general ratios by deliverable. This is not a complete list but these deliverable types can be generalized to many other types of instructional materials. 

Deliverable Types

Ratios (# hours per length)

Self-led eLearning (passive, no engagement)

2:1 (2 hours per 1 minute)

Self-led eLearning (high engagement)

3:1 (3 hours per 1 minute)

Resource and reference materials (PDFs, images, infographics)

1:1 (1 hour per 1 page)

Videos (interview, talking head, animated template)

2:1 (2 hours per 1 minute)

Live, instructor-led (in-person or virtual)

1:1 (1 hour per 1 minute)

Videos (complex, broll, animated custom)

3:1 (3 hours per 1 minute)

These ratios might seem high to you, but in corporate training, there are often teams of experts doing the work–subject matter experts (SMEs), project managers, instructional designers, graphic designers, eLearning developers, video producers and editors, and copywriters. This team can split the workload and, as a result, work faster and more effectively. Though they’re often slowed down by the bureaucracy of feedback, approvals, pivots, and other projects.

The process of designing online courses looks a bit different for course creators. It’s likely a one-person show, learning and balancing each of these tasks and responsibilities solo and, in some cases, through trial and error. But the course creator is the sole decision-maker and this one course may be their only focus or priority, allowing them to make decisions quicker and be more agile.

That said, these ratios can be as helpful to estimate work for your online course as they are for corporate training, though you may choose to adjust the ratios slightly based on how quickly you can work through the required tasks.

Let’s apply this to an example.



We want to create a 5-week program. Learners get one hour per week of self-led materials and another two hours per week of live sessions where they can apply what they’ve learned and get immediate feedback. This is a 15-hour training in total and requires a mix of deliverables to create an effective and engaging experience.

Each week includes:

Self-led Session

1 hour per week

Live Instructor-led Session

2 hours per week

Scenario Analysis

Deliverables Needed

Now that we know the structure of the experience, let’s identify the deliverables.

  • 5 talking head videos with animations and onscreen graphics
  • 5 passive eLearnings (templated content structure, minimal graphics)
  • 2 screen recordings with voiceover
  • 20-page practice guide
  • 5-page checklist
  • 5 instructor-led (virtual) sessions with an interactive presentation and facilitator guide

Time Needed to Develop

Next, let’s estimate the time required to build all the deliverables.

Deliverable Type





Video (simple, talking head)


5 min


50 hours

eLearning (passive)


5 min


50 hours

Screen Recording


3 min


6 hours

PDF Practice Guide


4 pages


20 hours

PDF Checklist


1 page


5 hours

Live, instructor-led (virtual)


10 min


50 hours

Based on this course design and the types of deliverables identified, this online course would take approximately 181 hours to build. For someone who could devote all their time to this work, it would take 8 hours a day for 22.5 days to build.

I know some people will think 50 hours to create 5 videos is nonsense because, well, TikTok. But they’d be missing the bigger picture and the most important part. The quality of the video production (like lighting and audio) doesn’t matter if the script, talent, and video style miss the mark in landing the message and engaging learners. And the same applies for every other deliverable on the list. 

In most poorly designed online courses, the common theme is not spending time upfront planning and writing content that ties back to objectives in a clear, concise, and comprehensible way.

Task List

Each deliverable takes time to plan and execute if you want quality results. Here’s a brief task list as a reminder of all that’s involved:

Tasks to create a talking head video with animations and onscreen graphics include:

  • Write concise, action-oriented script that’s aligned to learning objectives
  • Create a shot list
  • Set up
  • Film
  • Edit with intros, music, graphics, closed captions

Tasks to create a passive eLearning with templated content design and minimal graphics include:

  • Outline content in alignment with learning objectives
  • Create content draft or storyboard
  • Create or source supporting graphics and visuals
  • Develop eLearnings in authoring tool or directly in the learning management system (LMS)
  • Proofread and test functionality

Tasks to create a screen recording with voiceover include:

  • Define workflow steps that support learning objectives
  • Record workflow
  • Record voiceover
  • Edit recording with voiceover, onscreen graphics, closed captions

Tasks to create a PDF practice guide include:

  • Write practice or application scenarios, questions, instructions that support learning objectives
  • Design and develop guide
  • Complete an example for demonstration purposes
  • Proofread content and role play activities for quality assurance

Tasks to create a PDF checklist include:

  • Define list of tasks, reminders, and best practices
  • Design and develop checklist
  • Proofread and validate content

Tasks to create a live virtual instructor-led training include:

  • Outline presentation content to support learning objectives
  • Create facilitator guide that includes:
    • Session purpose and logistics
    • Speaker notes
    • Activity instructions and directives
  • Create presentation deck
    • Design slides
    • Configure interactive slides
  • Proofread content
  • Complete dry run of presentation or host train the trainer for facilitator


I know there’s a desire for quick returns. But taking the appropriate time to design and develop an online course will help make sure it’s instructionally sound and supports the intended objectives. When you work too fast, you often end up rambling and losing focus, straying from or convoluting the core message. Which ultimately risks learners not getting results.

Stop trying to shortcut course creation. Creating effective online courses takes time.