Course Time

One question that I constantly face as an instructional designer is “What is the seat time for the course?”

On an average we calculate seat time by assuming that user will spend minimum of two minutes to five minutes per screen. And then multiply it by no. of screens planned etc.

However, isn’t elearning about self paced learning? Learning anywhere, anytime?

I would hate to have to go through a good course at one sitting of forty five minutes or two hours. I might as well attend a lecture in a classroom.

Seat time also refers to the combined time that is spent on the course amounting to forty-five minutes or two hours. Without accounting for the breaks an instructional designer would still say that the user on an average would spend two hours on a particular course. And in most cases the ID would be accurate.

Why should I make seat time a factor while designing the course?

As a user, I prefer a course where I can go through a few screens and then take a break. I would like to take time to digest what I have read or just learnt. Then maybe come back to the course to continue learning. I want a course which allows me to read a few screens, apply what I have learnt, esp. if it’s a skill and then learn more.

It would indeed be great to create a course so engaging that the user is rooted to the screen for two hours.

Sure, a game might keep me there for two hours. And even games have pause buttons unless I am online fighting an imaginary enemy in a MMROPG.

Or maybe a simulation would keep me there. Sure simulations are great to learn from. As a user, they involve me so completely, that two hours later I still want more.

Does real learning occur in those two hours?

What do you measure when you evaluate the effectiveness of most elearning courses?

# As per Kirkpatrick, we measure whether user reaction has created a desire for learning. And whether the learning changes behavior and demonstrates results.


When does learning occur?

# Learning is said to have occurred when content material is recalled at the time of application of a skill or principle.

How does learning occur?

# Most learners will go through the course but once. Retention of learning rarely happens on the first and only exposure to content. Unless retention takes place, will it be possible to transfer learning?

Does retention occur when you do not repeat the content just learnt?

# Retention of learning is confirmed when the user is assessed on the content presented. Assessments do not guarantee that retention will occur beyond the assessment. Nor do they ensure transfer of skills.

How does transfer of learning or of skills occur and how does retention take place?

# If I see a movie like Matrix Revolutions, I can tell you the scene sequence only if I watch it at the least – twice, with specific attention to scene sequence. Repetition.

What is learning?

Let’s face it – most of us are not brilliant learners. Most of us do not really want to learn a new skill unless it is absolutely necessary, unless our motivation is really high. Most of us are stressed learners. Most of us do not want to spend business time on learning courses or skills. Most of us would rather take the course in the free time between projects or meetings or be in a learning place of calm and quiet.

The challenge therefore is to create content which promotes retention and transfer of skills, irrespective of the time any user spends on it.

Then why does the design have to factor for a seat time of an elearning course?

Why not simply give the number of screens which will be created?

Anyway the cost of the course will be calculated as per screens developed rather than how much time the user will spend on it. After all we are undervaluing the course if we cost it as per one use seat time. Nor am I accounting for development time if I cost it as per seat time.

One hour of seat time does not in any way equate to a certain number of man hours on the development time. Most project post mortems will tell you that they spent much more time than estimated or budgeted for. Few will tell you that they spent much less time. Hardly any will state that they spent the exact number of man hours estimated as per the project plan or budgeted as per the plan.

Project hours

As an ID, I do not want to tell the users how much time they should spend on it. Or the ideal amount of time that they may take to go through the course. Nor do I want to use forced navigation to ensure that users meet my estimated seat time requirements.

I want to tell the users that they can spend as much time on it as they want to! Or as little. I want the users to be responsible for their own learning with the content presented to them. I want the users to engage in the learning process so that they can apply this learning on the job.

After all, it is the transfer of skills that the client seeks. My output is much better when I worry less about the user’s seat time requirements. I can give you a design that will motivate the users to not only ‘spend’ time on the course but see the course as an investment. A design so compelling that will ensure that the users will want to remember the content.


Did you know that IRDA regulations require an examinee to spend at least 100 hours of practical training with an authorized institution?

Most institutions deliver this training either via lectures in a classroom or by giving an online timed course. Once 100 hours are accounted for, the candidate is eligible to appear for the IRDA certification exam.

Here’s how online courses ensure 100 hours of seat time.

• Forced navigation – The forward button is disabled for two-three minutes.

• Put a timer and clock user activity. The courses are hosted on LMS with logs.

Here’s how the user beats it.

• Pays a rookie to log in every day and click every screen.
• Or simply logs on, opens an alternate tab to watch you tube and after two minutes switches back to the course to click NEXT!


4 thoughts on “Course Time

  1. Anup

    Very technical analysis indeed! The last part is illustrative about how someone can beat the system. However, if the course content is something that one can enjoy the learning process or one finds it interesting/arresting, maybe the tendency to cheat will be less? Or am I simplifying it too much?


    • wordjolt

      Anup. You are quite right. Therefore the challenge before the ID is to create content so good, that the user will want to learn. The user will not want to skip pages.


  2. JimmyBean

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s