How Much Does it Cost to Develop an Online Course in 2023?

text on the right and a girl with a laptop in the left

At an estimated 80 to 280 hours required to develop a 1-hour course, you can expect to pay roughly $5,850 USD to over $15,000 USD to get a fully polished course, in addition to the cost of your Instructional Designer (ID) and SME. 

It’s undeniable that online learning have become an inseparable part of any curriculum and delivery approach around the globe. In this rapidly evolving digital age, providing continued training and opportunities to develop new skills for your organization is essential. If you want to learn more about specifically how courses can improve your business, check out this article here

By offering endless education opportunities, you’re ensuring that your company has a competitive edge within your market. When you develop an online course, your employees can see you are investing in their personal growth, which reduces churn and attracts top-tier talent for future roles. 

There’s only one problem. 

Not a single training program on the market will be able to fit your business perfectly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. No two companies are alike, so a training course that isn’t relevant to your business can be more frustrating than beneficial to your team. 

This difference is why creating custom online learning resources is so essential. However, no one said creating an online course was easy. Before jumping into course creation, it’s crucial to understand what it will cost your organization. Several factors go into the price of an online course, so it’s best to answer the following questions before it’s time to find out how much it costs to create an online course.

Understanding Your Objective

Before you can develop your course, you need to have a clear objective and an understanding of your audience. 

To develop this objective, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • How will your business benefit from this learning course? 
  • What content is the most important for your employees to learn? 
  • What content has the most employee interest? 
  • How long do you want your course to be? 
  • How much money do you have to invest in this course? 
  • How will you motivate employees to take the course? 

When answering these questions, try to go beyond qualitative thoughts and think about the quantitative results you want to get. For example, how much do you expect employee retention to increase? Or how high of a productivity bump are you aiming for? Creating these projections will be very helpful in defining a clearer objective. 

It’s also a good idea to start drafting an employee exit survey for employees who finish the course so you can have them evaluate the effectiveness in other areas. 

Here are some more questions to consider before creating a course. 

Who will be taking the course?

Your audience will determine the format and the content of the course. Is this for new employees or people that are more established on your team? Is this for a technical role? These considerations are critical for course design because more established employees will have a completely different set of needs than new employees. Similarly, technical courses need to display and test knowledge completely differently than courses that focus on soft skills, like communication or leadership. 

How will this benefit them?

Have a clear vision of the problem this course will help your team combat. How will this course impact your company? How will it improve their workflow? It’s vital to set projected metrics, even if you don’t end up meeting them. Making these projections is how you can effectively determine how much you want to invest in the course and what kind of learning course you want to develop. 

What problem within your organization is this going to solve?

By understanding the problem, it will be much easier to develop a solution. Are you launching a new product or starting a new process? Are you introducing complex new programming software and need to train your technical employees on how to use it? Do you need to release interactive training on the appropriate procedures to follow in the event of a fire at your company? 

Remember to think about the problem from multiple perspectives. You need to consider it as the owner of the company, as the employee taking the course, and as adjacent employees or managers. Interview multiple people about how they would like best to tackle the problem so you can get more specific feedback.

How will you measure success?

At the end of the day, you want to feel like providing your team with learning materials will be worth the time and effort that you’ve put into creating this course. Which metrics will you track to determine the success of your curriculum? 

Don’t make these metrics so restrictive that you don’t have room to grow as a company. The first integration of online learning courses can be really challenging for any company. If you don’t make your targets, it’s okay as long as your company sees a benefit from it. 

Your answers to these questions will help you determine how to format the course to optimize its effectiveness within your organization.

4 Levels of eLearning Courses

The different eLearning levels are based on the amount of interactivity your learners will have with the course. The more interactivity in the material, the more engaging it is to your learners. You can also expect an enhanced learning outcome from a more in-depth curriculum. However, with increased interactivity comes higher costs and a longer time for course creation. According to eLearning Industry and Christopher Pappas, these are the 4 levels of eLearning courses.

Level 1 – Passive eLearning

Passive eLearning cost course

This type of learning course requires no interactivity. The presentation is in a PowerPoint-type format that may include some simple graphics, audio, and video with a few multiple-choice or true or false questions at the end. This level effectively delivers information about new products and policies within the business. These do not require a ton of time and resources to create, making them relatively inexpensive. 

The benefit of this course is that employees have increased control over pacing. They don’t have to slow down or speed up speakers. It’s up to them how fast they move through the slides. However, this kind of course generally produces a lower understanding, and very few people can learn a new skill, especially a technical skill, with this course type.

Level 2 – Limited Participation eLearning

Limited Participation eLearning course cost

This course will use drag-and-drop functions and similar interactive media forms to further engage your team. It blends theory and practical elements so your team can get a better understanding of how to use the new knowledge in their day-to-day work activities. This is an effective way to train employees on appropriate workplace conduct or how to proceed in the event of a fire.  

Limited participation eLearning courses do test employee knowledge and provide some metrics for gauging employee understanding. However, it is meant to test general knowledge and not really teach a new skill. These courses are perfect for communicating new procedures for the entire employee body or for specific teams.

Level 3 – Moderate Interaction eLearning

Moderate Interaction eLearning course cost

This is a more personalized learning experience featuring occasional simulations, detailed branch scenarios, and more complex drag-and-drop functions. These courses are used to teach new practical skills. The learner is expected to have developed new abilities after completing the course. 

If you want your employees to develop new skills, you’re going to want to develop a moderate interaction eLearning course. When done well, employees tend to enjoy these courses because they are more engaging and help them develop marketable skills. These courses are also the ones that will start to show results for your company. Typically, companies will see an increase in productivity and efficiency from their trained employees. 

Level 4 – Full Immersion eLearning

Full Immersion eLearning course cost

This course is fully immersive, where your employees are constantly interacting with the material in order to progress. This level often includes simulated job exercises, interactive games, branching stories based on their decisions, and other forms of multimedia. These are meant to feel like on-the-job training. 

Of course, because of the complexity of these courses, they are the most effective at teaching employees, but they are also the most expensive. It can take a lot of time to develop these courses and then even more time for their employees to take the course and practice the skills. However, if you want to produce a huge jump in results for your employees, this is the best course to develop. 

When considering which course to create, remember that as the level of interactivity with the course increases, so does the time it takes to create it and the cost associated with the development.

Cost of Creating Your Online Course

Now that you’ve determined your course objective and the level of interactivity. You can start looking at what it’s going to cost to make your eLearning dream a reality. If you don’t have an in-house team, you’ll need to look at hiring professionals outside of your business. Hiring contractors will be the path most businesses have to take. 

Hiring Talent

Creating an online course requires a full team of individuals to come up with ideas, create content, and develop the course. Two crucial positions on your team are your Instructional Designer and your Subject Matter Expert (SME). You cannot create a training course without these roles, which are vital to online course development costs. 

Instructional Designer (ID)

The ID is responsible for developing your course curriculum. They take the subject matter that you want to teach your employees and transform it into digestible content that your team can learn from effectively. 

The instructional designers will be the ones plotting the pacing of the course and developing it in such a way that makes it engaging for your team. They create the questions and help to determine which levels of interactivity will be most effective relative to your learning objectives. These designers don’t have the knowledge to create course content necessarily. Instead, they create the course format and activities that make the training interactive. In order to create the course, they will need the appropriate learning material from your Subject Matter Expert.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)

The SME is the person with a deep understanding of the material you’re trying to teach your employees. They need to be an expert in a process, software, function, or department. Their in-depth knowledge of a particular subject or technology will be necessary for creating a course that is relevant and accurate for your employees.

The subject matter expert also needs to communicate regularly with the instructional designer. Without each of these positions working together, the course cannot be designed. While the subject matter expert is responsible for writing the actual content, the instructional designer helps make it comprehensible to a new learner.

The cost of these two individuals will play a significant part in the cost of your course.

(Hourly Rate of Instructional Designer * Number of Hours) + (Hourly Rate of SME * Number of Hours) = Total Cost of Online Course or Training Program

According to Salary.com, as of December 27, 2022, an Instructional Designer in the United States earns an average salary of $73,427 per year, which is about $35 an hour.

The pricing for a subject matter expert is a little more complicated. Their cost depends entirely on the topic, years of experience, and area of expertise. According to Salary.com, the average hourly wage for a Subject Matter Expert in the United States is $56 as of December 27, 2022. This rate can definitely vary, though, and the general range is between $48 and $63. Recall that this rate also depends on the education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years they have spent in their profession. For example, the cost of an SME in aerospace engineering or cardiology could be significantly higher than in other fields. This is simply because their skill sets are rare and difficult to obtain.

Of course, the cost and required hours will depend on their experience level and the project’s complexity. You can, however, refer to this table as your baseline:

Cost Breakdown of Key Roles

TaskRoleRate/Hour ($USD)
Curriculum building and guidance (to the SME), exercise development and content creation.Instructional DesignerBeginner: $30 per Hour
Intermediate: $59 per Hour
Advanced: $125 per Hour
Production ready script write-upCopywriterBeginner/Intermediate/Advanced: $40 – $80 per Hour
Filming, video editing, sound mixing, color correction and effectsVideo EditorBeginner: $20-$45 per Hour
Intermediate: $45-$100 per Hour
Advanced: $60-$100 per Hour
Illustration and character development, overall design of course materials and resources.Graphic DesignerBeginner/Intermediate/Advanced: $20-$70 per Hour
Voice over recording.Voice Over ArtistBeginner/Intermediate/Advanced: $40-$100 per Hour
Source: Upwork

In addition to the roles listed, you might need support from the below:

  • Audio Editors
  • Developers (for the more interactive content creation)
  • Animators
  • Voice Over Talent
  • Programmers
  • LMS Specialists
  • Slide Creators

All of the above positions depend on how complex and interactive your course is.

Content Delivery

The next component of your course is to choose a Learning Management System (LMS). An LMS is software that your Instructional Designer will use to develop your eLearning course, and it’s used to deliver the training to your employees. Your LMS will track your employees’ progress in the course, issue certificates upon completion, and improve the overall learning experience. 

Choosing the right LMS is crucial to your training course’s success. If the platform frequently crashes or has limited features, your employees will not learn as much and your business will not benefit. Conversely, a good LMS will encourage higher employee engagement and provide you with tools to instantly monitor their progress and track improvement. 

Due to the incredible growth and innovation in the eLearning space, a lot of LMS options have entered the market for both enterprise and small business/individual settings. They can range from $100 to $2000 a month, depending on functionality and the number of licenses. Let’s look at the top LMS software on the market for 2023. These platforms are a big factor in training program development costs.

Thinkific

Thinkific enables businesses and entrepreneurs to create, market, sell, and deliver their own online courses and training programs. The LMS has a mix of individual creators and corporate clients, who use the platform to create amazing micro-academies for their products. A notable client of theirs is Hootsuite with their Hootsuite Academy.  Thinkific is also the only platform that has an app marketplace for developers. In 2023, having an app complement to the LMS is another way to increase employee interaction and enjoyment.

Kajabi

Kajabi is an all-in-one business platform that helps you create and scale your knowledge business and training programs. The Kajabi LMS comes with a lot of integrations to make the learning experience of any student incredible. It has e-mail automation and landing pages, as well as an advanced curriculum builder and landing page. A popular creator on the platform is Vanessa Lau with her BOSSGRAM Academy. In general, Kajabi is just a really great all-around choice with a variety of customizations and an impressive range of optionality.

Docebo

Docebo leans on the academic and corporate side and has been in the market since 2005. The LMS is compatible with SCORM 1.2 and 2004 as well as Tin Can. The LMS has the ability to centralize and organize courses, distribute and manage online and instructor-led courses, track certifications, and measure results with dashboards and custom analytics. In addition, Docebo is powered by AI, automatically tagging learning content and making it easier to find. Docebo’s custom analytics and its AI are two of its most powerful tools and help it stand out from the competition.

Adobe Captivate Prime

Adobe has produced a lot of eLearning and Design tools over the years, but their main LMS product is called Adobe Captivate Prime. The LMS gives you complete control to deliver personalized learning experiences to your employees, customers, and partners. You can also take advantage of AI-based recommendations to deliver a hyper-personalized learner home page experience. If your business already uses a lot of Adobe, this is a great option because it is easy to integrate into your current workflow.

Start Your Project: Determine Your Course or Training Program Cost

If this all seems a little overwhelming, it’s because it often can be. You have the best intentions by wanting to create an eLearning experience for your team, but there are a lot of moving parts required to get it done. The cost of your Learning Management Software, your Designer, SME, and freelancers, can really add up. This is why so many organizations start building their course but never end up completing the project. The last thing you want is to spend time and money on eLearning material that you don’t end up using. After deciding what curriculum you want to produce, the next step is to accurately assess how much to charge for curriculum development. 

At SkildLabs, we offered a tailored one-stop-shop approach, so your course is designed with your business objectives in mind. We take the time to understand the outcomes you hope to achieve with your eLearning. Then, we work to develop a curriculum that is designed with the appropriate level of interactivity based on your needs. 

From the first brainstorming session all the way to implementation, SkildLabs is there every step of the way. Our partnership doesn’t end after the implementation of your course either. We want to ensure that the program we’ve created delivers the outcome you expected. We’ll continue to fine-tune the material until the curriculum is perfect for your needs.

Creating an eLearning course doesn’t have to be complicated. Book a consultation with us today to discuss your project. We can quickly provide you with an accurate estimate today. Of course, when you finish developing a course, you’re going to need the perfect place to host your learning community. One great solution is Nas.Io, which you can read more about here.

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