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How to Estimate Training Design Timelines

Updated on December 14, 2021
Carolyn M Fields profile image

Carolyn is a learner-centric instructional designer who is proficient at generating new content and improving upon existing materials.



According to Langevin Learning Services, most classroom instructional design projects require 25 days (see work break down) of development for every day of instruction.

Here is a typical work breakdown:

Design Timeline

Estimated Duration
Number of Work Days
As a Percentage of Total
Plan Project
Analyze Learners
List Tasks
Analyze Tasks
Write Objectives
Design Tests
Select Methods
Structure Course
Develop Materials
Validate Course
Evaluate Course

Tasks to Design Training

The tasks listed above are fairly universal. Some Instructional Designers may be tempted to take short cuts, or eliminate steps, but this only leads to an inferior design. For example, you may feel that you already know your audience, and that there is no real reason to do analyze your learners. This is where you might miss recent changes in the workplace. Also, some clients may tell you that "tests" are not needed. This would also be a mistake, since some sort of assessment needs to take place to validate learning has taken place. If you must, call it something else, e.g., knowledge check. But don't skip this, or any of the other steps.

Key Variables

Experienced Instructional Designers know that you can add or subtract as much as ten days (which is 40%) to/from the total, depending on:

  • The size and experience of your team and organization
  • The relative scope of the project
  • The availability of materials, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), vendors, etc.
  • Work already completed

Obviously, a highly experienced team is going to take much less time to complete the project. Also, the availability of SMEs is such a key component, it can't be overstated. Also, access to reviewers and approvers is key (if you have them).

It should be noted that the above chart is for Classroom-based instruction. Computer-based or Web-based projects are more complex, and typically require between 75 and 300 days of development to every day of instruction.


Here is my straightforward idea to “simplify” those variables.

  1. To estimate duration of a project, use a “standard” benchmark,
    such as 25 to 1, depending on the nature of the project.
  2. Add or subtract a percentage, based upon know complications or complexities.

Here is my table:


Subtract 40%
Below Average
Subtract 20%
No change
Above Average
Add 20%
Add 40%

Example - Advanced Problem Solving

One-day of tradition classroom training. Instructor led. Need leader’s guide, participant materials and visual aids. Templates for these already exist. One experienced Instructional Designer. Limited SME availability, however, the client is motivated to have this project complete by a specified due date. Some materials already developed. Well-known audience characteristics.

Project Duration Estimate: 6 ½ hours of actual instruction (allowing for breaks and lunch) multiplied by the 25 to 1 standard = 162.5 hours design time. Apply a “below average” complexity factor = 130 hours is the revised estimate.

Great Instructional Design Book

Bottom-line Training: Performance-based Results
Bottom-line Training: Performance-based Results
Dr. Ford's book on Instructional Design is in my personal library. His take on timelines is similar, but not identical to mine. It's a great resource.


Regardless of what approach you take, you are going to need to justify your time estimates to your client. Hopefully, this has given you an additional tool.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Carolyn Fields


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