Scoping a Learning Solution – Art or Science? Part 3

Part 3 – Assigning Development Ratios*
*Development Ratios also include the effort required for all the Design activities.

This is the third part of our blog, Scoping a Learning Solution – Art or Science? If you have not read the previous posts, please do so:

The choice of instructional strategy (See the previous blog) has a direct impact on the level of effort that will be required to develop learning materials to implement that strategy. For example, self-directed e-learning takes more development effort than leader-led. The critical question then becomes, “How much more effort?”

The common approach to answering this question is to use industry-established development ratios. Based on our experience, FKA has established a series of development ratios for the different instructional strategies. See the table below. These ratios assume you already have analyzed the performance problem, defined the specific content for your target audience and are ready to design the program and develop all the necessary learning materials. For example, FKA’s development ratio for leader-led training would be expressed as ”30:1” meaning you should plan 30 hours of design and development effort for each unit worth of learning produced. A ‘unit’ could be an hour or a day.

Instructional StrategyDescriptionDevelopment Ratio
Self-Instruction• objectives and tests developed3:1
Job Aid• checklist/flowchart
• manual
• on-line document
On-the-Job• supervisor guide, tests developed25:1
Leader-Led (Face-to-face or online)• minimal materials
• sophisticated, detailed materials
Self-Directed Learning – paper-based• infrequent learner response
• frequent learner response; test for understanding and feedback incorporated
Self-Directed e-Learning
Level 1 Sophistication/Complexity
• interactive, linear tutorial, use existing media, very basic interface100:1**
Level 2 Sophistication/Complexity• interactive tutorial, minimal graphics, no special animation200:1**
Level 3 Sophistication/Complexity• interactive tutorial, minimal graphics, some animation or media300:1**
Level 4 Sophistication/Complexity• simulation/immersive game – can have a wide range of functionality and cost500:1**

In our Designing Instruction program, we introduce our standard ratios which have been in place for many years. After many years using these ratios for a wide variety of projects we know that they are just a starting point and require adjustments to reflect the unique nature of each specific project. The ability to calculate the development ratios for a specific program is very much at the ‘Art’ end of the Art-Science continuum.

You can check out these links to see ratios used by other organizations:

The selection of instructional strategy yields a development ratio which can be applied to the duration estimate to provide you with a planned level of effort. If we continue with our example from Part 1 of this series of blogs, we had estimated the duration to teach 45 easy-to-learn skill and knowledge items would be three hours. If we decide to develop minimal or basic leader-led materials, we would apply a 15 to 1 ratio and plan 45 hours of development effort (15 x 3 hours) for the three hours (or a half-day*) of content. On the other hand, if we decided those 45 skill and knowledge items would be difficult to learn, the duration estimate is 5.75 hours which we round up to one day; AND we want more sophisticated materials, we would use a 30 to 1 ratio and plan 30 days of development effort for the one-day program.

* We base our conversion of hours to days on a six-hour instructional day.

To be efficient about documenting these decisions and performing the calculations we added the following page to the spreadsheet tool introduced in Part 1 of this series of blog.

Click on Image to Enlarge
The spreadsheet supports the concept of a blended strategy and allows for the identification of up to three instruction strategies for a learning program. In the scenario shown above, the blended strategy includes: leader-led, level 1 self-directed e-learning, and an on-the-job assessment. Notice for this project the default e-learning ratio has been reduced from 100 to 1, to 50 to 1. This reflects the decision to use a rapid development authoring tool (Storyline) and existing templates. Once you have recorded your strategy decision(s) the spreadsheet will calculate the level of development effort needed.

Click on Image to Enlarge
To complete the calculation, allocate some of the planned duration to each of the strategies. In this case 70% of the time is assigned to the leader-led strategy, 20% to the e-learning, and 10% to the on-the-job assessment. The spreadsheet then calculates that you should plan 33.5 days of development effort. This spreadsheet lets you document some key design decisions, calculate some important values and save the data for reference. After the development is complete you can come back to the spreadsheet and adjust some of the built-in development ratios as appropriate.

Part 4 of the blog will cover costs and effort required for media development and evaluation instruments which are not usually included in standard development ratios.

Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development