Business & Finance

Three factors influencing the cost of creating online courses

Education providers are increasingly making learning available to students online. Whether it’s pivoting existing courses into online learning formats or launching new learning offerings, there are a few key factors that will impact the bottom line cost and return on investment you achieve.


The cost factors behind ‘it depends’


When educators begin to ask around for an estimate on how much the creation of an online course will cost, they’ll usually get the answer ‘it depends’. That’s because it does – on a range of factors. Everything from the hourly rate of the team engaged to create it, to the level of quality required.

Research out of the US in 2020, for example, shows the difference in time taken to create a ‘passive’, text-based unit of e-learning (up to 79 hours, or an average of 48 hours) and something with more advanced elements like games, scenarios, or simulations (up to 694 hours, or an average of 155).

Likewise, US market research around price ranges for one hour of online learning content yielded potential price tags of $4,500 - $10,000 for basic content, right up to the $50,000 mark for premium level learning content developed by teams at larger corporate or institutional education providers.

Here are three factors that can influence the cost of creating a new online course.


The ‘who’

Whether you’re using external resources like instructional design consultants or individual freelance contractors, or your own internal teams, the time and cost of the expertise required to analyse, design, develop, implement and evaluate the course will all show up on your bottom line.

During the course design and implementation phase for example, you might be using a range of professionals with different skills and hourly rates, from project and instructional design managers, through to subject experts, content managers, graphic designers and video and audio editors.

Education providers find they can inject significant cost flexibility into the course creation equation (while generally maintaining the level of course product quality), if they are willing to experiment with using external resources like platform-sourced contractors intelligently as part of the process.


The ‘what’

The instructional complexity and interactivity of course content has an oversized impact on the cost. Researchers and consultants tend to stratify this roughly into three ‘tiers’, from simple, text-based ‘page turners’ on one end to immersive, highly interactive learning experiences on the other.

This will mean the course cost will depend on a variety of factors like whether the end product will include embedded interactive activities like quizzes and assessments, branching scenarios, or bespoke infographics and videos in either animated or live-action form, to name a few options.

Education businesses need to understand the learners they want to engage, the value in creating more in-depth and interactive content, and the likely return on investment in the market segment.


The ‘how’

The process used to create online courses will impact the cost outcomes. In just one example, having to go backwards somewhere in mid-stream to rethink elements of a course (rather than getting it right upfront) can have a high impact on the cost outcomes you will need to wear at the end.

Elements of process that can affect cost are things like the quantity and quality of the source material being offered to creators, the quality of the overall course design, and whether it is built to be ‘evergreen’ over time or will need to be maintained and updated on a regular basis. 

Likewise, how your online course will interact with and be distributed through your learning management system is a factor. Whether you can plug and play course content elsewhere could have a bearing on the value you are able to create for your organisation in the long run.