Course (seat) Time

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

On average, we calculate seat time by assuming that the user will spend a minimum of two to five minutes per screen, then multiplying the time by the number of screens planned for the course.

However, isn’t eLearning about self-paced learning and learning anywhere, anytime?

I would hate to have to go through a good course in one sitting lasting 45 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 45 minutes or two hours. Without accounting for breaks, an instructional designer would still say that the user, on 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 in which I can go through a few screens and then take a break. I like to take time to digest what I just read or learned. Then, I can come back to the course to continue learning. I also want a course that allows me to read a few screens and apply what I have learned, especially if it’s a skill, and then learn more.

It would 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 only once. Retention rarely occurs during the first and only exposure to the content. If retention does not take place, will it be possible to transfer learning?

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

Retention 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 least twice, with specific attention being paid to scene sequence. Repetition is essential.

What is learning?

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

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

In that case, why does the design have to factor in the seat time of an eLearning course? Why not simply give the number of screens that will be created?

The cost of the course will be calculated 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 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 than estimated or budgeted for. 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 a course or the ideal amount of time that they may take to go through the course. I also do not 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 or as little time on the course as they want to! I want the users to be responsible for their own learning using 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 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 it will ensure that the users want to remember the content.

Finally, 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 to three minutes.
  • A timer and clock user activity: The courses are hosted on an LMS with logs.

Here’s how the user beats it:

  • Pay a rookie to log in every day and click through every screen.
  • Log on, open an alternate tab to watch YouTube, and, after two minutes, switch back to the course to click Next!


Karuna Sanghvi is Instructional Design Practice Lead at MRCC.  She currently operates her own blog, Design Gyan, at  This blog entry was originally published on Design Gyan on 9/29/09.

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    Flash is out!

    Adobe has officially announced that they will no longer implement Flash for future mobile devices.  If this is news to you, I recommend that you read the post on Adobe’s Blog here.

    The reaction to this news has spanned the spectrum: some are shaking their fists, while others are seeking HTML5 developers.  The fact of the matter is that the switch is happening or has already happened for 90% of the web.  Keep in mind that HTML5 is basically HTML with CSS and Javascript integrated.  These two technologies, like HTML, have been around for over a decade and allow developers a great deal of flexibility and functionality.  Combining these technologies will allow everyone from students to large corporations to create full-fledged applications viewable on virtually every internet-connected device.

    One thing that you need to take into consideration is that Flash is mainly used to display video content across the web.  Flash provides an easy way to publish these files with a player interface.  This can now be done with the HTML5 <video> tag instead.  This tag is supported by all web browsers, including mobile browsers, except for WinMo and Internet Explorer prior to version 9. YouTube has been testing their HTML5 video player for months now, and other video sites are doing the same.

    Obviously, those who have created interactive, complex Flash applications now have a daunting task ahead of them.  HTML5 is not yet suited for these types of implementations simply because an intuitive and easy-to-use authoring tool has not been built.  This is why Adobe’s decision to drop Flash is truly brilliant. With Adobe now focusing on HTML5, they will seek to create a better tool to help users develop applications in HTML5 (such as Dreamweaver ) similar to how they had been built in Adobe’s Flash Professional.

    There’s no two ways about it: Flash is out and HTML5 is in. Get ready folks; this is the start of Web 3.0.



    Rajiv is Sales Manager at M&R Consultants Corporation (MRCC) based in Billerica, MA.  MRCC provides technical and creative services to publishing, training, and development groups across all industries around the globe.

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