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This talking-paper is a modified version of the March 2009 seat-time calculation. The total seat time for a learner's taking courseware is always an estimate when dealing with self-paced or technology-based training. A lesson that one student spends an hour completing might take another only 40 minutes. Based on student observation and development experience, most courseware includes 45 - 57 pages of instruction and up to 20 minutes audio for 60 minutes of student seat-time. However, just using the number of storyboard pages to estimate courseware seat-time will not provide accurate data.

According to web-sources1, the average number of words in a 20-minute conversation is approximately 2,100, or 105 words per minute (WPM). Audio books are normally read at an estimated 150 - 160 WPM, which is the range that people comfortably hear words. Since audio and text elements are commonly applied in courseware, a range above conversational, and within the hearing comfort level should be used in estimating the time a student spends with a learning product.

Based on these estimates, typical content for courseware products should range between 120 and 140 WPM. This is a conservative estimate considering the typical reading rate for a learner going through content has a wide variance of 100 - 200 wpm. Using a range of 120 - 140 WPM as a guide will ensure we account for the learner's comprehension and provides a good target for audio narration.

Activities are also a factor in calculating student seat time. Activities can range from simple multiple-choice questions, to branching dialogue spanning multiple decision paths. These types of activities typically average from 1 to 15 minutes depending on the interactivity level and depth of the branching. Taking into account the total number of words/characters within the content or courseware product, the 120 - 140 WPM standard, and activities for Level 2 and above, you can estimate seat time through the following calculation:

  • T2: Total Time in minutes equals
  • C: Total number characters without spaces in narration and on-screen text
  • This gives you a conservative character count since OST may reflect a condensed version of the narration, or narration may not be present at all.
  • When you are calculating character count in content, do not count any front matter, glossaries, references, or descriptors. In some cases, these items can add up to 20 - 1,000 characters a page.
  • Multiply total characters by (0.07/60). The 0.07 converts to WPM and is a constant derived from timing representative audio clips and comparing them timing with the number of characters/words in the written narration. This ties the 120 - 140 wpm range with actual audio narratives. The divisional number 60 is the factor that converts your final number from seconds to minutes (60 seconds in a minute). The calculated number to use for the constant is 0.0012. Remember, if you use audio narration in your courseware, your seat time estimate cannot be any less than the total of your finalized audio time.
  • AT: Is the estimate of activity time.

In addition to the narration, you must include an estimate of how long it will take an average learner to complete the various activities within the courseware. There may also be instances where you receive raw content that needs conversion.

In order to capture development and the notional seat-time estimates, calculate the amount of text using the total characters step above, and then account for the activities. Whether you are calculating seat-time for completed courseware, or performing a content conversion estimate, you number you use for the AT quotient should be from 0.5 to 1.8, depending on the interactivity level of the course. The conversion quotients are below:

  • 0.5 for Level 1
  • 0.6 - 1.4 for Level 2
  • 1.5 - 2 for Level 3

Example #1:

  • A developed course has one slide of content that has no interactivity.
  • The slide contains 1,340 characters (not counting spaces, headers, or titles).
  • Using the calculation, the estimate would look like this:
  • T2 = C (0.07/60) AT
  • T2 = 1,340 (0.07/60)0.5
  • T2 = 1,340 (0.0012)0.5
  • T2 = 1.608 x 0.5
  • T2 = 0.80 min (48 seconds) the average student is expected to take on the content.

Example #2:

  • A developed lesson has thirty slides of content with Level 2 interactivity.
  • Ten of the pages make up an end-of-lesson knowledge review.
  • The lesson contains 12,478 characters (not counting spaces, headers, or titles)
  • Using the calculation, the estimate would look like this:
  • T2 = C (0.07/60) AT
  • T2 = 12,478 (0.07/60)1.2
  • T2 = 12,478 (0.0012)1.2
  • T2 = 14.97 x 1.2
  • T2 = 17.96 or 18 min the average student is expected to take on the content

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