In addition to finding an online training platform like Skilljar, companies frequently need to outsource some or all of their eLearning content creation. In this article, we describe general expectations for your content budget, based on different scenarios for outsourcing eLearning development.


Types of Content Services

If your company needs to outsource all of the eLearning content development, we recommend that you split the project into two phases – 1) instructional design and 2) content production. Although these might ultimately be performed by the same agency or individual, doing the instructional design in the first phase empowers you to make more informed budget decisions for the content production phase. The content production phase can often be much more costly than the instructional design phase, particularly if you are using high quality video, so it’s a good idea to develop specific project scopes during Phase 1.

Phase 1 – Instructional Design

Instructional design refers to the process of identifying learning objectives, structuring the course, determining the length and format of each lesson or learning object, scripting videos and quizzes, and converting any pre-existing content to an online course format. The deliverable is a detailed design document and potentially some content as well.

To set your instructional designer up for success, be sure to provide:

  • The target audience, course length, and delivery type
  • The content production budget and preferred content formats (if any)
  • The online training platform (LMS) that you plan to use
  • Pre-existing materials such as training binders, videos, and Powerpoint slides.
  • Any additional preferences or requirements for how you’d like to structure the course.

Most freelance instructional designers will charge an hourly rate with an estimated budget for the project. The total hours needed can vary greatly based on how much thinking has gone into the instructional design already. Roughly speaking, expect at least 40 hours of instructional design per hour of finished course, and potentially more if you are starting from scratch. In Seattle and on the US West Coast, instructional designers generally charge $100-$150/hr. So a 3 hour online course with a good set of pre-existing materials will take roughly 120 hours of instructional design, for a budget of $12K-$18K.

Phase 2 – Content Production

Content production refers to the process of developing the course materials based on the instructional design. The formats might be videos, PDF worksheets, Captivate or Storyline modules, HTML5 simulations, or any other number of different types of content. Outsourced content producers typically specialize by format and charge on a project basis.

It is important to select content developers who are familiar with the content format you’d like to use. Some vendors may support multiple capabilities in-house. The skills are too specialized between the different formats for vendors to easily switch from one to another, though. Consider the difference between producing a live action video, for example, versus a SCORM module.

If you are developing Captivate or Storyline modules, these are often billed hourly, similar to instructional design. For moderate interactivity, expect at least 100 hours of production time per hour of finished course. So a 3-hour online course will take roughly 300 hours of content production, for a budget of $30-$45K.

Simulations are even more time-consuming but may be critical for your industry, such as how to operate medical equipment.

Video production can take several forms.

  • Screencasting refers to capturing the movements on your desktop, tablet, or phone. These are often interspersed with motion graphics and animations. Expect between $3K-$7K per finished minute depending on the complexity of the video.
  • Live interviews with lights and audio can be between $2K-$3K per finished minute
  • Live clips of a transactional nature (simple recordings, often called ‘B-Roll’) can cost around $1K per finished minute
  • Recording a live event with multiple cameras and real-time switching can run $5K+ for a half day event.

If you’re looking to produce your own video, there are many tools available. Read our article on eLearningIndustry for more information.


We hope this article has given you budgeting guidelines when considering outsourcing your eLearning content development to contract professionals. Of course, the specifics will vary considerably based on your project, but the above will give you a ballpark of what to expect. With this information, you can make the appropriate tradeoffs on resources, timing, and production quality that still enable you to achieve your goals.