Life by Design

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources in Instructional Design

Posted on: December 2, 2010

One of the most challenging aspects of any project, including those of Instructional Design is that of estimating costs and allocating resources.  It is not a popular topic often fraught with politics, market pressures and personnel issues.

I am interested in creating online courses, so I searched for cost estimation tools that might be useful in creating an online course.  The Center for Learning Technologies at Old Dominion University has created the Asychronous Pricing Model (APM) which is an interactive costing model that provides the answer to the question:  How much will it cost to put my course online?  What I like about this model is that it allows the designer to input raw and loaded labor figures, separate pages for every type of multimedia and major production processes used to create online courses, and finally, summary pages for the total hours and final costs associated with the project.  The model allows for quality control costs to be built into each development section.  It is an interactive spreadsheet, which includes categories for the producer, designer, and technician.  This University developed this model to help them be more accurate in assessing costs.  It is a step-by-step guide to enable instructors to quickly build cost estimates.  They can enter raw numbers in categories and subcategories, based on preferences, needs and requirements.  I like this model because it is simple to use, straightforward and user-friendly for the instructor.  Because of this, it might help to reduce the reluctance to move toward more online models for instruction.

The link for this model is found at:

Another challenging part of planning a project is estimating the time it will take to use specific resources.  There is a difference between the time used on a task and the duration of that task.  I located a website sponsored by TT Systems  (a project management consulting firm) that provides Project Management training for the software, “Microsoft Project.”  Their website offers a variety of topics regarding project management.  I especially liked the article “Using Work (effort) to Calculate Duration”.

The authors state, “Many project managers have been taught to estimate the effort that a task requires instead of estimating the duration as is promoted by the views in Microsoft Project. As you recall work (which is the name used for effort in Project), along with duration and units are the components of the work equation that Project applies to resource assignments:

Duration * Units = Work

If the manager has estimated work and has decided not only which resources to assign but also how many units of each will be assigned, then Project can calculate the duration using this version of the formula:

Duration = Work / Units

The authors, assuming that one is using “Microsoft Project” offer the following tips for using the software:  “Traditional project management training often teaches managers to estimate effort (work) for tasks and to decide what resources will be assigned. The presumption is that the software will calculate the duration and distribute the work in proportion to the assigned units. You can do that in Project, but you need to use this method:

  1. Enter the work at the task level (using the Work field in a task table).
  2. Make sure that the task is Effort Driven (it’s the default anyway) and that it is not Fixed Duration.
  3. Assign just one of the resources, being sure to enter the units. Project will assign all the work to that resource and calculate a new duration.
  4. Add the other resources, being sure to enter their units also. Project will invoke the Effort Driven calculations and distribute work in proportion to the assigned units.
  5. If you later want to change the units for one of the resources, delete the resource and than add it back with the new units.

I like this system because it makes clear the definition of duration.  The system seems to simplify the calculations one might manually do to make these numerical estimates of time worked and the actual duration of time that has elapsed on the project.

The link for this specific article can be found at:


Gordon, S., Wu, H., M’hammed Abdous, (2009)”Using a Web-based System to Estimate the Cost of Online Course Production”, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XII, Number III, Fall 2009.  University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center.  Extracted from:

T2TT Systems: “Project Management”.  Extracted from:


4 Responses to "Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources in Instructional Design"

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[…] found a great blog  at instructional design village  that provided great links to a cost assessment tool and insight on how to calculate duration, […]

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