Action Mapping With a Twist: A Tool for Budgeting E-Learning Development

Whether you’ve been developing e-learning content for years or you’re just getting started, it can be challenging to predict how much time and money an e-learning development project will take.

But how exactly can we predict and calculate that amount of time and what factors influence those amounts? I found that completing an exercise similar to Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping process – the same process many of us use for designing our e-learning content – was an effective tool for identifying significant time and cost factors for the completion of a project. In a short amount of time, you can easily complete this exercise too. Here’s how.

In Cathy’s Action Mapping process, the first step is to identify the (measurable) business goal. For our purposes, this goal is to complete an e-learning project (on budget). The second step is to identify what people need to do in order to reach that goal. To tackle this second step, outline your basic development process and identify the person, team, or role that is primarily responsible for each process. If you don’t know what your development process looks like yet, this is a great time to map it out. An easy way to do this is by generating a colorized flow chart that might look something like this.


In the third step of Cathy’s action mapping process, she says to design activities that help people practice each behavior. Since were not designing e-learning here, we’ll modify our approach, and use this step to identify the tasks that people actually do to complete each part of our development process. For example, for project pre-work, this may include gathering content materials and writing a design document. For storyboard writing, this may include speaking with subject-matter experts and reviewing content and reference materials. By the end of this third step, your map should look something like the following. Note that in this map, the color coding continues to help identify who is responsible for what.


The fourth and final step of the action mapping process calls for identifying the minimum information people need to complete each activity. In our modified budget mapping process, we’ll use this last step to identify the factors that can influence the amount of time necessary to complete each task. That is, for each task, fill in the blanks and ask yourself the following question: What impacts the amount of time necessary for <task assignee> to <insert task here>?

Looking at our map, some of our questions and possible answers could include:

  • Q: What impacts the amount of time necessary for the storyboard writer to review reference material? A: The quantity of the materials; the quality of the materials
  • Q: What impacts the amount of time necessary for the online developer to develop the content in the authoring tool? A: The developer’s pace; the length/size of the course; if the course has audio; if the course requires locked-down navigation; if course requires iPad compatibility; ff course must be 508 compliant
  • Q: What impacts the amount of time necessary for testers to launch and test content in the supported browsers? A: Number of browsers that have to be supported; the length/size of the course

These questions and answers identify the factors that can affect the amount of time necessary to complete the e-learning project. You will hopefully also see that one factor may affect several different tasks. Use these factors to establish your idea of an “average” project and the time and costs associated with it. Then, when it comes time to budget for a new project, look at each factor you’ve identified and adjust your “average” amounts based on the specific requirements of your project.

If you were hoping for a simple formula that would spit out a number you could use for your e-learning project budgets, I apologize. That – I can’t give you. Instead, I hope I’ve provided a useful tool that can help you plan for your e-learning projects and identify factors influencing the time and cost associated with developing them. This information combined with historical project data, if you have it, and some number crunching in your favorite spreadsheet program can provide a recipe for successfully budgeting for the development of your e-learning projects.

Tanya Seidel
Artisan E-Learning

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