how long does it take for people to learn something new?

category: engagement
Just as people learn in different ways, people also learn at different rates. But, what is the norm? And how should this feed into your eLearning content creation?
time it takes to learn

It’s an ambiguous question, really – how long does it take people to learn a new skill?

For some, the answer here could be the infamous statistic of 10,000 hours, something which no doubt would have potential learners giving up before they had even begun.

But, let’s be clear – that stat mainly refers to actually mastering a new skill and is still very debatable.

So, what about those people who want to learn something that can then be practised and refined later?

Well, it could be 20 hours, six months or ten years. Essentially, it comes down to the student’s time, dedication and learning ability.

After all, learning a new skill can come in many different ways, from something as simple as learning how to bake a cake to studying how to code a whole computer programme.

It’s all about how tough the learning curve is – and where you want to be on it.

So, besides the fact that you’re unlikely to be building a 10,000-hour eLearning course any time soon, how do you work out a timeframe of learning for your online students?

There are a few things to consider here and we’ve outlined them below.

learner goals

When building your online course, think about the goals of your learner. Are they trying to become experts in their field, or is this a course that will teach them the basics of what they need to know?

Being able to identify what your students hope to get out of your course will guide your content plan in a way that you’ll know exactly what they need.

For example, if it’s a beginner course in health and safety, they probably aren’t looking to spend more than a few hours completing the modules. Keep things short and sweet by only laying out the key facts and condensing it to the information that really matters.

A degree course in computing, though? Your students are likely to be more passionate and are probably expecting to spend a lot more of their time on this.

time management

Whether your eLearning course lasts three hours or 20 hours, it’s still important to make sure the modules are broken down into manageable chunks.

Many have likened this to the TV example – where people are happy to spend half an hour watching a programme in their free time with little planning. An hour-and-a-half long movie, though, would likely require more forward-planning.

Essentially, that’s all to do with engagement and time planning – and the fact that people’s attention spans are rapidly decreasing.

So, by keeping modules shorter, you can ensure students are consistently engaged as well as having the option to easily dip back in as and when they need to.


Considering whether your learners will have a deadline completely depends on the type of course you’re offering.

It could be that your course has been designed in response to a law change, where a team of staff are being required to re-train or learn something new in order to comply with new regulations.

For them, keeping to a deadline may be quite important – and you’ll need to ensure that the hours needed to be spent on your course reflect the time they have before deadline.

For those who are learning in their own time, however, this is much more flexible and could be harder for you to pin-point.

the key take-away

Above it all, there is one key take-away when it comes to how long your course should be – and that is that it should be no longer than it takes to lose your student’s interest.

If the content you include isn’t relevant, rambles on and doesn’t engage your learners, then it doesn’t need to be in there. So, why not cut the three hours down to one hour and be done with it?

As long as your course continues to keep students motivated and fulfils their learning goals, time is almost immaterial.

Finally, if building your own course is now on your to-do list, find out more about our dynamic authoring tool right here.