Instructors teaching online for the first (or second or third) time often comment that it can be difficult to estimate course workload. In an effort to engage students, it is easy to inadvertently create heavy workloads in the online environment. Excessive workload can interfere with learning and performance and negatively affect student well being. If you are noticing that the workflow in your course is more than you had anticipated for students, this resource provides tips and strategies for streamlining your course even while it is in progress.
Estimate your course workload
Do you know how many hours it might take for students to complete your course? A good recommendation is to try to keep course workload under 10 hours/week. For example, in a traditional face to face course, this might be three hours of class time plus 2-3 hours outside of class per hour of class time. If your online course has no seat time (e.g. no synchronous sessions), focus on the total time required. Try out the Workload Estimator (like the one below) to see how many hours per week students need in your course to do the required reading, writing, meeting, and assessments.
Ways to reduce workload for students
Clarify Course Organization
- Divide your course into weeks so that students know what is expected more easily.
- Share a simple reference guide for your course (e.g. a chart) to help learners navigate the course content and activities. An easy way to do this is by making a Course Tour Video – jump into a Zoom meeting, share your screen, and record yourself showing students around the site. Then, post the video to your site using Echo 360.
- Create a Getting Started unit or module at the top of your course. Include the syllabus, information about due dates and assignments, expectations for the course, and ways to contact you.
- Upload a quick troubleshooting guide, answering the most common questions about the course (already asked or the ones you think might be asked).
- Communicate learning expectations and activities to students on a weekly basis. Post an announcement (or Activity Feed post) outlining activities and expectations for the week. Include time estimates for each activity.
- Find ways for students to more easily ask questions. Searching through course materials for an answer can be time consuming. If your course has synchronous sessions, leave time for Q&A and active learning. Offer weekly office hours in Zoom for learners to stop by and discuss their questions and concerns with you. Create a class “Questions” forum where students can post their questions and get answers from peers and the instructor.
- Solicit feedback from learners about how the course is going for them and whether they are finding coursework manageable. You can do it anonymously by using the survey tool in Brightspace or the whiteboard tool in Zoom. See tips and strategies for collecting mid term feedback.
Cut Down on Content
- Live lectures (50 minutes of asynchronous class time) should have no more than 30 minutes of lecturing or video watching so that students can use the remainder of the time to work with the information and ask questions.
- Stay focused on the course learning outcomes and prioritize content based on your estimation of how much time is needed to explore content. Make some readings and resources optional or recommended rather than required if they are not required for meeting the learning outcomes.
- Break content into smaller mini-lessons; record some of your content as mini lectures and post them in the course for learners to explore on their own.
- Be flexible with deadlines if possible – especially in assessments and activity completion.
- Give frequent, constructive, and balanced feedback (check out the Feedback Matrix) to help students keep on track and feel motivated.
- While frequent opportunities for feedback are important, keep the number of assessments manageable. Students may be taking multiple other courses.
- Identify activities (e.g. reading, set of problems, quiz, assignment, etc.) and topics that can be dropped or made optional. If you are adjusting an active course, make sure that all changes contribute to learning objectives.
- You might be interested in checking out this additional resource: Strategies for Managing Time Online.
MindToolsVideos. (2020). The Feedback Matrix [Video]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXn35IQISOE&feature=youtu.be
Patton, M. A. (2000). The Importance of Being Flexible with Assignment Deadlines. Higher Education in Europe, 25(3), 417–423. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/10.1080/713669270
Rice University – Center for Teaching Excellence. Course Workload Calculator. Retrieved from https://cte.rice.edu/workload
Rimmer, T. (2020). What To Do When Your Course Has Too Much Content. Retrieved from https://community.articulate.com/articles/what-to-do-when-your-course-has-too-much-content
R.I.T – Online Course Design : Time on Task. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/tls/sites/rit.edu.academicaffairs.tls/files/docs/Course%20Design_Online_Time%20%20on%20Task_v1.5.pdf
Rochester Institute of Technology. (2014). Time on Task in Online Courses. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/tls/sites/rit.edu.academicaffairs.tls/files/docs/Course%20Design_Online_Time%20%20on%20Task_v1.5.pdf
Sam Huston State University Online. (2020). Feedback Strategies from your Online Course. Retrieved from https://shsuonline.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/feedback-strategies-for-your-online-course/
University of Toronto – Ensuring Appropriate Student Workload in Online Courses https://istep.utoronto.ca/files/2020/08/Supporting-Information-for-Student-Workload-Quick-Guides-for-Instructors-and-Students-Aug10-2020.pdf
University of Toronto – Supporting Information for the Student Workload Quick Guides for Instructors and Students. Retrieved from https://istep.utoronto.ca/files/2020/08/Supporting-Information-for-Student-Workload-Quick-Guides-for-Instructors-and-Students-Aug10-2020.pdf