Course Equivalency in Online Instruction

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Moving courses online can raise questions about how to maintain course equivalency and quality in the learning environment as well as to keep workload manageable for both students and instructors. Regardless of whether a course is taught online or in-person, high quality instruction supports students to achieve the intended learning outcomes, involves continuous revision and renewal to keep the curriculum current, and makes use of good learning and teaching practices. In particular, regular and meaningful interaction is widely recognized in the literature as an essential aspect of deep and meaningful learning.  This resource provides information on how course equivalency and work load can be maintained and how interaction might occur in a high-quality online course including examples of different ways this interaction can unfold during a week or term.


LTSI is recommending that instructors retain the same learning outcomes and expectations related to workload that they had in their face-to-face classes (i.e., 8-10 hours per week for all their course components). This means that instructors need to design their activities and assessments in alignment with those expectations. However, keep in mind that students are not used to the online environment and may take longer to complete assigned tasks.


If instructors want to calculate their course workload, they can practice doing the assignments themselves and then double that time to get how much it will take for students. They could also use this Course Workload Estimator if desired.

Instruction in an online course can take place in a variety of ways:


Synchronous (e.g. in real time)
  • Instructors and students gather at the same time
  • Interact in “real time”
  • Examples: live lectures, office hours, real time group discussion
Asynchronous (e.g. flexibly timed)
  • Interaction happens more on the students’ own schedule instead of at a designated time
  • Example: watching a lecture video and participate in an online class forum.
Both Synchronous & Asynchronous (e.g. mix of both)
  • Most often a single course will use a blend of synchronous and asynchronous options.
  • The following section provides examples of how this might unfold

Instruction can also take different forms. It can include:


Between the instructor & student

Regular and substantive interaction between students and the instructor is foundational for high quality learning. This might occur as lectures, class discussions, commentary about curated content, and regular announcements and feedback.

Between students / peers

Interaction between students in a course can include group work, synchronous or asynchronous peer discussion and review, collaborative brainstorming.

Between students & content

Student- content interaction involves time students spend interacting with materials and ideas in the course. Typically, student-content interaction goes beyond reading assigned chapters. It could include watching video content and interacting with guiding questions, self-assessments, web-based activities, quizzes, etc.

Instructional time

When teaching in-person, instructional hours are fairly straightforward to quantify with “time spent in class” as the most common metric. In the absence of regular, in-person lectures, it can be more difficult to quantify instructional time and it is also easy to inadvertently increase workload for both students and instructors. Many instructors report challenges knowing how much work to assign and what kind of course activities ‘count’ towards instructional hours.

In the online environment, it can be helpful to use “time on task” as an equivalent to instructional hours. Time on task refers to the time spent when students are engaged in interaction with the course.  One instructional hour = one hour of time on task.  As noted above, this interaction can be synchronous and/or asynchronous and can include three types of interaction (student-instructor, student-student, student-content).  For examples of time on task estimates for different types of synchronous and asynchronous interaction, see Appendix A.


Five Models of Instruction / Time on Task 

The following five models demonstrate a few different ways instruction (and time on task) can be arranged in an online course to support learners to achieve the intended learning outcomes.


[1] The models included in this document were adapted from Farmer’s (2020) models included in this EDUCAUSE article:


Model 1

In Model 1, each week includes an asynchronous component where students interact with content followed by a synchronous session where students explore more complex tasks together with strong facilitation from the instructor. This approach enables students to learn at their own pace and encourages them to actively engage with the class materials, while freeing up actual synchronous session time for active learning activities and collaboration with peers. Instructors gain further opportunities to interact with and to assess students’ learning.

Model 2

In Model 2, each week includes a brief asynchronous component where students interact with content followed by a synchronous session where they work individually or in a group. This approach allows students to develop further their self-learning and collaborative skills (when working in teams) with continuous guidance and coaching from the instructor for the full duration of the course. This model requires minimal facilitation for the asynchronous component, but involves high level of monitoring and feedback by faculty during the synchronous session. The monitoring and coaching needs to be more frequent in the earlier terms of a program, when students rely more often on the instructor’s feedback.

Model 3

In Model 3, each week includes a combination of asynchronous components where students interact with content and work independently and synchronous sessions where students become familiar with the task at hand and report later on their work/progress. This model is the one that resembles most closely the delivery of an advanced-level project, studio, or lab course. This approach enables students to prepare for and reach the course’s milestones in a sequential manner that integrates both independent and shared learning via reporting and peer feedback. The instructor’s facilitation is key during the synchronous session to guide students’ work through demonstrations and feedback.

Model 4

In Model 4, each week students interact with content and complete work asynchronously. This model is a good fit for courses within a program where students are strong independent learners and possess good time management and prioritization skills. This approach enables students to complete work (e.g., engaging in research, watching videos, completing group assignments, and sharing feedback and comments in discussion boards) on their own schedule. This model requires a high level of instructor facilitation and support, which includes clear and comprehensive guidelines, an engaging and inclusive course design, as well as close monitoring of and commenting on the course activities and discussion posts, and regular and timely communications with students.

Model 5

In Model 5, the overall term is dedicated to (mostly) synchronous and (mostly) asynchronous phases. In this example, the course may start with two weeks of synchronous instruction where students interact in real time followed by two weeks of (mostly) asynchronous instruction. This approach creates an opportunity to foster community and relationships in the course before moving to a more flexible asynchronous phase. In this model, the instructor provides a high level of facilitation across all phases of the course.


Appendix A: Examples of Time on Task



Anderson, T. (2003). Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 4(2), 1-14.

Anderson, T., and Garrison, D.R. (1998). Learning in a networked world: New roles and responsibilities. In C. Gibson (Ed.), Distance learners in higher education. (p. 97-112). Madison, WI.: Atwood Publishing.

Hanover Research (2020). Best practices in online course seat time. Accessed on 11/10/2020 from:

UCI Learn (2020). Understanding online course seat time. Accessed on 11/12/2020 from:

Farmer, H. M. (2020). 6 Models for Blended Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Course Delivery. Publications and Scholarship, 2.

Oppida (2020). Considerations for choosing online learning delivery models. Accessed on 11/10/2020 from:

About this post

This post was last updated:

November 16, 2020

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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