How much time does it take to teach online?

I’ve long been fascinated by studies on time factors in online learning. The issues of teacher time are especially relevant given the high cost of teachers, the threat to the profession, MOOCs offering much less teacher-intensive education opportunities and my own online equivalency theory.

This study

Mandernach, B., Hudson, S., & Wise, S. (2013). Where has the time gone? Faculty activities and time commitments in the online classroom. Journal of Educators Online, 10(2).

This study was done with 80 FULL TIME online teachers, teaching 4 online courses during the same semester. This is a much less common administrative format for online teaching in that most online teaching is done either by part time adjuncts or by teachers teaching both online and on campus.

Teaching in any context varies a great deal based on personal teaching style, use of synchronous tools, discipline, level and motivation of learners, support and funding for teachers and a host of other contextual factors. Nonetheless aggregate data is very interesting and helps paint the reality as well as vanquish some myths about online teaching. As expected the data confirmed that teachers did spend slightly more time online than literature reports for oncampus. (Averaging 44 hours/week for the 4 courses). But perhaps of greatest interest is the tasks that made up these 44 hours.

Teacher tasks onlineAs can be seen from Table 5 Grading and assessment took almost half (45%) of time commitment. I am hopeful that steady progress in machine marking and faculty use of  tools like audio marking and templated responses, will be able to both reduce this time and allow for more formative and summative feedback for students. Student communications is time well spent, despite the fact that these communications are never spread equally among students – some want (or need) much more attention than others.  I was pleased to see that when faculty are experienced (and working full time online helps here) only 2.9% of time was spent on technical issues. Too often novice teachers consider their lack of Net Literacy as a deterrent and necessary component of online teaching. Whereas, if they were literate Net users, they would find that their competence in using the net for a host of personal and professional applications transfers easily to online teaching.

Traditional university faculty will note that 2.13% spent on research and service is far less than expected and demanded in a research university. There is time devoted to course development (6.6%) and PD (8.08%). However, these figure are likely inline with time provided to community college and other professional educators.

The study doesn’t say what type of pedagogical model was underlying the online courses. Jon Dron and I have written about three generations of pedagogical DE models, and I am quite sure that each has different time and related task requirements for teachers.  In my experience, I have found that  having an occasional synchronous webconference session – recorded of course for those can’t attend, can save a lot of time in addressing common issues and helps students know and come to rely on support from each other.

Finally, I note that the subjects in this study worked noon-8 PM, 5 days a week in a defined location. Thus the key advantage of time and pace shifting that is always available to online students, was denied to these teachers. Perhaps they used 44 hours because that was how long they were at work????

7 thoughts on “How much time does it take to teach online?

  1. For sure this is a great read. Very courageous and a pace setter- this will form baseline of future studies

  2. Thanks Grace
    Certainly the per student time could be calculated (even from the data presented). I guess the University is already thinking on a per course unit – likely paying per course or at least saying “your workload per semester is 4 courses”, so the course is a relevant unit. However, your point is well taken, as long as we are constrained to the 30 person class, scaling is impossible.

  3. I would expect Grading & Assessment and Student Communications to be at the top. I provide provide professional development for teachers in the area of online teaching and the two biggest pieces that I push are building relationships and providing quality feedback.

    Even with advances in technology – a great deal of time in the grading and assessment area is spent reading discussions if you have a regular discussion component to your course. Taking the time to provide feedback that is specific to the learner rather than a generic ‘good job’ style is important too. When possible, I recommend using the individualized feedback to tie into not only the real world application of the content but individual interests that each student has. Hopefully, throughout the course, the facilitator was able to learn a little something about the student to make connections with.

  4. Very interesting and useful article, thanks, not far off what we guestimated in the department I taught in (Arts).
    Question: what is the link to the “audio marking” you mention? The one you linked there seems not to be working… Thanks

  5. Good Point Grace. Per student time can be calculated easily from the data in this article, since they are constrained to the usual 30-35 students/class. But real savings come from substituting student-content and student-student interactions for student-teacher interactions. But this only works for some students and bothers teachers’ unions!

  6. Very interesting indeed – trying to identify how online teaching can fit in a traditional academic workload allocation model.
    Using the table above as a rough guide it makes it very similar to a face to face module taught for 10 weeks 3 hours per week + assessments…..what is missing though is the much higher investment time required in developing as opposed to repeating an online module… something which I feel requires far more time.

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