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Saturday, March 26, 2005

How Much Work is Involved for Students in Online Courses?

In one of the regular e-letters that I received in my inbox each month, there was an article entitled "Student workload in an online course: Balancing on a rule-of-thumb" (see http://www.ecollege.com/news/EdVoice_arch_3_9_05.learn). The basis of the article was that in a traditional post-secondary setting, students should study two to three hours outside of class for each hour that they spent in class. The article then began to speculate at what that rule-of-thumb might look like in an online environment.
Having taking online courses as a post-secondary student, having taught many online courses within virtual high school environments, and (most recently) teaching a hybrid course for graduate students with a significant online component, I have often wondered about, end even been confronted by, this issue of how much more time students need to spend in an online course (or with the online components of a hybrid course) compared to a face-to-face course that they would take in the classroom.

In its first two years of operation, I know that the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (http://www.cdli.ca) used the model that their electronic teachers had a student load approximately 70% to 80% of what a normal classroom teacher would have. Is this the same for students, that their online classes are 20%-30% more work than their face-to-face classes?

For those reading, I have two basic questions:
  1. If you teach in an online environment, tell us what level do you teach and how much time it takes to teach online compared to your face-to-face classes?
  2. If you are a student in an online environment, tell us what level of education you are currently a student in and how much time it take to take an online course compared to your classroom-based courses?
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Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

I wonder if the incremental amount of apparent time taken in an online environment is a function of (a) expertise -- you're USED to dealing with the classroom so you can accomplish the requisite tasks much quicker and (b) you short change classroom courses because you don't prepare at the same level that online teaching requires. You can't teach "by the seat of your pants" online -- but a lot of teachers do exactly that in a classroom.

2:18 PM  
Blogger MKB said...


This is true, but what about time doing actual tasks? Take for example a student question. In a classroom is can be asked and answered in less than a minute. In an asynchronous online environment that interaction may take a series of e-mails to get to the heart of the matter.

A friend of mine used to use the example of a student in a Canadian History class that was having trouble with the causes of World War I. In the classroom, you could say to that student "Well, you remember the Boar War?" and just from the look un their face you had a starting point (i.e., either start with the Boer War, sometime before it, or sometime after it). In an asynchronous class, that interaction would first take a longer time because students and teachers don't type as fast as they speak (even those of us who type fairly well). Secondly, it may take two or three e-mails back and forth before you can pinpoint where you need to begin your explanation.

Now in a synchronous environment, much of that time woulkd be the same as you would find inthe classroom. But in the asynchronous world, it seems to me that it would take more time to actually teach (setting aside the preparation time issues that you mentioned).

3:51 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

How about the parent of a homeschooled nineth grader who takes four virtual high school classes? Can I share? ;-)

My daughter takes Algebra 1, Biology 1, Spanish 1 and Webmasters through Florida Virtual School.

The time it has taken her to do the Biology, Spanish and Webmasters classes is considerably shorter than the time it would have taken in a "real school" environment. Let's look at them in detail:

Biology 1 - she's no biology whiz, she's only just barely interested in science. She started her course the first week of November and will take her finals next week. She puts in only a few hours a week and she currently has a 97.5 in the class. She's done the work, taken the tests and moved along quickly because she didn't get bogged down in the excitement of other students or in any extensions an in person teacher might have tossed in. This is good in some ways, not so good in others. In her opinion, this is the best way to take a class that you have to have but really aren't interested in.

Spanish 1 - she's about halfway through the class and she's been doing it only since the beginning of January. This is going much more quickly than I thought it would - and she has a 92 in the class. She has the benefit of being able to work, out loud over and over and over again without having to give up her time to other students. She isn't learning from their successes or mistakes, but she's learning from mine! ;-) All in all, based on my own recollections of high school Spanish 1 - which admittedly was long ago, I think she's putting in about the same amount of time as I did - but it's more focused, no staring out the window daydreaming while other students recite or respond to teacher prompts.

Webmasters - it just makes sense for this to be an online class and it works beautifully. She can work at her own pace and her own time and after 2 months in the course, she's 60% of the way through the unit. Perfect scores.

Algebra - this is the tough one. She likes math but she's not born to it. She struggles. It's taking her considerably longer to get through this unit - she has to wait for feedback from teachers and tutors. She has to wait til a white board tutor time is set and then she has to wait some more. She's getting a mid B in the class, right now, at the midway point and it's getting harder. A face to face experience would probably have been better for her and we're in search of a tutor who can give her some extra "real time" attention to help her improve her skills.

6:15 AM  
Blogger MKB said...

Denise, thanks for sharing (and encourage you daughter to become a regular reader and contributer as well, as I'd love to get some student perspectives).

I find your post interesting, because you have taken the position that time equals total time. Your response compares the tings that the teacher would take time for in the classroom + the amount of time students would work inside and outside of the classroom and have compared it to the total time your daughter takes with the content (i.e., interacting with it and completing the work). A very interesting lens that I hadn't considered.

Feel free to join the conversation on some of the other posts (and well as future ones), and to let others that you know of who may be interested in this blog (I believe that you are the second person from Florida to post - Dr. Cavanaugh being the first).


9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trackback from Teaching and Developing Online (see - http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/weblogs/vschools/archives/2005_03.html#011225).

11:12 PM  

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