Online Learning and Instructor Workload

“Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the now big thing” –Donna J. Abernathy

To both the casual observer and those in the field of education, it is apparent that online/web-based learning is gaining ground as a viable and accepted format for post-secondary training and education; radio and television commercials, billboards, and other advertisements, such as pictured below, regularly extoll consumers to “go back to school on their own schedule” and “advance their career” by taking classes online.

Indeed, web-based learning continues to demonstrate growth in post-secondary education through soaring enrollment in online courses.  In their annual report “Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” the Babson Survey Research Group reports that the number of higher education students taking online courses in 2015 grew to 5.8 million nationally (Smith, 2016).  Furthermore, more than a quarter (28%) of students in higher education were enrolled in at least one online course (Smith, 2016).

A primary reason for this growth is the many benefits that web-based learning can provide to both teachers and students. The potential benefits of web-based learning include: increased access to high-quality instruction; mass customization and optimization; increased flexibility for students, families, and teachers; improved productivity and efficiency; and opportunity for innovation (Lips, 2010).  Lin (2008) goes a step further, arguing that online learning can provide and facilitate a human right to education and personal development.

However, it is important to note that online learning does present challenges and limitations that can and must be mitigated through intentional design and sound pedagogical practice.  Unfortunately, one challenge that instructional design cannot easily overcome is that of increased instructor workload.  Additional training in LMS (Learning Management System) software and related technology, plus time needed to develop, set up, and manage the course, often represents a significantly higher investment of faculty time than traditional face-to-face instruction (Exploring the pros and cons (2013); Stansbury (2014).

Instructor Workload

As I am now working to develop my first course in a LMS, instructor workload is the primary challenge that I face.  While the Canvas LMS design tools are intuitive, they still must be explored and mastered to ensure intended course delivery, appearance, and navigation.  Additionally, 16 weeks of multimedia content must be created and uploaded; this includes weekly instructional videos and presentations for asynchronous delivery, articles for discussion, and substantial substantive written content.  Fortunately, I am encouraged by the positive feedback that I have received related to my Design Document that is guiding course development; having weekly learning objectives and activities already clearly defined is helpful, to say the least.

Clearly, there is no getting around the work that must be done.  However, it is important to note that this format is what is best to support instructional goals for my intended audience.  And in the word of John Maxwell, “Dreams don’t work unless you do”.  Or as Rhianna puts it even more succinctly, “work, work, work, work, work, work”…


Exploring the pros and cons of online, hybrid, and face-to-face class formats. (2013). Leading change in higher education: A provost report series on trends and issues facing higher education. Retrieved from

Lin, L. (2008).  An online learning model to facilitate learners’ rights to education.  Journal of Asynchronus Learning Networks, 12(1), 1-17.

Lips, D. (2010, January 12).  How online learning is revolutionizing k-12 education and benefiting students.  Retrieved from

Smith, F. (2016, February 25).  Report: One is four students enrolled in online courses. EdTech.  Retrieved from

Stansbury, M. (2014, March 10). Three pros and 3 cons of MOOCs. eCampus News: Technology News & Innovation in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://

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