Managing student workload in distance education

In an online classroom, learners engage with materials at their own pace. This helps them develop independent learning skills, but it can also make it tricky to manage workload.

As a result, they may fall behind or become overloaded.
Use our tips to make sure workload is consistent and clear, and that students learn to manage their time effectively.

Plan: Save time tomorrow by planning today
When designing your teaching, plan how long you expect students to spend on each section. While doing this, try and account not just for the activities, but also for reading the content, watching videos, interpreting diagrams and so on. You may find this helps keep your own writing focused, and reduces the need to trim excess material later.

Split time: Make space for self-directed study
Independent learning is as important as teacher-directed learning, giving students the space to reflect, explore and find their own connections to a subject. Give students a recommended split between the time they should engage with directed material and self-directed study each week both to protect it, and highlight its importance.

Keep it consistent: Try and stick to a consistent workload each week.
Giving students the opportunity to fit their study around their lives is a key advantage of distance education, and it’s much easier for them to do this if they know what to expect from week to week. It will also make it easier for them to prioritise the ‘core’ directed learning if life throws up any unexpected surprises.

Make things predictable: Break it up
Create small and manageable chunks Breaking the overall learning journey up into small but meaningful chunks of learning gives students a regular sense of reward for completion and promotes better engagement.

Clarify: Make expectations clear
Be upfront with students about how long you expect them to spend on an activity. ‘Write your thoughts on X’ could be the difference betweena few bullet points and an essay, depending on the person. By being clear with your instructions and expectations you can be more confident that students will engage with your material in the ways you intend.

Level up: Scaffold towards self-management
Introduce students to tools and methods of managing their workloads, and consider building this into your teaching. It will pay dividends as students prepare for assessment, and time management and planning are also great employability skills to develop.