If you overload students with more learning activities than they can complete in the time available, you cause them great stress and may be affecting the quality of their learning.
The time each student needs to spend on the various components of your course will vary according to their entry-level knowledge and skills. How much previous study and experience they have, whether English is their first language, their technology skills and their learning styles all affect how quickly students can complete a given learning activity.
Do give students a rough idea of how much time you expect the various components of your course to take. For example, indicate how many hours per week they should allocate to working on your course, and whether extra time will be needed around assessment time.
Calculating student workload
Consult your program colleagues to agree on a fair number of study hours per week for students in your courses. When you are designing your course schedule or plan, add a column where you indicate a reasonable time requirement for students to complete each component. For example, for each week you might expect students to complete three hours of reading, attend two hours of lectures and a one-hour tutorial, and spend two hours on online activities, making a total of eight hours per week, with perhaps an extra two hours per week around assessment time.
When estimating the time required to complete an activity, consider whether these students are first-year, final-year or postgraduate, as their familiarity with academic study will affect the time it takes them. Also take into account the complexity of the task.
If your students communicate to you that your course demands too much of their time, look for ways to reduce the time requirements. Review your course learning activities in terms of outcomes: are some of the activities supplementary rather than essential?
Communicating student workload
Discuss workload in your first meeting with your students, whether face-to-face or online. As well as discussing workload, provide a written outline of all the course tasks, including submission dates and estimated time requirements for their completion.
Early in the course, invite feedback on how realistic your time estimates are, so that you can ensure that your expectations are fair.
Helping students to manage their workload
- Grade assessments appropriately. Students will engage selectively in the activities and assessments you give them as they manage their own workload. They are unlikely to complete items that are not assessed, and may even choose to forgo marks if they perceive that the grading is inappropriate for the amount of work required.
- Plan regular, smaller assessment tasks (in place of larger assessments) that allow students to get feedback on their progress and achieve outcomes incrementally.
- Provide flexible access to learning activities, materials and resources so that students can complete work and access information in their own time.