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Research studies conducted over the past ten years about the perception that it takes more time to teach online do not give us a clear picture about the accuracy of this perception (Van de Vord & Pogue, 2012). Many studies around this question concluded that faculty perceives online teaching takes more time than face-to-face instruction (Bolliger & Waslik, 2009; Cavanaugh, 2005; Lee & Busch, 2005; Spector, 2005). Furthermore, a large national survey tracking 10 years of online education in the U.S . revealed that academic leaders’ perceptions concurred that it takes more time and effort to teach online (Allen & Seaman, 2013). In another large national survey conducted with “digital faculty”, faculty who taught online or blended courses reported spending more time per student in terms of email communication (Allen & Seaman, 2012).

However, we get a very different picture when context variables are examined more closely.  Results from different studies attempting to answer this question are mixed depending on which context variables are included and how these variables are measured. In reviewing conflicting results, we need to ask ourselves: When comparisons are drawn between online courses vs. face-to-face classes, are context variables such as class size, instructional design support, technical support, teaching assistance, years of teaching experience (online or face-to-face), etc. similar enough in both environments such that we are comparing apples to apples? Here are some specific concerns about claims that it takes more, equal, or less time to teach online:

  • In some studies, instructional design time was considered (Meyer, 2012; Cavanaugh, 2005) and in others, design and development time were not (Bender, Wood & Vredevoogd,  2004; DiBase, 2000; Specter, 2005).  When design time and preparation is included, some studies showed that faculty spent more time in the online course (Conciecao, 2006; Worley & Tesdell, 2009). A study that did not include assessment as part of instruction time and did not take student enrollment into consideration, showed results that it took less time to teach online (Bender, Wood & Vredevoogd, 2004). Thus, a consistent definition of what is included in instruction time needs to be applied to both learning environments to make a meaningful comparison.
  • Studies that measure quantitative data of actual time spent teaching in both learning environments given similar context variables such as class size, prior online teaching experience, and institutional support need to be conducted over time to show trends.
  • Self-report perceptions of how much time it takes to teach in either or both learning environments must consider context variables such as class size, prior online and face-to-face  teaching experience, and whether or not faculty have instructional design, technical and/or teaching support. These types of studies ought to include sufficient demographic data that allows for interpreting the perceptions within a learning context.

Clearly, as Hislop (2001) asserted the relationship between teaching in the online or face-to-face environment and time spent is a very complicated one. The complications arise due to the great variations in educational environments.  According to Hislop (2001), no one study in one environment will provide a definite answer to the question of whether or not teaching online takes more time. It is more likely that a “series of studies are needed to show patterns and impacts of key variables” (p.24).


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing the course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2012). Digital faculty: Professors, teaching and technology, 2012. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from

Bender, D. M., Wood, B. J., & Vredevoogd, J.D. (2004). Teaching time: Distance education versus classroom instruction.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 18(2), 103-114.

Bollinger, D. U., & Wasilik, O. (2009). Factors influencing faculty satisfaction with online teaching and learning in higher education. Distance Education, 30(1), 103-116.

Cavanaugh, J. (2005). Teaching online: A time comparison. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 8(1). Retrieved from

Concieção, S. C. (2006). Faculty lived experiences in the online environment. Adult Education Quarterly, 5, 26-45.

DiBase, D. (2000). Is distance teaching more work or less work? The American Journal of Distance Education, 14(3), 6-20.

Hislop, G. (2001). Does teaching online take more time?  Paper presented at 31st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. Retrieved from

Lee, J. A., & Busch, P. E. (2005). Factors related to instructors’ willingness to participate in distance education. Journal of Education Research, 99(2), 109-115.

Meyer, K. (2012). The influence of online teaching on faculty productivity. Innovation in Higher Education, 37, 37-52.

Spector, M. (2005). Time demands in online education. Distance Education, 26, 5-27.

Worley, W., & Tesdell, L. (2009). Instructor time and effort in online and face-to-face teaching: Lessons learned. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 52, 531-541.

Van de Vord, & Pgue, K. (2012). Teaching time investment: Does online really take more time than face-to-face? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 132-146.

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