Assignments in the Online Course: How Much is Too Much?

overwhelmed student
Online Learning
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest Contributor: Robert Onorato

Given the seemingly unlimited, media-rich learning opportunities you can offer in an asynchronous online course, it may be tempting to craft a reading or resource list as extensive as your own time allows. But at what point will students reach the saturation point? In this article, Robert Onorato, instructor at Fordham University (NY) and a Senior Faculty Programs Consultant for Cengage, shares the experiences that have led him to his own conclusions regarding the answer to the question: “How much is too much?”

I have been teaching college courses for twenty years and I taught my first online course at least eight years ago. Since then, I have taught courses in all sorts of mixed and hybrid formats, those that were offered completely online as part of traditional degree programs, and online classes offered in fully online degree programs

I have also taken several online and hybrid courses. In addition to the content taught in these classes, the format, structure, and processes have proven extremely enlightening. It has been beneficial to “see what the student sees,” instead of experiencing courses only from the instructor’s perspective.

Online Courses: How Much Content Is Too Much?

I have often seen the tendency for some (or many) professors to include, require, or “pile on” large amounts of content in addition to traditional textbook chapters and required assignments and testing. When professors migrate content from the classroom to the hybrid format to the pure online classroom, and the physical student contact becomes further removed and distant, professors often seem to compensate for this lessened contact with increased numbers of required articles to read and videos to view.

I have taken at least three different online courses where this has happened:

  • In the first short course (about four weeks), there were several required articles and research studies that were each forty to eighty pages long.
  • In another, in addition to the textbook chapters, there were about a dozen articles to read in each of several modules.
  • Most recently, I participated in an online course that had several units that each had ten to twelve videos that were four to eight minutes long. That’s an hour of video-watching—in addition to all of the other required work in each unit. And none of this was supplemental.

Instructors: Ask Yourselves These Questions

  • Is all of this content really required?
  • Do I need ten videos or a dozen articles to get a point across or present different viewpoints?
  • Is three or four of each enough?

Digital technology provides what seems like unlimited space for resources and content for hybrid and online classrooms and sometimes our tendency is to fill this space. We can forget that students still have a finite amount of time and often take several courses together. It is one thing to provide supplemental material that students can view or read if that want more information. However, in my experience, professors often make this wealth of resources required.

Often the result is students who are overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged. Honestly, this was my reaction. I thought, “Why do I have to watch this seventh, eighth video?” Students can then become less connected and engaged in the coursework and content, and less inclined to participate in the hybrid and online formats, or to take these courses again.

Think about this as you develop your next online course and be careful to include what is needed, and not everything in the world that fits.

Robert Onorato, a Senior Consultant for Cengage in Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development, teaches Marketing, Leadership, and Operations Management at Fordham University in New York. In addition, he has established Candlewood Consulting and has authored various instructors’ resource materials. Robert has earned a B. S. in Marketing and an MBA from the University of Connecticut.