Time management in course facilitation

Last Updated: December 11, 2023
A man sits at a desk and works on a desktop computer

How this will help:

Create a time management plan for their course facilitation.
Set clear expectations for students to assist with time management.
Identify places where teaching effort can be reduced.

The basics

Face-to-face classes have a certain rhythm. For example, you may be accustomed to a schedule that is similar to this: Sunday night, prepare or refresh your lecture slides for the week. Facilitate a class on Monday and Wednesday during which time you answer questions about an upcoming exam. On Thursday, hold office hours where a few students attend who have questions about a previous assignment, and then have an exam on Friday. You may have a few emails from students, but for the most part, you try to answer questions in class. Repeat week after week and this pattern becomes routine for you and your students.

Teaching online is definitely different in terms of time management and workflow. While a face-to-face class has a defined meeting time, online classes are “on” 24 hours a day. Common or frequent questions from students that may have been easily addressed in a face-to-face meeting of your class can feel overwhelming when your inbox is flooded with emails. While your teaching methods in a face-to-face setting may be fairly automatic, the addition of technology and new pedagogies can make even the smallest task feel like there is a greater time investment.

You are not alone. Many faculty anecdotally report that teaching online takes longer. However, the research is mixed on whether it actually takes a significantly longer amount of time (Van De Vord, 2012). It seems to be a fair assumption that providing feedback and grading assessments take more time than a face-to-face class. Oftentimes, online courses may have more assessments than a face-to-face class as a way to ensure student engagement with the material, so reading and commenting on more assessments, no matter how small, may feel like it takes more time. In addition, the distributed nature of the time spent working in an online class, rather than having a set class meeting period, may impact the perception of time spent on a class. 

One of the best things you can do to help prepare yourself for online teaching is to create a time management plan and stick to it. Create a new class schedule and block out the time on your calendar to devote to working on the class. Treat this time as you would a two-hour seminar in which you don’t take other meetings or answer non-class related emails. For example, decide that each weekday morning between 8 am and 8:30 am and 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm you will check the discussion board and answer student emails. You may not use all of that time each day, but the time is set aside.

Consider the course as a whole as well. It is not only student emails and potentially discussion posts, but also weekly announcements and grading to consider in your time management schedule. Equally as important is to resist the temptation to always be checking your class. It is just as easy to get in the habit of answering class emails at any point during the day or checking on the discussion board to see if anything has happened. This can also lead to the feeling that you are “always-on” as the instructor. If you aren’t sure how to make estimates for your time, this infographic might help.

Finally, once you have determined a general schedule, include it in your syllabus and communicate it to your students. Creating clear communication and feedback expectations with your students will save time later. Always check with your department to ensure expectations for time spent working in communication with students are being met as well.

While the first time teaching online tends to have a larger time commitment, as your confidence and understanding of the process grow, your efficiency will increase. Ultimately, teachers report that the time spent on teaching online does decrease with experience in the environment.

Practical tips

  • Start by creating a weekly checklist of tasks to complete for each week of the class. An example might take into account the first week of class tasks, weeks when grading may be heavier, end of the semester tasks. Try to make reasonable estimates for time. Our example of time estimates for one classLink to Infographic
  • Finally, create a weekly schedule for yourself on your preferred calendaring tool. We recommend blocking out at least some time every workday for course responsibilities. Our example looks like this
  • Set clear, reasonable boundaries for your time as an instructor with your students. Communicate to your students what to expect through a syllabus statement and/or your introduction or discussion board post. More than anything, students want predictability. See “Setting Communication Expectations” for more tips.
  • Stick to the schedule.
  • Stick to the schedule (yes, it’s that important)


University of Michigan

Facilitating online discussions

Other Resources

John Hopkins- Time management strategies


Cross, T., & Polk, L. (2018). Burn bright, not out: Tips for managing online teaching. Journal of Educators Online, 15(3). https://doi.org/10.9743/jeo.2018.15.3.1

Mandernach, B. J., & Holbeck, R. (2016). Teaching online: Where do faculty spend their time. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 19(4), 1–17. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=26403915-c1d9-470a-9533-d911892ce69f%40sdc-v-sessmgr01 

Van de Vord, R., & Pogue, K. (2012). View of Teaching time investment: Does online really take more time than face-to-face? | The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(3), 132–146. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1190/2212