Image of an hourglass The ability to manage one's time effectively in the world of online learning is crucial for both students and instructors.

In this module we focus on time management strategies. Our information consists of recommendations from experienced online instructors, and is targeted primarily to teachers who are new to teaching hybrid and online classes.

We will focus on the following items:



At the end of this module participants will be able to:


Glossary of Key Terms

Photo of a dictionary definition

Asynchronous Discussions - Discussion where the participants do not all have to be present at the same time.

FAQ - An acronym for Frequently Asked Questions.

Self-directed Learning - A process in which students take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources for learning, select and implement learning strategies and evaluate learning outcomes. The role of the instructor shifts from being the 'sage on the stage' to the 'guide on the side' in a self-directed learning environment.

Synchronous Discussions - Discussions that occur live and in real time.


Big Idea - Guidelines for Communication

Photo of a man on a mountaintop When it comes to time management, online learning offers students and teachers a great sense of flexibility.

Since students are able to access course materials at any time of the day, from any time zone around the world, instructors need to consider how they will manage the flow of communication.

Setting guidelines as to when, where and how you will respond to students is critical. Whether you are:

letting your students know ahead of time what to expect will save you time down the road.  


Here's How - Guidelines for CommunicationPhoto of a woman raising her hand

As we have reinforced throughout the course of these modules, outlining clear communication guidelines in your course syllabus is essential. (As is ensuring students read the syllabus and continuously refer to it!)

In your syllabus there are numerous communication related questions to consider. Click on each of the bullet points below for a sample list.

Balancing your needs along with the needs of your students is key. Throughout this module, you will hear from several educators on how to manage students' expectations by setting boundaries and anticipating what students are going to need to find success in your course.

Here's How - Guidelines for Communication

Graphic of a computer as a mailbox When it comes to managing time spent on classroom communication, knowing what works comes with practice and experience. No two classes will ever be the same; however, here are a few recommended strategies that may help. Consider the following:


Here's How - Guidelines for Communication

Photo of Dr. Larry Ragan In the following audio recording, Dr. Larry Ragan, Director of Faculty Development for Penn State University

World Campus has these recommendations for achieving balance in the online classroom. Scroll down and click the grey arrow to begin. (The recording is 4:42 mins. There is no video component.)

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: What are your thoughts on Dr. Ragan's recommendations? What do you feel is a reasonable amount of time for getting back to students?



Here's How - Guidelines for Communication

Time and energy will go into answering students' questions with respect to grades if you are not clear from the get go of expectations and grading policies before the course begins. Along with providing your institutions' policies and regulations with respect to the handling grades and exams in your course syllabus, Dr. Larry Ragan (2008) suggests the following:

Strategies for Managing Grades

  • Clearly communicate to students the grading policies either in the course syllabus, announcements or in the assignment instruction.
  • Grade assignments in a timely fashion, especially those that build on other assignments.
  • Provide clear guidelines regarding your timeframe for responding to student questions and assignment grading.
  • If you teach at the post-secondary level, be aware that some students may need to submit assignments and exams early to get grades prior to graduation. This may affect some date availability restrictions set on drop boxes or other course components.
  • Keep grades/exams related communications within the course management system space.
  • Effectively manage students' grades by using the gradebook that is part of the course management system.
  • Establish and notify students of accepted formats for submitting assignments.
  • Many course management systems have tools to help manage group assignments. Set up groups after the course drop/add period and when the class roster stabilizes.


From the Field - Guidelines for Communication

Photo of Drs. Palloff and Pratt In the following audio recording, Drs. Palloff and Pratt discuss the importance of taking time for yourself. Listen to their advice about how to manage time and student expectations. Complete the sorting activity and respond to the discussion question below.

Scroll down and click the grey arrow to begin. (The recording is 2:40 mins. There is no video component).


 Hyperlink to Sorting Activity 

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Discussion Question: What communication guidelines do you feel are essential to establish with students from day one of your online course? 



Big Idea – Time Management for Students

Photo of a watch Time spent communicating in the online classroom may be contingent on student expectations. It is helpful to get a sense early on what students' expectations are going to be with respect to:

Students new to online courses may find the transition difficult. In the following pages, we consider strategies that encourage students to be self-directed learners and help them manage their time effectively.

Encouraging students to become self-directed or 'process managers' in their learning means letting go of some traditional power roles as teachers (Palloff & Pratt, 2001).

Here's How - Time Management for Students

Photo of a student with a laptop by the ocean Here are some tips on how to foster self-directed learning and help students organize their time:

From the Field – Time Management for Students

Knowing how to manage time effectively and be a self-directed learner are important skills for the 21st Century, but as Sharon Miller, Professor of Transitional English at Lone Star College-CyFair in Cypress, TX stresses, teaching online still requires a lot of 'high touch' involvement between teacher and student.

In the following video, Sharon discusses time management teaching tips, as well as some general suggestions for teachers who are new to the field.

Big Idea - Be Flexible

Photo of a woman in deep thought As Sharon Miller suggests in her video, teaching online requires careful consideration when corresponding with students. Even though you are not able to see students face-to-face, anyone who has spent time in the classroom knows that no two classes will ever be the same. What works with one group of students may not necessarily work with another.

Hence, no matter what boundaries or guidelines you provide for students with respect to communication, a certain degree of flexibility will sometimes be necessary.

Depending on what level you teach, the demographic of your online students may range in terms of their age, location, culture, and reasons why they are taking the course. Other considerations to take into account are the learning styles of your students, multiple intelligences and students with disabilities.

A degree of flexibility in your instruction ensures you are more likely to meet the needs of all your students.



Here's How - Be Flexible

Photo of middle school students Providing a degree of flexibility in your online or hybrid course is important for many reasons. In other modules, such as Learning Styles and Legal Issues, we discuss the importance of presenting information in multiple ways for students and provide numerous strategies on how to proceed.

Presenting content in a myriad of ways is just one way to exercise flexibility. Allowing students latitude in terms of how they demonstrate mastery of the content through projects and assignments is another consideration.

For example, try to provide students with a choice of options for their assignments. This is especially important for adult learners.

From the Field - Be Flexible

Photo of a man in the backseat of a car with a laptop Adult learners will find greater value in course work if it is meaningful and purposeful to them within the context of their lives and goals for taking the course.

Principles of adult learning are summarized in the following handout based on the work of Malcolm Knowles. Along with each characteristic of adult learners, you will find strategies of how to implement each in the classroom.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: Why is flexibility important in the online classroom? Any examples and/or experiences you would like to share?


In this module, we have reviewed many of the tips and techniques seasoned online instructors have to offer with respect to how to manage time and provide a sense of flexibility in the online classroom. This information is targeted primarily to teachers who are new to teaching online. We have focused on the following:

A handout of all the management strategies discussed is available in the sidebar, along with a list of the discussion questions. For a review of the module, complete the exercise below. A final assessment is available immediately following the references.  

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 


Lieb, S. (1991). Principles of Adult Learning, VISION.  Retrieved October 12, 2009 from

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner (6th ed.). London, UK: Elsevier.

Ragan, L. (2008). Best Practices in Online Learning, Connexions. Retrieved May 30, 2009 from

Ragan, L. C. & Terheggen, S. L. (Eds.) (2003). Effective workload management strategies for the online environment. A Report Funded by a Grant from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to The Pennsylvania State University World Campus. April 15, 2003.

Sloan-C: Lazarus, B.D. (2003). Teaching courses online: How much time does it take? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3), 47-54.

Tallent-Runnels, M., Thomas, J., Lan, W., Cooper, S., Ahern, T., Shaw, S., & Liu, X. (2006). Teaching courses online: A review of the research. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 93-135.

Final Assessment

Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.

 Question 1

 Question 2

 Question 3

 Question 4