Technology-enhanced learning – workloads and costs

The following is a summary and some thoughts on the final report of an OLT funded project titled e-Teaching leadership: planning and implementing a benefits-oriented costs model for technology enhanced learning.

The final report adds “Out of hours” to the title and captures my interest in this area. In particular, I think that the workload for academic staff (and hence the quality of learning and teaching) is being directly impacted by the poor quality of both the institutional tools and how they are being provided. Improving these is where my research interests sit, so I’m hoping this report will provide some insights/quotes to build upon. I also think that the next couple of years will hold “interesting” conversations about workloads and workload models.


The work identifies that

  1. No Australian university really has an idea about workload allocation when it comes to online/blended learning.
  2. Academics are reporting significant increases in workload due to the rise of online/blended learning.

Some of the key recommendations appear to be

  1. “DEEWR in tandem with Universities Australia and other agencies should initiate a multi-level audit of teaching time and WAMs”.
  2. “Define clearly what it means in each program to teach online for staff, learn online for students and manage staff allocation within higher education institutions so that all stakeholders as well as Finance Officers can participate in workload model development.”

Both appear to assume that what currently passes for teaching online is as good as it gets. I’m thinking we still haven’t figured out how to do this well enough. We’re still in the process of recasting what it means to teach online. So, I wonder if putting a lot of effort into workload allocation, prior to figure out how to do the work, is putting the cart before the horse?

Of course, formulating a workload formula is much easier than recasting the nature of teaching, learning and the institution in which those take place.

Executive summary

Project aims changed due to “lack of consistent sector information on real teaching costs in universities” (p. 2). Also no rigorous cost-accounting protocol is applied to e-teaching. “Unsurprisingly, the study found overload due to e-teaching was a significant factor in staff dissatisfaction” (p.2).

Of course, the conclusion from this is that “Workload models needed to change to accommodate the additional tasks of e-teaching” but you wonder why other factors weren’t considered. e.g. are the tools provided crap? are teaching staff not changing practice based on the changing nature of the task? etc.

Hoping that others will build on this with a sector-wide survey

Four outcomes

  1. Analysis of literature on costs/benefits of online teaching.
  2. Data of workload implications to help in developing workload models.
  3. Four case studies of staff perceptions of workload with TEL.
  4. Recommendations


  • Literature review revealed: lack of reporting and no documentation of the impact on workload when teaching online or in blended modes.
  • 88 interviews across four institutions showed poorly defined policy frameworks for workload allocations and staff didn’t understand those models.
  • The new technologies with new teaching methods have “increased both the number and type of teaching tasks undertaken by staff, with a consequent increase in their work hours” (p. 3)

Part 1 – Project outline and processes

As a result, institutional policies are often guided
more by untested assumptions about reduction of costs per student unit, rather than being evidence-based and teacher-focused, with the result that implementation of new technologies for online teaching intended to reduce costs per student ‘unit’ results in a ‘black hole’ of additional expense (p. 4).

Part 2 – Literature review

Despite predictions otherwise “evidence of productivity gains and cost reduction due to e-teaching/learning is scant”.

Suggests that this project’s focus is on the everyday experience with ICTs, specifically, the workload factors. But I wonder if it will touch on the other factors identified in quotes in the literature review.

Expands on four broad influences: globalisation; technological innovation; macro/micro economic settings; and, renewed cultural emphasis on individualism.

One striking feature of the Gosper et al. study is that 75 per cent of staff had not altered the structure of their unit to incorporate new technologies, despite the clear evidence of Laurillard (2002), Bates (1995) and Twigg (2003) that re-design is crucial in utilising the web.

Part 3 – Project approach

Describes the interviews of 88 academic staff across 4 institutions and the analysis approach.

Part 3 – Aggregated results of interview analysis

Lists each of the questions and summarises results

76 out of 88 did not think workload matched actual work.

Types of online learning

  • 73 / 88 – discussions.
  • 63 – traditional learning resources.
  • 51 – podcasts
  • 42 – Assessment (what does this mean when..)
  • 23 – Assessment quizzes
  • 11 – Assessment submission and marking

One thought on “Technology-enhanced learning – workloads and costs

  1. I’m just glad that this is finally getting some recognition – clearly there are many issues to address as far as identifying what type of teaching and teaching prep is required for eLearning but getting institutions to acknowledge that this is legitimately additional work is a big first step.

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