How many hours does it take to transform a campus-based university module to online learning?

recent post on WONKHE, the higher education policy news site stated that it takes 80 hours to convert an existing module into an online or blended one. WONKHE gave no details for where this number came from other than academics had repeatedly mentioned it as the time required.

This comes as no surprise; speaking with hundreds of educators across the sector, we know that, on average, it will take 80 hours to transform a module from face to face delivery with lectures and seminars to high quality online or blended delivery.


I want to do a thought experiment for fun as to where these hours might go. I will make many assumptions, so comment at the bottom to correct me or suggest better hypotheses to use. 

My first assumption is that the 80 hours are on top of the existing workload allocation. The module team would use the standard hours for prep and delivery of live (synchronous) learning and facilitation of on-demand (asynchronous) learning.

Assuming the average university module is 20 credits, and one credit is equal to 10 hours of notional learning, students should spend 200 hours on average completing each module. 

The term ‘notional learning time’ is used to denote all time expected to be spent by a student in pursuit of a higher education qualification. This includes independent study and reading, preparation for contact hours, coursework, revision and summative assessment. This term is used because the actual time that learners need to achieve designated learning outcomes varies considerably. Notional study time of ten hours per credit is the agreed tariff that higher education providers use in designing their programmes and learning outcomes for higher education qualifications, with 360 credits making up an honours degree.

Let us assume that a module might be delivered over half an academic year, over 15 weeks, with a one hour lecture and two one hour small group seminars per week as contact time. That would mean that the academic would have 45 hours of teaching time to convert from campus-based to entirely online or a blend of online and campus-based. The other 155 hours would be made up of independent study and working on assessments. This conversion is due to the pandemic, so the independent study and assessment would probably not change too much, even if the assessment is transformed from a three-hour exam to a 24-hour open book exam done remotely.

So, 80 hours to convert 45 hours of teaching to online learning.

Let us further assume that the seminars will stay live (synchronous) through Microsoft Teams or Zoom or, if they are lucky with rooming and social distancing, stay live on campus. That gives us 15 hours of online content and activities to create to replace lectures. 

So, 80 hours to convert 15 hours of teaching to online learning. Suppose the academic spends four hours redesigning their module through a workshop activity like ABC, and six hours of training and experimentation to use the software. In that case, this gives our fictional academic 70 hours to create 15 hours of online content and activities for our made-up module.

70 hours of development time to produce 15 hours of video content, text, activities, and self-mark questions mean 4 hours and 40 minutes of development time per hour of online learning. 

Let us say that each one hour lecture is 40 minutes of content and then 20 minutes of discussion and answering questions on an audience response tool like Mentimeter. If we allocate 40 minutes of development time to set up a discussion forum and convert the questions to the VLE quiz tool, that leaves four hours to develop four ten minute videos or one hour per ten-minute video.

To sum up, a Module Leader might spend 80 hours converting their existing module to online:

  • 6 hours of training
  • 4 hours of design using the ABC model
  • 70 hours creating content
    • 1 hour for each 10-minute video
    • 40 minutes for each 20 minute activity time

This is a tough ask for academics that may not have the digital skills or technology at the start of the pandemic to transform their modules in just 80 additional hours. It is important to note that these 80 hours will not have been given to academics within their usual workload but instead done on top of everything else.

Let me know what you think in the comments or via Twitter if you want some discussion.

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