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The optimum online teaching class load: How many online classes should I teach?

The optimum online teaching class load: How many online classes should I teach?

by Nicole Runyon
March 18, 2015

Considering your optimum online teaching class load can help to shape your actions as you develop a career of teaching online. Adjunctpreneurs ® build a course load over the course of months and years that can offer flexibility and financial stability. This career choice can offer freedom to those who actively pursue an adjunctpreneur ® lifestyle.

In online education, we seek job stability, interest in what we teach, supportive administrators and quality education. To attain financial security in an adjunct world, sometimes we have to hold down multiple jobs at several schools to gain financial stability.

We all have a magic number to achieve in our head.


This magic number might represent:

  • The number classes we want to teach or our online teaching class load.
  • The amount we want to earn.
  • The number of hours a day/week we want to work.
  • The number of schools with which we want to be affiliated.
  • The number of students we want to have at any given time.
  • The number of hours we want to work outside of our house.
  • The number of hours we want to spend in a commute each day.
  • The ratio of time we want to spend at home versus on a beach.

Full time faculty (onground or online) might teach 3- 5 classes a term along with holding other responsibilities (committee work, research etc). Onground adjuncts might teach 1-2 nights a week at a local community college. Often, individuals who elect to serve in this role do so either to supplement a full time job, to get a foot in the door, or for personal enrichment.

In the world of the online faculty adjunctpreneur ®, the numbers vary. Those starting out will likely have only a single class. After a few terms, the workload will typically expand…perhaps two classes at a school….or perhaps picking up another school or a combination of working both onground and online. As the adjunct’s reputation and experiences grow, so does the course load. Other paid opportunities might arise to include course development, student mentoring, etc.

As an online adjunct, there are many factors that play in to compensation for any given class (course level, degree held, length of term, credit hours, length of service, etc). For sake of argument, assume compensation is $2000 for an eight week course and the adjunct teaches 2 courses per term. That works out to $24,000 a year. Now…start to add more schools to that. Add another school to this mix and this annual figure doubles. Add another and another and with four schools, the scales tip at six figures. Eight schools near $200,000 annually. Throw in some bonus development or dissertation work and annual compensation expands without having the obligation of having committee work or other administrative responsibilities found with a full time position. While this is for illustrative purposes, the dollars can quickly accumulate.

But what is the magic number for you?

What is the optimum online course load for you? How much do you want to earn? How many hours a week are you able/willing to work? How fast are you able to successfully complete your tasks (grading, discussions, etc.)? How tied to technology do you want to be? What, if any, volume of days off do you want/need? These all play in to the decision that will ultimately guide you in your decisions to accept or reject employment.

Some are happy with a lighter load of only several classes running simultaneously. Others teach, 10, 20, 30, 40, or even more. What??? You say. How are these numbers possible? What about quality of work? What about quality of life?

Do these people ever sleep?

Those that teach at a higher volume have developed the skills to do so with time. They didn’t wake up teaching thirty classes all at once. It’s a matter of building a client base over the course of months and years. So how do they do it?

  • They might teach similar classes at multiple universities so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every term. An expert in literature might also teach roughly the same 18th century literature class at several universities. An expert in management might teach the same concepts in “Principles of Management” at a dozen different universities.
  • They have developed the communication and technical skills to work swiftly and efficiently. They use technology to help them complete their tasks (Want some suggestions on technology? Check out Must Have Technologies: Help from Professors)
  • When teaching a high volume there is typically a natural ebb and flow.
  • Not all schools have classes that start on the same date or end on the same date.
  • Weeks are staggered. Some classes have assignments due on Sunday some on Thursday (or any other day).
  • Some schools offer a break in between sessions while others do not.
  • Some schools have a rotating schedule with classes starting each week or month. Others operate on a fixed calendar with established terms/semesters.
  • Some are accelerated and some are 12 weeks or longer.

By having these variations, typically an adjunctpreneur ® isn’t grading the final projects from thirty classes on a single day. Each week, he/she will be grading a batch of finals as one class ends and another begins. Each week, an adjunctpreneur ® will be welcoming new students, setting up courses, posting final grades, etc. No single day and no single week are alike but patterns will emerge. An adjunctpreneur ® knows the heavy grading days and plans their schedule accordingly. An adjunctpreneur ® finds ways to increase efficiency (for example, office hour requirements at multiple schools can be run simultaneously).

You might ask how an adjunctpreneur ® can complete their required tasks with quality and student support in mind. They can.

They can because:

  • They know what challenges/problems to anticipate based on experience.
  • They are constantly enrolling in professional development (schools require this) so that they stay current with their teaching practices and in their professions.
  • They are typically tech savvy (or at least have been around the block a few times).
  • They are incredibly organized (probably to a fault…just ask their spouse/roommate/children) and take what they do very seriously.
  • They sometimes work around the clock (or at least at wonky hours) depending on the given day or time of year.
  • They anticipate and know when the challenging times occur and plan accordingly.
  • They know how to say no to a position when it’s not a good fit (there is nothing worse than devoting half of your work time to a single class or school).
  • They take advantage of multi-tasking efforts (For more help with multi-tasking, check out my article Multi-Tasking: It’s My BFF Now More Than Ever)

A high volume course load isn’t for everyone. What is your magic number? What is the right online teaching course load for you? If you want it, growing your course load is possible. In some ways the number that is right for you will be determined by trial and error. Additionally, as your life circumstances (births/deaths/other commitments/other income/etc) change, so will your ability to teach more or fewer classes. As your career advances, other opportunities will present themselves and you might decide to let some teaching opportunities go. It’s all a balance. Many of us push this balance and know our limits. For those new to the industry, it takes time and practice to find what works.


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Nicole Runyon has been been teaching online since 1998 and loves helping
adult learners find ways to achieve their goals and broaden their perspectives.
We are proud to have Nicole offer her mentoring services at The Babb Group,
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Contact the author Dr. Nicole Runyon