Online Class Size
Online class size is complex question. Student learning needs vary by educational level, demographic characteristics, level and complexity of the subject/discipline, faculty teaching methods, and university policies. All this impacts the optimal number for course enrollment. Student competencies, faculty preparation, learning/teahiching expectations, and pedagogical variations bring additional confounding complexities to the determination of class size and the impact on faculty workload.
If my online course were to have 95 students, it would probably kill me and my husband would definitely leave me. My graduate-level course is not designed for 95 students. It is more of a seminar designed optimally for 10-12 learners. It is high touch and relies on lots of interaction and projects, with lots personalized/individualized audio and video feedback. But, I have taught the same course as a professional development workshop with 78+ students… it was a totally different experience –Same content, but activities, interaction, expectations, and my involvement and feedback were different.
The best/most current peer-reviewed study that I have found on this topic was published in the OLC Online Journal in 2019. One Size Does Not Fit All: Toward an Evidence-Based Framework for Determining Online Course Enrollment Sizes in Higher Education.
(citation: TAFT, Susan H.; KESTEN, Karen; EL-BANNA, Majeda M.. One Size Does Not Fit All: Toward an Evidence-Based Framework for Determining Online Course Enrollment Sizes in Higher Education. Online Learning, [S.l.], v. 23, n. 3, sep. 2019. ISSN 2472-5730. Available at: <https://olj.onlinelearningconsortium.org/index.php/olj/article/view/1534>. Date accessed: 17 july 2020. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v23i3.1534).
The researchers conducted a synthesis from 43 recent higher education journals, yielding 58 evidence-based articles. And found that no one size fits all.
“Small class sizes (≤ 15 students) are indicated for courses intending to develop higher-order thinking, mastery of complex knowledge, and student skill development. Pedagogical intent should dictate class size” (p. 188).
“Evidence from our research review justifying large enrollments in online courses aligned with pedagogies for foundational and factual learning—that is, those requiring relatively low levels of critical thinking; limited personalized interaction with faculty, little individualized instruction, formative feedback, sense of community, or shared knowledge creation; and less higher order thinking, intellectual challenge, skill development, problem-solving, research and writing, journal reflection, or faculty-moderated discussions (El Tantawi et al., 2015; Haynie, 2014; Holzweiss et al., 2014; Mandel & Sussmuth, 2011; Maringe & Sing, 2014; Ravenna, 2012; Rees, 2017; Taft et al., 2011). Foundation-level learning can rely on lecture- and testing-centered pedagogies that emphasize content recall and demonstration of knowledge at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (Pelech et al., 2013). Many college courses involve basic levels of learning that can be managed in large classes” (p. 218).
Table 7 (pgs 223-4) provides some recommendations on Student Enrollment Sizes by Learning Needs and Pedagogical Strategies, with Course Examples and Table 8 (pgs 225-6) provides an Implementation Rubric for Experimentation with Class Size Decisions, that you may find useful.
Here are some recent articles and tips on the topic:
Online College Classes Should Have No More Than 12 Students
This Forbes piece is getting a lot of attention today and requires some more nuanced discussion (I invite other researchers here to share their thoughts here as well).https://t.co/7eIQrwPqln
— dr steph moore (@steph_moore) June 30, 2020
Research: Learning Intent Should Determine Online Class Size
Strategies for Teaching Large Classes – download pdf.
- Part I: Managing student expectations, leveraging quizzes, and reducing grading load
- Part 2: Managing groups, peer review, and other peer-to-peer interactions
- Part III: Managing instructor-student communication and presence
Tips for Teaching Large Classes Online – Faculty Focus
Tips for Designing and Moderating Large-Enrollment Online Courses
Teaching Large Classes Online – video
Using online environments for teaching large classes – Coursera