Five Institutions are Better than One! The Results of an Exploratory Collaborative on Instructional Designer Workload Planning and Capacity

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

How long does it take for an instructional designer to develop a course? It depends. Join five higher education institutions to hear about how they have collaborated to start answering this question together and learn about the contextual elements that impact instructional designer capacity and workload in all types of course development projects. 


J. Garvey Pyke, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the the Center for Teaching at UNC Charlotte. As part of the leadership team for the School of Professional Studies, his work involves fueling the enrollment growth at the university through online course development, creating high impact student success programs using personalized and adaptive learning, promoting faculty success and scholarly teaching through innovative faculty development programs, and overseeing the provision and support of enterprise academic technologies. Garvey is also an alumnus of OLC's IELOL program (2010) and has remained an active member of this professional community of practice and served as co-director of IELOL 2018 and as a faculty member of IELOL from 2019 - 2022. He has served on various conference committees for OLC Accelerate and has served on the Steering Committee for OLC Innovate.
Dr. Blair Stamper is an Instructional Designer (ID) with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Blair Stamper, LLC as well as a public speaker. As an ID, she works with faculty to create student-centered and active online courses that align with high quality standards. Her passions lie in student success, active learning, and access, equity, and inclusion in online courses. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Michigan State University and Arizona State University. Blair shares her expertise with her online blog, social media (Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest), podcast, and through mentoring. Blair began working in education as a middle school math and science teacher in 2012. Using her experiences with curriculum design as a teacher and her love for technology, Blair found her true niche in the instructional design field in 2015. After 7.5 years as an ID, Blair’s passion for sharing her expertise with the online learning field has led her to being published in Educause Review, an active member with Educause, Online Learning Consortium, UPCEA, and the creation of her Be an Instructional Design Rockstar podcast. Blair’s research focuses on instructional design practices including relationships between IDs and faculty during online course developments. She has also explored access, equity, and inclusive practices and active learning in online courses. Blair has also served as the Managing Editor for Current Issues in Education and a reviewer for multiple academic journals. Blair is a graduate of Arizona State University (2022, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Innovation), the Online Learning Consortium's Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (2018), Michigan State University (2015, Master of Arts in Educational Technology), and University of Michigan-Dearborn (2012, Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education).
Dr. Yu is an experienced designer with a demonstrated history of working in higher education and e-learning. She received her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and Human-Computer Interaction from Iowa State University and her M.Ed from the University of Toronto. Her research has been focusing on online learning, peer mentoring, and communities of practice. As a QM coordinator and peer reviewer, she enjoys collaborating with faculty to improve course design and incorporate experiential learning strategies.
I am an educator, scholar, online learning enthusiast, community college leader, and champion of Open Education. With teaching experience from middle school to community college, I bring a myriad of skills and career's worth of perspective to my online course design and work with faculty in professional development workshops. My most recent work with Regional Leaders of Open Education (RLOE) has connected me with colleagues from across North America and Canada who are committed to using Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Pedagogy (OP) as a means to center, empower, and amplify the voices of our students, especially our underserved students. I have also worked with CCCOER and the College of the Canyons in California on a grant-funded project called Open For Anti-Racism (OFAR), which facilitates faculty use of OER and open pedagogy to create antiracist curriculum and pedagogical approaches in their California community college learning spaces with their students.
Currently work as an instructional designer working with faculty to develop online, blended, and technology enhanced courses.

Additional Authors

Lynn leads the Course Production Team in UNC Charlotte's Center for Teaching and Learning in the School of Professional studies in their work with faculty in the redesign and development of blended and online courses, the development and implementation of media and interactive learning objects, and quality assurance efforts and initiatives. Lynn is passionate about creating successful faculty and student learning experiences in online and blended learning and growing as a leader. Lynn received her M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from Idaho State University and M.A. and B.A. in English Literature from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. With over 15 years of experience in higher education, Lynn is a two time OLC Best in Track award winner, frequent volunteer with OLC Accelerate, Innovate, and IELOL, a thought leader in instructional design, and is a graduate of the Online Learning Consortium's Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning.

Extended Abstract


After a session delivered at OLC Innovate 2022, five institutions partnered together to try to answer the question “how long does it take to develop an online or blended course?” This idea snowballed from a deceptively simple question to the beginnings of creating a framework for estimating the capacity of instructional designers (IDs) and identifying contextual factors in higher education that might impact the workload of IDs.


In a course development process, it is vital to understand the constraints and details that impact how quickly a course can be developed and what sort of factors require additional staffing such as accessibility and media development. Answers to these questions are vital to ensuring appropriate staffing of course development teams, accurate time estimates for stakeholders, balancing of instructional designer load, clear communication with faculty SMEs around expectations, and the on time completion of projects.  

Without a clear understanding of how much time and effort is needed for course development projects, instructional designers and other higher education staff are often overloaded, asked to do too much with too little, and as a result are particularly susceptible to burnout (Prusko, 2020). With so many institutions of higher education scaling up their digital course offerings as a result of the pandemic, this question is more important than ever before.

There is little evidence available about realistic estimates for online course development that take into account common constraints. The result is that every ID provides their own best guess at capacity and load for projects, relying on their own competencies, working speed, and intuition. While intuition from experienced IDs can be accurate to an extent, intuition only works as an estimation tool when project situations fall within the realm of an ID’s experience. This leads to inaccurate time estimations for course projects with unique elements IDs have not yet encountered. These time estimates, because they are based on the unique context of an institution, are also not easily transferable across institutions.

A Collaborative Research Group:

A group of IDs and administrators from five different institutions started a collaborative project in September 2022 with the aim to share stories, experiences, and best practices around course development in higher education. The preliminary results of this collaborative project suggested that tracking ID’s time on projects is one way of accurately estimating capacity and load. However, tracking individual time alone is not sufficient to predict all situations, and in most cases, also not transferable across institutions which have different strategic plans, course development procedures, project types, staffing, and support systems. 

The ultimate goal of this collaborative research group is to create a conceptual framework to help leaders in higher education better understand the capacity and workload of IDs. According to Jabareen (2009), a conceptual framework is a network of interlinked concepts that work together to provide a comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon or phenomena. We plan to create a survey to collect responses from IDs from a variety of higher education institutions regarding their perceptions on different contextual factors. Through an iterative process of analyzing, categorizing, and synthesizing the data, our goal is to create a conceptual framework that will serve as a practical guideline for IDs, administrators, and leaders to analyze and rethink their own situations.


Purpose of the Session:

The purpose of this session is to share our own knowledge and contribute to the knowledge building on IDs’ capacity and workload, which would help researchers and practitioners understand the contextual factors which impact course development processes (e.g., staffing, workload, sustainability, and quality). 

During the session, we plan to share our preliminary results towards developing a conceptual framework by answering the following questions:

  1. What are common instructional designer challenges in various course development projects, and how do we tackle them at our own institutions? 

  2. What are the dimensions to determine capacity? What matters? What doesn’t? 

  3. What are the parts of the system that make up this problem space?

Session Objectives: 

By the end of the session, attendees will be able to: 

  • Define some of the common constraints and contexts across institutions around course development projects and instructional designer workload

  • Develop a shared language with a group of like minded individuals to define and discuss course development projects from a holistic perspective

  • Discuss methods for forecasting and predicting projects into specific support tiers

  • Reflect on the contexts of their institutions and how they might add to the presented concepts 


Session attendees will

  • Add to a living document in the session with shared insights synthesized from the presentation

  • Participate in a discussion on the different factors impacting their own workloads, planning, and staffing around course development

  • Complete a survey with targeted questions  to begin detailing the contextual variables that impact instructional designer load

Attendees will leave with a detailed resource of the processes and strategies which have been implemented across the five institutions to begin brainstorming how they might implement the strategies on their own teams.  


Jabareen, Y. (2009). Building a conceptual framework: philosophy, definitions, and procedure. International journal of qualitative methods, 8(4), 49-62.

Prusko, P. (2000, Jan 27). The Emerging story of burnout in educational design. EdSurge.