A Review of Time-Shortened Courses across Disciplines

By Daniel, Eileen L. | College Student Journal, June 2000 | Go to article overview

A Review of Time-Shortened Courses across Disciplines


Daniel, Eileen L., College Student Journal


Intensive or time-shortened courses taught outside the traditional semester or quarter are becoming common at many colleges and universities due to the number of non-traditional students. While intense courses are convenient to these students, many educators are concerned about learning outcomes. This article summarizes literature related to the use of intensive course formats in higher education. An overview and history of time-shortened courses along with studies of educational outcomes related to these courses is discussed. Research that addresses teaching techniques for intensive courses, student and faculty perceptions of these courses, and the use of time-shortened courses in a variety of disciplines is discussed.

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Intensive courses, or those taught outside the traditional semester or quarter-length format, are becoming common on college and university campuses. These institutions are faced with increasing numbers of non-traditional aged students who often have difficulty taking classes during regularly scheduled times. To serve these adult learners, many schools began offering time-shortened courses in the regular semester, summer sessions, weekend colleges and intersessions. In a recent survey, data drawn from 424 colleges and universities found that 217 were using accelerated courses and programs (Nixon, 1996). Though there is limited evidence that a college course must meet several times a week for 10 to 15 weeks in order to produce an educationally valuable experience, many faculty and college administrators have concerns about time-shortened courses. While students generally favor an intense format, faculty often believe these courses substitute academic rigor and genuine learning for student convenience (Scott, 1991).

Despite the misgivings of many academics, intensive courses will likely to continue to flourish given the adult student demographic trends. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (Horn, 1996) and the Department of Agriculture (1997) approximately 50% of all college students in the United States are 25 or older, a 50% percent increase in the past 20 years. In addition, the numbers of part-time students have also increased significantly (Choy, 1995; Nordstrom, 1997). Adult and part-time students are enrolled in a variety of disciplines including liberal arts, education and the professions. Given these numbers of non-traditional students, there is every reason to anticipate many post-secondary institutions will continue to offer convenient, alternative courses, including time-shortened formats in the future.

The purpose of this paper is to present research comparing traditional length courses with those taught in an intensive or time-shortened format. In addition, the literature on intense courses in various disciplines will be discussed.

An Overview of Intensive Courses

Time-shortened formats first developed during summer sessions, often courses designed to accommodate teachers seeking advanced degrees or credentials. Winter and semester intersession courses, often two to three weeks long, followed. Schools developed this shortened term to enable students to focus intensively and exclusively on a single topic or subject. During World War II, the United States and British Armies developed intensive language training programs (Buzash, 1994). This format proved quite successful in training interpreters in a matter of months. The success of this format suggested that an intensive course could be an important, educational alternative.

Some colleges and universities have actually set up their schedules in modular or block calendars. An institution utilizing this scheduling typically establishes short, intense sessions throughout the academic year. While many faculty believe that block scheduling offers more intensive instruction and increased student focus on subject matter, there are concerns that some subjects require more time for absorption of content. …

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