Prospective Students: Check out our viewbook!

Going for Short: Re-Thinking Course Design for Accelerated Courses

accelerate1As everyone connected with higher education today knows, the learning landscape is changing rapidly – reflecting the constantly evolving needs of students in the 21st century. One important change involves students’ need for greater flexibility in terms of course time commitments and scheduling.

As always, SHSU Online is committed to student success, and this is reflected in the university’s decision to move forward with shortened/accelerated courses. A growing number of research studies indicate that student success, when measured in terms of grades, is higher in compressed courses than in full-semester length courses (Austin & Gustafson, 2006; Gamboa, 2013; Kretovics, et al., 2005; Logan & Geltner, 2000; Scott & Conrad, 1992; Seamon, 2004; Sheldon & Durella, 2009; Wlodowski, 2003).

In addition, research shows that online students want an immediate response to their program applications, and want to start classes right away (Clinefelter, D. L. & Aslanian, C. B., 2016). Adult learners, who make up the majority of SHSU’s online courses, are similar to adult learners elsewhere in that they want to feel  they are making progress towards degree completion at a rate that is stimulating and meaningful. Many who are working full-time jobs are also juggling a part-time or even full-time course load. Shortened courses help students feel they can move rapidly toward their goal, as opposed to stretching an academic endeavor over several years.

SHSU Online has recognized this emerging need for some time now. The challenging conditions brought by Hurricane Harvey, in late August 2017, served as a catalyst for moving more online courses and programs into shortened, or accelerated, formats – including a seven-and-a-half-week format called “7B.”

Though the storm was just one unfortunate event, SHSU Online is continuing to move certain online courses and programs into shortened formats, developing a course redesign template to facilitate the transition. This new template will apply research-supported findings that have been shown to bolster academic rigor in compressed courses, as well as incorporate elements of instructional design to improve course organization and the delivery of content.

Dr. Ruth Chisum, executive director for online operations at SHSU Online, notes: "We talk a lot about 'best practices' at SHSU Online. In essence, best practices are just strategies that have been shown to have good results. We are currently researching what these strategies look like in a shortened course format."

Courses and degrees that have been moved into the 7B format, or soon will be moved to it, include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Homeland Security – now on a completely accelerated schedule (and with stipends available for faculty members teaching program courses)
  • Four courses in the College of Business Administration will be redesigned:
    • ACCT 3304
    • BUAD 3355
    • BUAD 3335
    • MGMT 3310
  • Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising (this includes the required curriculum to complete the degree)


SHSU Online is going to redesign the courses into a compressed format for fall 2020 (with its instructional designers providing the usual redesign support for this). Dr. Chisum adds, “We have several seasoned online instructors who have already taught shortened online courses, and we will be reaching out to them for input on the design of a new template that incorporates the strategies they’ve used for online success.”

SHSU Online will also work closely with the involved departments to collaborate on student communication explaining the upcoming options. In addition, SHSU Online will soon set up a web page explaining how students can fit accelerated-format courses into their schedule along with standard-length courses. More information about the web page will be provided in coming issues of the SHSU Online Newsletter.


Austin, M., & Gustafson, L. (2006). Impact of course length on student learning. Journal of Economics and Finance Education, 5(1), 26–36.

Clinefelter, D. L. & Aslanian, C. B., (2016). Online college students 2016: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.)

Gamboa, B. R. (2013). Impact of course length on and subsequent use as a predictor of course success [Institutional Effectiveness Report]. Retrieved from

Geltner, Peter, and Logan, Ruth (2000). The Influence of Session Length on Student Success. Research report.4.1.0., Santa Monica College.

Kretovics, M. A., Crowe, A. R., & Hyun, E. (2005). A study of faculty perceptions of summer compressed course teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 30(1), 37-51. doi:10.1007/s10755-005-3295-1.

Scott, P. A. (2003). Attributes of high-quality intensive courses. In R. J. Wlodkowski & C. E. Kasworm (Eds.), The promise and practice of intensive educational formats. New directions for adult and continuing education, 97 (pp. 29–38). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Scott, Patricia A., and Conrad, Clifton (1992). A Critique of Intensive Courses and an Agenda for Research. In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, edited by John C. Smart. New York: Agathon Press.

Seamon, Marc (2004). Short and Long-Term Differences in Instructional Effectiveness Between Intensive and Semester-Length Courses. Teachers College Record - TEACH COLL REC. 106. 635-650. 10.1111/j.1467-9620.2004.00360.x.

Sheldon, C., & Durella, N. (2010). Success rates for students taking compressed and regular length development courses in the community college. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 34(1–2), 39–54.

Wlodkowski, R. J.  & C. E. Kasworm (Eds.), The promise and practice of intensive educational formats. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.