Optimal Length of Online Courses

In our blog series on military friendly online colleges, we have explored many topics ranging from choosing the right degree, getting the credit you deserve, to understanding what accreditation is. In this post, we explore the length of online programs and things for you to consider when making the choice of what school to attend.

In last month’s blog, we discuss two key elements you should consider in making the choice of which online educational program to enroll in, flexibility and time commitment.  Both of these elements come into play when looking at any particular college or university’s online program and the length of their online courses and determining what makes the best sense for you.

Many who choose to earn their college degree online look for the fastest way to complete it. Many times, this means selecting a school whose online program is promoted as being accelerated. This often means that the length of their online courses are anywhere from five to eight weeks in length. Is faster always better? We live in a society of the need for immediate gratification, where we want things sooner rather than later. How does this fit with online college programs?  Let’s take a look.

A traditional college semester or quarter is 11 to 16 weeks in length. Accrediting bodies look for standardization between online and traditionally delivered curriculum programs. Academic rigor and outcomes must be the same between traditionally based courses and their online counterparts. Basically, this means the amount of academic work a student must do, reading, studying, writing, participating, and taking assessments, must be the same in both a face-to-face classroom setting and in an online course in order to award the same number of credits for each course.

Remember from our previous discussion, flexibility in online delivery is one of the key elements to look at when making the choice of schools to attend. Course length has a great deal to do with how flexible a program really is. For example, if a school has a traditional based semester system, but also offers an 8-week online program, in order for their program to be accredited, both must have the same academic rigor. This means an online student will do the same amount of work a traditional student will but only have 8 weeks to complete it rather than 16. There is very little room for flexibility in the 8 week online program. If a student, due to work constraints or life’s challenges have to miss a week of work in an 8 week online program, they have really missed two full weeks of academic work. Trying to make this work up may prove to be problematic.

The other aspect of this is the 16 week termed student has 16 weeks to grasp and understand the content and topics of the course, whereas the online student may only 5, 6, or 8 weeks to accomplish the same goal, and achieve the course outcomes. Now try to envision taking two or three courses at the same time!  This is why time commitment and time management are so very important to the online learner. This is also why many online students struggle to complete their degree programs online in accelerated programs.

Online programs where the “academic term” is the same length as its campus-based counterpart offers the learner more time to complete the course, more time to grasp and comprehend the content, and more time to make adjustments based on life’s challenges and work pressures. Also, it is much easier to take two courses per term when you have more time to get the work done.

Accelerated programs have their place, and there is certainly those who really need this type of program. Just realize going into such programs the additional challenges and hurdles you will face while trying to complete your degree program.

Posted in : Military Friendly, Online colleges, Online Education
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