Course Length Recommendations in Online Higher Education

From the introduction "According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2012), “distance education courses and programs provide flexible learning opportunities to students” (para. 2). Currently, between 6.7 million (Allen & Seaman, 2013) and 15 million students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012) are enrolled in distance education courses. With the growth of online access, universities and colleges have risen to meet consumer demand for online programs (Allen & Seaman, 2013). This continuous growth means an increased demand for research regarding ways to support student achievement, accelerated time to degree completion, and graduation. The consideration of best practices is essential, especially when it comes to policies and practices designed to help students persist and reach educational goals. Online instructors and administrators are challenged to implement meaningful support services and enhanced course engagement opportunities, in order to help students acquire new skills and gain content knowledge required for success. Research shows a direct relationship between student engagement and retention and persistence (Shaw, Chametzky, Burrus, & Walters, 2013). According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (2014), in 2010, retention rates by state ranged from 63.3% to 84%. There is an intense administrative concern in higher education on retaining students who are at greatest risk for attrition (Brock, 2010). The combination of intense focus (Anastasi, 2007) and interaction is necessary in order to increase and to support motivation and achievement (Kucsera & Zimmaro, 2010; Lee & Horsfall, 2010). There is a dearth of literature suggesting how course pacing supports student success. Student retention is reliant upon the totality of strategies an institution employs to improve the quality of student life and learning (Crocket, n.d.). "


Leaders of online institutions of higher education must consider ideal course lengths to facilitate student learning, accelerated time to degree completion, and financial stability for the organization. This quantitative study provides evidence of the benefits of 8-week duration courses in online higher education. In this study, student data were gathered from several graduate programs before and after a transition from 12 to 8-week courses. The purpose was to evaluate differences in time to degree completion, grade point average, and graduation rates after the implementation of condensed courses. Results show there were significant differences in time to degree completion and graduation rates for the shorter duration courses, while grade point averages remained unharmed by shorter courses. These results are encouraging for institutions looking to offer shorter duration courses to meet student enrollment needs and preferences. Accelerating the number of courses a student can complete by shortening the duration of the term also benefits the institution by facilitating financial stability. Recommendations for further study include an exploration of course lengths in traditional university settings to determine if findings are generalizable.

This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Scott Burrus, Christopher Lynne, Melanie Shaw
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
Journal of Online Higher Education,
The Learning Institute
Publication Language: 
Boyer's Domain: 

Additional content will be provided upon request.

Scott Burrus

Additional content will be provided upon request.

Scott Burrus
More posts by author: