Accelerated Scheduling – Applying Sound Educational Principles to Improve Learning and Reduce Completion Time

It’s summer time and throughout the country, most university classrooms are quiet and dark. Students are traveling, working summer jobs and reconnecting with old friends. Such is the pace of the traditional college experience. And while there’s nothing wrong with it, there are those who simply cannot accommodate such a schedule. They may be older, have families or simply want to begin their careers as soon as humanly possible. For them, accelerated scheduling is the answer.

For all the news coverage and marketing associated with accelerated scheduling – predominately practiced by private sector colleges and universities – there are myriad misconceptions. In the case of ECPI University, the message is clear and concise: Zero to Bachelor’s in 2.5 years. Those unfamiliar with accelerated scheduling often assume that the course of study must somehow be abbreviated…nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, the same educational approach that allows students to graduate early also fosters more effective learning and increased graduation rates.

“The days of the ‘sage on the stage’ blowing in the door, delivering a 50-minute lecture on some arcane topic, and blowing out the door are over,” says Dr. Cathy Roberts, ECPI University Director of Institutional Effectiveness. “In my opinion, we offer higher education the way it should be done. Allowing students to apply what they are learning is critical to their retention of the material, and the accelerated course schedule allows us to do that.”

Year-Round, Short Terms, Long Blocks

So what, exactly, is accelerated scheduling? First and foremost, it’s continuous. At ECPI University, classes are being taught 50 weeks out of the year. Secondly, classes are offered in short terms and long blocks. Rather than taking five classes over the course of four months, students take two classes every five weeks with 20 hours spent each of those weeks in the classroom or laboratory. There are no shortcuts. The pace is intense, but the results are impressive.

Academically, many advantages of accelerated course scheduling are realized. Accelerated course scheduling:

  • Allows time to be used more efficiently. Instructional time is not fragmented by frequent transitions between classes. Fewer distinct classes means less time spent on classroom management activities, such as calling attendance and organizing and focusing the class.
  •  Balances workload. Major papers and tests are due three times per semester rather than all at the end.
  •  Allows better retention and synthesis of information. Students better understand and retain material when they have an opportunity to apply information to various contexts rather than merely cramming the facts. Students and teachers are able to focus on fewer subjects, and explore them in greater depth.
  •  Supports collaborative learning. The increase in the amount of time provided for each class session creates a more relaxed environment for learning and provides more opportunity for collaboration among students.
  •  Promotes quicker feedback, motivation and recognition. With final grades issued three times per semester rather than all at once, students remain engaged and motivated for better performance and retention.
  •  Provides a “real-world” level of immersion into a concept. Longer class periods allow faculty members to provide more realistic learning experiences for students that mimic those that they will encounter in the workplace.
  •  Fosters stronger interpersonal relationships. The number of daily classes for which students and teachers must adjust and prepare is decreased, allowing students to develop deeper interpersonal relationships that are integral to academic success. This extensive personal interaction between teacher and student is strengthened and, from a faculty standpoint, they may be interacting with fewer students at any one time.
  •  Reduces opportunity Costs. By entering the workforce earlier, graduates begin building wealth sooner.

Proof of Performance

Educational philosophy aside, ultimately, it is results that matter; and this method of instruction has made ECPI University a national leader. For associate degrees alone, ECPI’s graduation rate is nearly double that of public, two-year institutions (Department of Education – IPEDS) and, in terms of total number of graduates, it ranks:

  •  2nd in Engineering Technologies
  • 3rd in Health Professions and Related Programs
  • 5th in Computer Science
  • 7th in Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration and Clinical Nursing
  • 20th for all Associate Degrees

Another benchmark for performance is success on independent exams. Researchers report that pass rates of students from accelerated programs on the national registered nursing exam indicate that these students do as well as or slightly better than students from conventional nursing programs (Teaching Intensive and Accelerated Courses: Instruction that Motivates Learning, Margery B. Ginsberg and Raymond J, Wlodkowski).

“I can say that I was initially a bit skeptical about the idea of a five-hour class when I first started my career,” says Dr. Roberts. “However, I quickly saw that the compressed schedule and longer classes were the very best way to deliver instruction. I had more flexibility to address the needs of the class, and I was able to provide more opportunities for interactive learning in the class as well. Further, the classes could be more intense and more focused since we had the luxury of becoming a bit obsessed with the topic of the day.”

About David Brandt