Distance Learning

Trident Tries Shorter Online Courses

Can shorter courses lead to better outcomes? A for-profit online university will soon find out when it adds an option for eight-week terms to its program offerings. Trident University International announced that it would be launching a "Fastrac" structure starting in May with the expectation that the dual offering will give its students "increased flexibility" and the institution improved completion rates.

The university's 13,000 students are primarily active military. The school has degrees at the bachelor, master's and PhD level.

The new Fastrac program will enable those students who choose it to complete more sessions each year, the university said in a statement, and speed up the time to graduation. However, the school will continue offering its 12-week terms as well, based on the results of a survey in which 70 percent of students recommended offering both. The same survey found that most students expected to switch to the new format. All doctoral courses will remain in the 12-week structure.

"The introduction of the Trident Fastrac structure ties directly back to student success, one of the key pillars of Trident's mission," said Executive Vice President and Provost Michael Mahoney. "After reviewing the data and talking to our student body, it was clear that this was the right move to make to improve the academic experiences of the entire Trident community."

In 2013 a joint project by researchers from three schools found "no statistical difference in student achievement or engagement" in online courses that were taught in a 16-week format or an eight-week format. The study found similar learning experiences for students "in terms of content given, scores earned, and total assignments completed." The results, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, "are potentially encouraging for institutions looking to offer shorter duration courses to meet student enrollment needs and student preferences."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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