Students Prefer Intensive Courses

College students prefer short, intensive courses over those taught in the traditional semester-length format and learn just as much, a new study finds.

The researchers were able to find 130 recent cases where the same instructor taught the same course in both a traditional 15-week semester and a shorter intensive period of 9 or 11 weeks. Texas uses a student evaluation form for courses, and the study compared the courses taught in the same ways. In addition, the researchers controlled for class size — generally smaller classes get higher ratings and the intensive courses are smaller.

Instructor ratings ended up being the same for intensive and regular courses, when all the controls were added. (Without the controls, the instructors did better with the intensive model.) But the course rating was significantly higher, on average, for the intensive courses, even when controlling for class size.

This suggests that the intensive courses not only provide as much learning as traditional schedules, but may be more popular with students. Kucsera said this suggested that colleges might want to do more research on why these courses appear to be more successful and to consider offering more of them. One researcher in the audience speculated that in intensive courses, there is more “bonding” between professor and students than in regular courses. Even if the professor and students would have spent the same total amount of time over a semester, the shortened period builds relationships and adds to the closeness of the experience.

This would seem to auger well for a return to a quarter system rather than semesters.

As a student, I vastly preferred summer courses, crammed into a four week period, to the semester-long variants. In my own case, at least, that had nothing to do with “bonding” but rather with the intensity itself. Taking a course over a 15-week period, along with five or six other classes, simply felt watered down in comparison to taking two courses for a month. The latter format simply concentrates the mind and lessens distractions. It also disincentivized procrastination in studying and, especially, writing papers.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this;
    Students like to be challanged.

  2. Mister Biggs says:

    I don’t prefer either too much as a full time student.

    I’ve also done a part time masters on the semester and another on the quarter system. The quarter was over quicker, but the semester gave you time to catch up on work if you had a long week at work or the kid took more time. The extra time is nice to have in that part time situation, because typically I’d take 2 classes per term in both systems.

  3. Grewgills says:

    I quite liked the Dutch (European?) system. One course at a time, full time, for 4-6 weeks. The down-side was that lab work that required time to mature did not have much time.