Best Practices/CAP Quality Standards

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In this day of multiple delivery methods, the use of time alone to document achievement of a degree has long passed. Many innovative programs and organizations, including Prior Learning Assessment and the Council of Adult and Experiential Learning, have changed the way undergraduate and graduate degrees are earned. Accelerated and intensive delivery formats are just one more step in the progress toward using learning outcomes in a wide variety of ways to meet student needs. However, accelerated programs must operate at a high level of quality. Through research and documentation of best practice, the Commission for Accelerated Programs recommends this model to accrediting bodies when reviewing accelerated programs in regard to integrity of the credit hour.

Accelerated programs have generally been defined as less time with instructor-student contact (as compared to the traditional Carnegie unit); quality and effectiveness are measured by the students’ achievement of the course learning objectives. While research does show that contact with the instructor is important for the learning experience, it is not the only element that defines a quality program delivery. There is a combination of components which makes up a successful accelerated program, of which these are the most important elements:

Adult Learners

  • Accelerated courses are designed specifically for adults. The population must be adult learners with full time work experience — adults who have had at least two years of fulltime work experience bring those experiences to the classroom and can enrich the learning process. Each institution may define adults in slightly different ways, but in general the definition tends to be “23(24, 25) plus 5(4, 3, 2) years of full-time work experience.”
  • Accelerated courses are designed for adult learners who are motivated. These programs are designed for the adult learner who is disciplined and motivated. This is a person driven to education because of personal or professional goals. They have good time management skills and the ability to deal with high stress.
  • Adult learners need to understand their own learning strategies, have good time management skills, and collaborate well with others.
  • Admission standards should incorporate the issues listed above.

Structured Program

  • Accelerated programs must be structured, including the scheduling of courses, so that adults can know from the beginning how they will attain their degree. In the intensive time frame, students should focus on one course at a time. Once a course ends, another course can begin the next week.
  • Courses generally meet once a week for 3 to 4 hours. CAP recommends that undergraduate courses have no less than 20 hours of contact with the instructor. A well known model is for class sessions to meet four hours a night for five or more weeks. Graduate level courses meet no less than six weeks (with the four hours a week model). Over the years, the five week session (undergraduate courses) has been shown to be the shortest amount of time that is effective for students to learn the material, accomplish the goals, and meet the learning outcomes.
  • CAP recommends that quantitative courses be allotted extra time; for example, though a statistics course meets for only five weeks, classes may meet twice a week or other time is allotted for problem solving. Specific courses (i.e., math and some hard science courses) that need more contact with the instructor may meet for 28 hours of instructional time and increase the outside class activity time to 24 hours. This type of course actually exceeds the Carnegie unit of total time, reaching to 52 hours for a 3 semester credit course.


  • The learning outcomes should be the very same for a course or a program, no matter the delivery format. For instance, if a specific course, Written Communications, is offered in a 15 week traditional format and the same course is offered in a 5 week accelerated format or an online format, then this course should have the same course objectives and learning outcomes. The format does not change the learning outcomes. If the degree is the same, the learning outcomes should be the same (BBA = BBA; BS in Bus Ad. = BS in Bus Ad). Even if the degree programs are different, but they have common learning outcomes (e.g., critical thinking), CAP encourages the programs to look for a way to use the same assessment tool and compare the learning outcome by program.
  • The curriculum will be structured and must be written with the adult learner in mind. The curriculum should start with the program learning outcomes and all course objectives/learning outcomes should align with one of the program learning outcomes. The curriculum must include in-class activities as well as out-of-class activities. This curriculum focuses on application as well as theory. Courses should have three components: in-class activities, out-of-class activities, and homework.
    • In-class activities are instructor led/facilitated learning events.
    • Out-of-class activities are instructor monitored/evaluated learning events that equal the types of events an instructor may conduct in a classroom. CAP recommends that institutions move to alternative instructional activity charts* as those developed by some institutions (samples attached in the appendices). Examples include online discussion board that is instructor-mediated with expectations for participation; case studies and problem solving scenarios that students complete outside of class and bring the results back to the class session; creation of information on a wiki page for all students in the course to review and comment; lecture materials—written or audio transcript; field trips; reflective analysis of reading materials and discussion with small group on specific topics; and small group research projects where students analyze, synthesize and prepare a final project tied to the course objectives. For instance, in a law class, the facilitator might designate half of the class to be on one side of the legal issue and the other half to argue against them. Each group works together building its case; then the class posts to a discussion board to allow all students to participate. Separate groups may be set up online with the instructor as a member of every group, just as s/he might hover over the various conversations while walking around the room.
    • Homework includes the reading material, writing assignments, and other types of assignments.
  • Online accelerated courses should also follow these guidelines and make sure any face-to-face instructor led/facilitated activities translate to instructor led online activities. Any instructor monitored/evaluated activities are also translated to online activities. Homework remains homework.

*Some states, such as Pennsylvania, already require the specifications of out of class learning activities. Two universities have shared their examples with CAP and they are listed in the Appendices. Another excellent source is from Immaculata University. Immaculata has a website with a matrix for undergraduate and graduate alternative instructional equivalencies anddocumentation: ( Password: AIE.


  • Policies should discourage students from enrolling in more than one course at a time, especially for five week courses. Some programs may allow two 8-week courses to be taken concurrently, but this depends on circumstances. For example, there would be a difference between a single mother with four children who wants to complete her degree by the time they are all in school, and a single late-twenties person who is trying hard to get a promotion or move on to another job opportunity.
  • Policies should include a class make-up session if a face-to-face class session is canceled by the instructor or the institution. Unlike traditional semester courses, if an instructor is ill or is unavailable, or if there is inclement weather and class sessions are canceled, the quality accelerated program will reschedule that class session and students will meet the in-class time requirement.
  • Policies should state that if a student is absent more than twice in a course, that student cannot receive credit for the course and must repeat the course.

Instructor Load

  • CAP recommends that institutions count an accelerated course in the same way as a traditional course: learning outcomes are the same; only the time frame is shorter.
  • CAP recommends that a credit load for faculty not vary between the traditional semester
    length courses and the accelerated courses. For example, a three credit hour course that meets over 14 to 16 weeks is equal to a three credit hour course in an accelerated time frame for faculty load. A 12 credit hour faculty load in traditional length semester courses is equal to a 12 credit hour faculty load in accelerated courses.
  • Faculty should not teach more than one accelerated course at a time. Many faculty have noted that teaching an accelerated course is more difficult and time consuming because more must be put in writing. This also means, however, that the faculty member does not have the luxury of a three-week turn-around time to let students know their grades. Assignments must be graded and returned to the students within a week’s timeframe.


  • Services must be available when the adult student is available. The student services, academic advising, financial aid assistance, and technology assistance must be available to the student electronically or during the hours that the student is not working.