This paper reviews the literature on the use of intensive teaching formats in the tertiary sector. The paper begins with a summary of recent changes in higher education which have led to the consideration of intensive teaching as a mode of learning. The paper then addresses two principal issues: the advantages and disadvantages of intensive teaching formats and the main learning issues involved The paper will identify some of the main themes in this literature concentrating on the literature in the tertiary sector. It then draws some tentative conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of intensive teaching formats.
The financial constraints on universities have also changed dramatically. The traditional model of largely autonomous, predominantly government-funded institutions is in decline. The Australian Federal government now micro-manages universities in a way that was unthinkable in the past. It threatens to withhold grant income unless universities comply with government demands in terms of courses - witness, for example, the debate about cappuccino courses (Nelson aims the axe at 'cappuccino' uni courses, 2003) - but also in areas such as research and teaching performance. Governments are also forcing universities to shift from an 'elite' to a 'mass' to a 'universal' education system, and to be more market-responsive in the process (Trow, 2005). Universities are now supposed to "satisfy both the invisible hand of uncertain markets and the long arm of micro-managing governments"; a situation likened to a government simultaneously "floating the dollar and fixing the exchange rate" (Growing Esteem: Choices for the University of Melbourne, 2005).
Government funding has in fact been decreasing for the past two decades, down from 90% in 1981 to 40% now (AVCC, 2003). Universities have been forced to become more entrepreneurial (Davies, 1999, 2000). As a consequence, universities have become market-driven, commercial organisations largely dependent on their funds from their ever-increasing numbers of international students (mainly from Asia). At last count international students provided 15% of all university revenue (Department of Employment, 2005; Deumart, Marginson, Nyland, Ramia & Sawir, 2005). International students made up 24 percent of the student body in 2004 and fee income from students grew from $30 million in 1996 to $200 million in 2004. The target for 2007 is around $270 million (Deumart, et al, 2005; Growing Esteem, 2005). Nation-wide, the figures are startling: education is now Australia's second largest export industry within the services sector and the fourth largest export earner overall (Simmonson, 2005). It contributes more than 6 billion dollars to the Australian economy (Davis, 2004). International students are expected to inject $38 billion into the economy by 2025 (Roach, 2003). In fact, demand for educational services to international students is expected to rise dramatically over the next twenty years when there is expected to be 7.2 million students from Asia studying here. By 2025, Australia's share of the global demand for educational services is expected to increase from 3 percent in 2000 to more than 8 percent (Bohm, Davis, Meares & Pearce, 2002; Davis, 2004). This has led, naturally enough, to a focus on 'customer satisfaction' as much as promoting good teaching and learning. In response, national agencies such as the independent Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) have been formed to regulate and foster good practices in the tertiary sector.
The character and composition of students is also changing. Universities are no longer in the business of preparing school leavers for the job market. They now have to service mature-age and life-long learners. At the postgraduate level in particular, students are increasingly professionals undertaking study on a part-time basis, either by distance or on-campus learning, while they balance demands of family, work and their studies (Curtis, 2000; Hammon & Albiston, 1998; Pitman, 1997). As noted elsewhere, higher education institutions are now required to "adapt objectives, content and presentation for this group of motivated learners who have decided to return to study, usually to further their careers and to update their knowledge in educational methods and theories" (Anderson & Askov, 2001; Swenson, 1998). The changing student mix has also prompted recent moves to 'commodify' education, and to assess it in terms of outcomes (ie, what learners can do which what they know) rather than inputs (content needing to be acquired). 'Outcomes-based' education is most visible in the secondary sector but is becoming more recognised in the tertiary sector. It has been the subject of much heated discussion (Berlach, 2004; Evans, 1994; Killen, 2000; Kohn, 1993; Spady, 1994).
In an environment undergoing rapid transformation, it is not surprising that teaching methods have also been changing. As a part of the process of adapting to changing student demands, universities have had to consider new ways of delivering course content. A very practical example of this is consideration of moves from traditional to 'intensive' modes of teaching. Standard day-time teaching practices, in the form of weekly lectures and tutorials, are no longer convenient for today's students. They require more flexible modes of delivery which fit with demands at work and at home. Intensive modes of teaching seem to be an idea whose time has come.
This paper is a review of the literature in this area. The paper first defines intensive teaching. Second it outlines where such forms of teaching are practised. Third, it reviews the literature on intensive teaching including a review of the empirical data. Fourth, the paper discusses problems in interpreting the empirical data, and then outlines the learning issues involved. It then makes tentative conclusions about the overall advantages and disadvantages of intensive teaching. The argument made is that research indicates intensive teaching has demonstrable advantages overall. However, some important caveats in the implementation of intensive teaching are also stressed.
Block Teaching has been defined as: "a daily schedule that is organised into larger blocks of time (more than sixty minutes) to allow flexibility for a diversity of instructional activities" (Cawelti, 1994). Block teaching is a practice more suited to the high school sector. It consists of longer than usual classes held during a conventional timetabled schedule. Trials have been conducted with block teaching in the tertiary sector, ie, 2 eighty-minute blocks per week as opposed to three fifty-minute blocks per week. These trials have met with some success (Gaubatz, 2003). Given its principal use outside the tertiary context, this kind of intensive teaching format is not dealt with further in this paper. However, it is important to mention it here to be comprehensive.
Accelerated or Intensive teaching have been defined as being offered in less time than normal and involving fewer contact hours (for instance, twenty hours of class time over five weeks or eight weeks as opposed to forty-five hours of class time over sixteen weeks) (Scott & Conrad, 1992; Wlodkowski, 2003a). Usually, IMD formats involve compressed teaching formats involving weekend and evening classes, and possibly workplace programs. These courses are more suited and relevant to the tertiary sector. As we shall see, most of the studies which compare intensive teaching formats with traditional length formats either show a) no difference in learning outcomes or, b) improved learning outcomes using the IMD formats. However, there are some concerns related to learning issues and the reliability of the data which will be dealt with later in this paper.
The extent to which programs of study are 'accelerated' or 'compressed' varies from subject to subject, and institution to institution. In addition to the format mentioned above, the following IMD formats are also common (Finger & Penney, 2001).
IMD might involve on-line learning as well as, or in place of, face to face teaching, but the time taken, not the technologies used, is critical here. Similarly, debates about IMD formats are not exactly the same as debates in 'flexible learning', even though it could be argued that IMD formats are a form of flexible learning. The flexible learning literature is mainly concerned with the use and adoption of new technologies (videoconferencing, computer mediated communications, etc.) in teaching and learning (Beattie & James, 1997). It does not specifically address IMD formats.
Many leading research institutions in the UK and Canada use a range of intensive formats to teach Economics and Commerce students. It is in these discipline areas where intensive teaching is most common, though they are increasingly being used in other disciplines (see The literature on intensive teaching later in this paper). In Australia, intensive teaching has been used by most business schools for local as well as offshore programs, and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management started using intensive teaching formats as early as 1991 (Burton & Nesbit, 2002). It appears that intensive teaching formats are now a widely used, alternative way of delivering high quality learning (Daniel, 2000).
The Centre for the Study of Accelerated Learning (CSAL) has a comprehensive website listing all US institutions which practice IMD format teaching available at http://www.regis.edu/regis.asp?sctn=rsr&p1=csal. This institution is part of a wider organisation, The Commission for Accelerated Programs (CAP): http://www.capnetwork.org/. CAP has a range of research papers and documents pertaining to the use of different forms of accelerated learning.
Much of the research in the area of accelerated learning emanates from the secondary sector, though it has relevance to other sectors. Where the tertiary sector is discussed the research is mainly in disciplines other than Economics and Commerce, despite the fact that it is Commerce related areas in which intensive teaching formats are frequently trialled and used. Research using intensive teaching can be found in Language teaching (Buzash, 1994; Deveny & Bookout, 1976; Eller, 1983; Frank, 1973; Keilstrup, 1981), Art Education (Mims, 1983), Literature (Scott, 1994), Engineering and Computer Science (Masat, 1982), Mathematics (Caskey, 1994; Mayo, 2003), Pharmacology (Bester, 1965), Psychology (Ray & Kirkpatrick, 1983), Earth Science (Waechter, 1967), Nursing (Sakalys, 1995) and Education (Austin, Fennell & Yaeger, 1988; Brackenbury, 1978; Finger & Penney, 2001; Lombardi, Meikamp & Weinke, 1992), or cross-disciplinary (Daniel, 2000). From the list above, a considerable amount of the literature on IMD appears to exist in academic areas where skill acquisition is paramount, rather than discursive, conceptual learning. This point may be critical is assessing the value of intensive teaching in various subjects.
There have been relatively few studies done on the use of intensive teaching formats in the areas of Business, Economics or Commerce, even though it is in these disciplines in which intensive teaching is often practised. However, a few papers do exist (Burton & Nesbit, 2002; Henebry, 1997; Jonas et al., 2004; Petrowsky, 1996; van Scyoc & Gleason, 1993). As Burton and Nesbitt note, "Block teaching has been so successful that it has been copied by most business schools in Australia for their local and/or offshore programs" (Burton & Nesbit, 2002). 'Successful' in this context, means 'influenced others', not 'led to improved learning outcomes'. Burton and Nesbitt cite data, indicating that in 1999 there were 581 block teaching programs offered offshore by Australian Universities (International Relations Strategic Plan, 2000). However, they also note that, "block teaching has received very little attention in the academic literature" (Burton & Nesbit, 2002). Similarly, Kasworm notes that, "While there is recent significant growth of accelerated degree programs, there is little empirical research regarding the quality and impact of accelerated degrees on adult learning" (Kasworm, 2001). It is clearly a relatively new area of research.
|Study||Type of Format||Outcome*|
|Summer||Austen, Fennell & Yeager, 1988||1 week, 21/2 weeknd: 5 weeknd: and 5-week classes||X|
|Bester, 1965||6 week and 16 week classes||X|
|Boddy, 1985||5, 8 and 16 week classes||X||X|
|Deveny & Bookout, 1976||8 week class||X|
|Eller, 1983||8 week class||X|
|Gleason, 1986||3, 5 and 15 week classes||X||X|
|Keilstrup, 1981||6 week class||X|
|Masat, 1982||3, 6 and semester length classes||X|
|Troiani, 1986||10 day class||X|
|Modular||Kuhns, 1974||Modular and semester classes||X|
|Haney, 1985||Modular and semester classes||X|
|Regular Term||Richey, Sinks & Chase, 1965||13 day and 17 week classes||X||X||X|
|Frank, 1973||One semester class||X|
|Brackenbury, 1978||7, 8, 15 and 4 weekend classes||X|
|Kirby-Smith, 1987||Intensive and 15 week classes||X|
|Weekend||Brackenbury, 1978||7, 8, 15 and 4 weekend classes||X|
|Shapiro, 1988||2, 3, and 9 week and 4 weekend classes||X|
|Austen et al., 1988||1 week, 5 week, 21/2 weekend and 5 weekend classes||X|
|*NS = non-significant differences in outcomes|
+I = findings in favour of intensive formats
+T = findings in favour of traditional formats
CS = case study - all case studies favoured intensive formats
A recent review of the literature looking at a number of facets of intensive teaching has been conducted at the University of Melbourne by Zelinna Pablo. Pablo has reviewed studies noting the qualitative responses in relation to a number of criteria including: STO (delivering short-term outcomes in student grades); LTO (delivering long-term outcomes in student grades); CRP (having an impact on course requirements and practices); SA (influencing student attitudes); FIV (factors influencing variance in student attitudes); FAT (faculty attitudes towards intensive teaching). Pablo has also itemised a number of studies reporting improvements, losses and no difference in student outcomes in a variety of subjects as a result of intensive teaching. The results are summarised below.
|French, German, Russian, Spanish||X|
|Philosophy of Education||X|
|General Education programming||X|
|Algebra and Accounting||X|
Table 2 shows the results of the impact of intensive teaching on reports of student outcomes in certain subjects. The survey was conducted by Zelinna Pablo (2005). The survey reviewed papers by Daniel (2000) and Scott and Conrad (1991).
[the] responsibilities of teachers and learners have shifted subtly, the actual location of learning is now more varied than it has ever been, and modes of delivery are employed in various combinations. In these circumstances, it is very important that we not equate innovation with improvement or effectiveness (Beattie & James, 1997, p.191. Italics mine).While intensive modes of teaching are certainly to be encouraged as another way in which learning can be more flexible in response to changing student demands, this does not necessarily imply that these methods necessarily promote better learning outcomes. Even in the tables cited earlier, most studies report 'no significant difference' between intensively- and traditionally-taught methods in terms of learning outcomes (Table 1), and a greater number of studies indicate 'no difference' in student outcomes in relation to different subjects (Table 2). Given the points just raised, this does not represent unambiguous support for IMD formats.
Reliability and validity of the tests are also a matter of concern. Post-tests given at the end of a semester-length course requires a longer retention period than a post-test administered after a two-week IMD (Daniel, 2000). The studies comparing academic performance also compare semester-length courses with a range of different IMD formats: two weeks (Petrowsky, 1996), three weeks (van Scyoc & Gleason, 1993); 2- 15 weeks (Lombardi et al., 1992); 5- 10 weeks (Kanun, Ziebarth & Abrahams, 1963); 9-18 weeks (Waechter, 1967). No sensible comparisons can be made in these circumstances.
Some studies have compared the learning outcomes of young students who have completed sixteen week courses with adult students who have completed five week courses (ie, the same courses in different formats, or traditional versus IMD). They show that the learning outcomes to be either indistinguishable, or greater in favour of IMD formats (Wlodkowski, Maudlin & Iturralde-Albert, 2000; Wlodkowski & Westover, 1999). This data does not unambiguously support the value of IMD programs however, as the moderating variable of student age in these studies might have influenced the results. Indeed, in most studies supporting IMD formats, there are just too many unconstrained variables to yield reliable results.
Other studies have compared the results from summative learning assessments of generic skills (such as critical thinking) over three different university subjects in two different countries. They found that the students studying in different teaching formats - traditional and IMD - met the same standards (Wlodkowski et al., 2000; Wlodkowski & Westover, 1999). Once again, however, the student cohort was not identical. Adults completing IMD programs were being compared with younger students completing traditional programs. Wlodkowski (2003) notes that comparisons of students at the same age level is needed. "Researchers have had difficulties finding large enough samples of adults below the age of twenty-five in accelerated courses to make the comparisons" (2003, p.13).
Another study found that the key to successful learning outcomes was not the time taken as much as the presence of certain key factors in the learning experience. These include instructor enthusiasm and expertise, classroom interaction, collegial atmosphere, student input into class discussions, active learning, a relaxed learning environment and good course organisation. These factors determined whether an IMD program catalysed learning and made for a good learning experience, or whether it was "painful and tedious" (Conrad, 1996; Wlodkowski, 2003b). Other studies have found that for an IMD format to be successful requires "good planning, well-organised and structured activities, a multitude of teaching strategies, a focus on learning objectives, and accurate assessment" (Daniel, 2000, p.6).
The above points are not meant to suggest that IMD formats are inappropriate or without value. There is too much literature that suggests otherwise. Daniel notes that the use of IMD formats
... does not seem to be a faddish educational innovation designed solely to make higher education more convenient for adult and part-time students. There are indications that this format will continue to grow and offer not only convenience, but an alternative method of delivering high quality learning in a variety of disciplines (Daniel, 2000, p.7).However, just because something is convenient does not make it appropriate or suitable. Daniel also notes that one of the institutions cited earlier as being a major proponent of intensive teaching (Colorado College) has recently started reconsidering the intensive format "because of student and faculty concerns" (Daniel, 2000; Gose, 1995). More research is clearly needed comparing IMD formats and other traditional forms of learning in particular subject areas. As we have seen, the data on intensive teaching is complex. It is hard to compare results across studies, harder to compare results in different subject areas, and there is a need to make judgements on the basis of individual contexts. This review is an attempt to outline the issues in an overall sense and to allow readers to draw their own conclusions, and to prompt more detailed studies.
But this change is more than a matter of satisfying the customer. IMDs also meet the needs of universities undergoing a rapid realignment of institutional priorities. Flexibility and choice are now a condition of the modern age, for both institutions and their customers. Universities are not exempt from this. As already noted, universities are now more outcomes focused, and are concerned with the alignment of outcomes and practices. With IMDs it becomes easier to evaluate the extent to which particular teaching practices influence the outcomes expected from a course of study (whether they be for a professional affiliation or a set of specific, or generic, skills). Intensive courses are shorter and more targeted. Students and their demands are now being matched to learning approaches more than ever before. It is not the time taken in a course of study that is central, but the outcomes achieved. In this sense, IMDs are entirely consistent with the recent emphasis on outcomes based education (Berlach, 2004; Evans, 1994; Killen, 2000; Kohn, 1993; Spady, 1994).
Fortunately, the literature does appear to show considerable literature in support of IMD formats. Principles of good teaching and learning are not being abandoned in the process. However, the following caveats are important.
Ultimately, effective teaching arises not only from how a teacher instructs, but also from what he or she understands about student learning ... the message here is not to disregard particular delivery methods, but that it is necessary to incorporate alternatives which complement and compensate. ... The process of opening up postgraduate course delivery, while preserving its advanced educational characteristics and status, needs to be managed with respect and care (Beattie & James, 1997. Italics mine).
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|Author: Dr Martin Davies holds doctorates in Philosophy from the University of Adelaide and Flinders University and ESL qualifications from Cambridge University. He won the H. J. Allen Prize in Philosophy from the University of Adelaide in 2002. He is currently a Senior Lecturer and Postgraduate Learning Specialist in the Teaching and Learning Unit in the Faculty of Economics and Commerce at the University of Melbourne and an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Economics. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Davies, M. (2006). Intensive teaching formats: A review. Issues In Educational Research, 16(1), 1-20. http://www.iier.org.au/iier16/davies.html