Back in the dark ages of my undergraduate degree at the Air Force Academy, terms were the still traditional 15 weeks, more or less. And after a period of adjustment to the rigors of that school, I soon found my stride and ended up near the top of my class. Much later in my doctoral program, terms were still 15 weeks and were usually long enough for most of us to get a fair understanding of the material. Now I teach online for a really very good school, but they felt the pressure from students, I think, who seem to want to believe they can learn enough by taking that same 15-week’s of content in an eight-week term. Perhaps for some courses and for some students, eight weeks might be enough. But for many of my students who are taking statistics for the first time, the eight-week terms are not working out. You see, and I hate the term, my students are “non-traditional.” All are significantly older than the kids coming out of high-school, and almost all are working full-time in demanding jobs. As suggested by Knowles, all want to see their studies producing skills they can use immediately. They do not much like spending time learning things they will not, in their minds, use. Hence, their preference for eight-week terms: the better to get done with “useless’ courses required for their degree as fast as possible.
Unfortunately, the courses I teach – statistics and quantitative methods – require mastery of fundamental concepts that lay the foundation for subsequent concepts. And, in my view for many students, forcing them to rush through critical material to keep up with the eight-week clock is not giving them that mastery. As Sal Khan explains in the following video, that approach is akin to building a house on a foundation that is only 80% complete; technically passing the assessment, but setting up students for struggles later on. So I am leaning toward mastery pacing instead of the clock; just not sure how to get that done. And I am moving from andragogy to heutagogy – adult, lifelong learners as my target students.