Condensed-Format Course

Teaching a Condensed-Format Course

As an instructor looking to condense a course to this new format, shorter courses bring a new challenge: determining the appropriate balance of efficiency and rigor in the higher learning experience. High-quality condensed-format courses allow the instructor to focus more on the outcomes of academic rigor and efficiency.

To begin, download the Quick Guide to Teaching Condensed-Format Course (DOCX).

Characteristics of successful condensed-format courses

  • Are well planned
  • Use various methods for face-to-face/synchronous instruction (micro-lectures, small group work, individual work, etc.)
  • Utilize a multitude of instructional strategies
  • Focus on learning outcomes and student assessment (Kops, 2014)

A well-built condensed course should focus on its specific goal(s), ensuring that the student leaves the class learning essential knowledge and skills.


  • More directly focused on outcomes
  • Encourages more succinct learning objectives
  • Faster grading turnaround for student
  • Promote active learning and creative thinking


  • Faster grading turnaround for instructor
  • Keeping students on task
  • Courses can be overwhelming to students

Emphasize the importance of prioritized learning

Distinguishing between “must-know” (prerequisite ideas) and “need to know” (less critical at the moment but must know later), and “nice to know” (can be put off without jeopardizing baseline knowledge) (Kops, 2014). 

For quality courses, instructional strategies should focus on “must know” and “need to know” knowledge. Take an inventory of the content to break down and prioritize content based on what students:

  • “Must know” – prerequisite ideas.
    • These are the objectives that are necessary for understanding.
    • Use these objectives for rapid acceleration or remediation.
  • “Need to know” – less critical at the moment but must know later.
    • It is de-emphasizing less imperative knowledge and skills without placing the learner in immediate jeopardy.
  • “Nice to know” – can be put as a lower priority without jeopardizing baseline knowledge.
    • This is usually information that adds substance, breadth, or interest to a subject or a skill. 

A typical breakdown of this inventory for a general astronomy class may look like this:

Must knowShould knowNice to know
Prerequisite ideasLess critical, but must know laterCan be put off without jeopardizing baseline knowledge
Types of galaxiesKepler mathematical rules for orbits Explanations for dark matter

Strategies for the redesign process

A condensed-format course concentrates and intensifies students’ learning experiences and presents challenges for instructors who maintain the rigor level. To ensure that students can still meet the same outcomes expected during a traditional semester requires instructors to make thoughtful and intentional adjustments to meet course objectives effectively. Consider the following strategies, which to help in the redesign process:

Reorganize your course. 

Prioritizing the course material will help you reorganize your content to best utilize the course timing and lead to ongoing learning. Introduce content that is foundational or “must-knows” early on so that the “need to knows” can be used to reinforce this information.

  • Begin with objectives to keep the focus on redesigning. Identify what you want to stay with students for months and years to come. Choosing what to emphasize most and teaching that well will make it more likely that they do. Then, revisit the syllabus’s learning objectives – start there rather than with course content and activities. It can feel overwhelming for both you and your students to think of deconstructing a 15-week course to rebuild it into a condensed-format. Review the Writing Course Goals/Learning Outcomes and Learning Objectives page.
  • Structure your course for student-centered work. When you create your Canvas course, use the ISU Course Template.
  • Use an online course module design. A clear, predictable, well-marked module structure provides a learning path for students to follow online teaching. Remember, stick to the structure while occasionally varying the activities is the best approach. See examples on CELT’s Online Course Module Design page.

Rethink time in and out of class. 

Leverage the extended blocks of time you may have with your students in the summer by repurposing class time to create a sense of community through discussion, group work, guided reflection, and other activities that promote student interaction. Use time outside of class for communicating content-heavy material so that the time students have with you can be used to practice and receive feedback on their application of this material. Furthermore, deconstruct single, longer assignments into more manageable chunks to fit the “rhythm.”

  • Plan the Workload. For faculty, condensed courses result in changes to pacing, structure, and assessments. For students, condensed classes result in an evident increase in in-class and out of class work required per week. Knowing these numbers can help you plan instruction. Use the Enhanced Course Workload Estimator tool (Wake Forest University).

Provide additional student support. 

Students in condensed courses may need more or different kinds of support to be successful. Being available outside of class and providing students with outlines of lecture notes, presentation slides, or reading guides to highlight core content will help them feel supported and allow you to reinforce the course material further. Guiding your students on effective time management can also help them to succeed.

  • Include essential resources for students. Help your students to locate support resources quickly by including the Online Learner Support page in your Canvas course.
  • Talk about the student-centered resources throughout the course. While it is essential to share the resources with your students on the first day, share them before projects/exams.

Strategies for Giving Feedback 

  • Feedback should align precisely with the learning objectives. When/how will you ask students to do what each learning objectives say they will be able to do? A shorter course may be conducive to assigning a big project due at the end of the block/session broken down into smaller pieces each week. Focusing on four or five specific assessments in a condensed course can feel rushed and fragmented for students. If there is one significant assessment, broken into stages, the content may seem more manageable.
  • Employ interactive feedback. To help with the quick turn around in a condensed-format course, use resources found on the interactive feedback and grading page along with the tiered feedback approach.

References and Resources

Kops, William J. (2014). Teaching compressed-format courses: Teacher-based best practices. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 40(1):1-18.

Swenson, C. (2003). Accelerated and traditional formats: Using learning as a criterion for quality. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 97, 83–92.

Walsh, K. P, Sanders, M., & Gadgil, S. (2019). Equivalent but not the Same: Teaching and Learning in Full Semester and Condensed Summer Courses. College Teaching, 67(2), 138-149.

 Additional Resources