Class Time in Online/Hybrid Courses

by MU Instructional Designers
May 7, 2024
5-7 min read


Messiah University’s accrediting body, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, requires institutions that offer online courses to have an institutional understanding of what constitutes instructional time (as opposed to non-instructional time) in the online setting.


Instructional Time (IT) refers to time that the student spends in instructor-student interaction or student-student interaction (a form of online engagement). This is sometimes called “class time” to refer to activities that take place during the face-to-face class, but for clarity, we’ll use instructional time.

Examples of IT

  • Faculty-supervised ice-breakers
  • Recorded videos, podcasts, or PowerPoint presentations, which serve as lecture equivalents
  • Asynchronous Canvas discussions (in which faculty participate)
  • Synchronous class meetings via video conferencing software or live chat
  • Faculty interaction with small groups, similar to how an instructor would check in with groups in a physical classroom
  • Videos if they are a) created by the instructor, or b)¬†educationally contextualized by the instructor (e.g. with introduction and discussion afterward), as would be equivalent to showing a video in class
  • Use of guest speakers through audio, video, or as part of a forum
  • Student completion of an online quiz/exam
  • Faculty’s written/audio/video feedback on assignments
  • Recorded student presentations, which serve as in-class peer presentation equivalents.

Non-Instructional Time (NIT) refers to time that students spend independently interacting with content such as in external readings, homework assignments, groupwork that the instructor is not involved with, practice quizzes, etc.

How much IT and NIT should I have in my course?

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), each credit earned requires 14 hours of classroom instruction, i.e., a three-credit course would require a minimum of 42 hours of classroom instruction.

To ensure that we meet this requirement in fully online courses, the schedule portion of syllabi must include a numerical delineation of instructional time, demonstrating that the instructional time in that course amounts to 14 hours for each credit hour earned.

Although non-instructional time does not need to be itemized in your course schedule, there should generally be two non-instructional hours for each instructional hour of the course.

For the full policy regarding instructional time in online courses, please see the “University-Wide Online Course Policy.”

Comparison of number of credits to number of hours of IT
# of Credits IT Hours
1 14
3 42

Those hours are totals for the entire course, so you’ll need to determine what that looks like week to week depending on how long your course is.

Comparison of IT hours per week for 6-, 8-, 15-, and 16-week 3-credit courses
Number of weeks IT hours per week
6 7
8 5.25
15 ~2.8
16 ~2.6

How do I calculate my IT and NIT?

Messiah’s Equivalency Policy can be a useful resource for calculating instructional hours for common course activities. Remember: The key principle to consider is that instructional time is for student-to-faculty interaction and student-to-student interaction. Student-to-content interaction is non-instructional time.

Tip for Calculating Reading Time

When calculating reading time, we recommend considering that the average reading speed for adults is 200-300 words per minute (WPM). When you have a reading in your course (textbook, article, etc.), we recommend using that rate and then including a bit of extra time for students to annotate, highlight, or think further about the content, since reading 500 words of a textbook takes longer than reading 500 words in a novel. We often use the handy online Read-o-Meter, into which you can paste the text of an electronic reading (website, article, etc.) and get the estimated reading time.

Here is an example of what that looks like for a 3 credit Graduate Nursing course that run 8 weeks

See caption
Course schedule is made up of 5 columns: Week number with date range, Weekly Assignments/Activities, Instructional Time (IT), and Pages (for readings), and Course Competencies. Beside each activity in the course schedule (reading, assignment, etc.), the estimated IT hours are listed in columns to the right.

Here is an example from the 2 credit DIGL 101 course that ran in a online UG summer term.

See caption
Course schedule is made up of 3 columns: Date Range, Weekly Assignments/Activities, and Instructional Time (IT). Beside each activity in the course schedule (reading, assignment, etc.), the estimated IT hours are listed in columns to the right.

Lastly, here is an example from a 3 credit EDME 552 course.

See caption
Course schedule is made up of 3 columns: Weekly Topic/Assignments, Instructional Time (IT), and Objectives. Beside each activity in the course schedule (reading, assignment, etc.), the estimated IT hours are listed in columns to the right.