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Credit Hours and Time Equivalencies

The general rule provided by the U.S. Department of Education and regional accreditors is that one academic credit hour is composed of 15 hours of direct instruction (50-60 minute hours) and 30 hours of out-of-class student work (60-minute hours). This means that a student spends 45 total hours of time on 1 credit, and 135 total hours (45 hours of direct instruction and 90 hours of out-of-class student work) over the course of a semester in a typical 3 credit class. Time per week calculations for various course lengths can be found further down the page.

There can be nuances in the way this is applied depending on the type of course you are delivering. For online courses, one must distinguish between direct instruction and student work “outside the classroom,” see below. For study abroad courses, student work expectations are replaced with cultural engagement time. In experiential courses, the distinction between direct instruction and out-of-class time is dropped altogether and the time is combined to become 45 hours per credit. (See the WVU Catalog credit hour definitions for more details.)

When working with online and hybrid courses, it can become difficult to distinguish direct instruction from student work “outside the classroom.” The TLC provides the following basic guidance.

“Direct instruction” includes:

  • Instructor’s narrative
    • In-class lecture (for hybrid courses)
    • Text in a learning module
    • Podcast
    • Video (instructor or departmentally created)
  • Video from other sources (equivalent to a guest speaker or a movie watched during class time)
  • Multimedia interaction (learning objects)
  • Discussions, blogs, wikis
  • Exams and quizzes
  • Any instructor-guided activity including small group activities
  • Any assignment or activity you would traditionally do “in-class”

“Out-of-class student work” includes:

  • Readings
  • Other media consumption
    • Videos or podcasts created by authors other than the instructor intended to replace readings
  • Assignments
    • Papers
    • Projects
    • Prep of presentations
    • Research
  • Group work that traditionally would be done “outside of class”

Estimating how much time an activity or reading will take can be tricky. There are numerous course workload estimators available on the web, as well as websites that offer tables of time equivalencies for common activities. Students may also participate at different speeds, so start with a good base and refine your content and activities over time.

In accordance with federal regulations, online distance education courses are required to have regular and substantive instructor-initiated interactions, which will include both direct instruction and student work. All students in a course should have similar opportunities for instructor interaction, which is particularly important for courses with a mix of on-site and distance students like HyFlex.

See our page on substantive interaction for more information.

Incorporating active learning in online and hybrid courses may make it more difficult to map “in-class” time to traditional categories of “direct instruction.” However, instructor-led activity, or group work centered around instructional activities (active learning), would also be appropriate to count as class time, in contrast to student work outside of class, and in many cases could also fulfill the regular and substantive instructor-initiated interaction requirements. The above lists are not exhaustive.

If you are exploring this topic you can also request TLC assistance.

Course Time Per Week

The amount of time that should be offered in a course per week will vary with the length of the course.

Time per week over 15 weeks:

1 Credit Course: 1 hr direct instruction, 2 hrs student work
3 Credit Course: 3 hrs direct instruction, 6 hrs student work

Time per week over 8 weeks:

1 Credit Course: ~2 hrs direct instruction, 4 hrs student work
3 Credit Course: ~6 hrs direct instruction, 12 hrs student work

Time per week over 6 weeks:

1 Credit Course: 2.5 hrs direct instruction, 5 hrs student work
3 Credit Course: 7.5 hrs direct instruction, 15 hrs student work

Time per week over 5 weeks (see the section on Compressed Courses below):

1 Credit Course: 3 hrs direct instruction, 6 hrs student work
3 Credit Course: 9 hrs direct instruction, 18 hrs student work

Time per week over 3 weeks (see the section on Compressed Courses below):

1 Credit Course: 5 hrs direct instruction, 10 hrs student work
3 Credit Course: 15 hrs direct instruction, 30 hrs student work

Compressed Courses

Courses less than 6 weeks may be eligible to be delivered as compressed format courses. Compressed format courses must be marked as such in CIM Courses, must contain sufficient content for students to meet the course outcomes, must have regular and substantive instructor-initiated interaction, must use the same or similar key assessments as standard format courses, but do not need to meet the typical time-based credit hour requirements. These courses receive higher assessment scrutiny from the Department of Education and thus the Provost’s Office, and are required to show comparison student performance data to standard deliveries of the course.

Correspondence Courses

Correspondence courses have similar assessment requirements to compressed courses but do not need to meet the requirements for regular and substantive instructor-initiated interaction. See the WVU catalog on Modality Definitions for more information.


Code of Federal Regulations: Chapter 34, §600.2.

WVU Catalog: Credit Hour Definition

WVU Catalog: Modality Definitions

WVU College of Law: Determination of Credit Hours Worked

RICE: Workload Estimator (calculator)

Penn State: Hours of Instructional Activity Equivalents (HIA) for Undergraduate Courses