Guidelines for Online Credit Hour Equivalency

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Guidelines for Online Credit Hour Equivalency

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale follows the United States Department of Education’s definition of a credit hour (34 CFR 600.2), which is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement. The credit hour policy applies equally to courses of varied duration and modes of instruction.

Credit hour equivalency for online coursework is determined by a student’s total time on task, which includes time spent learning, studying, and completing assignments. In a typical face-to-face course, one semester credit hour represents 12.5 hours of instruction plus 30 hours of student preparation outside of class. In an online format, instructional time and student preparation time are combined to represent the student’s total time on task (42.5 hours).

Student Engagement

Instructional Time with Student Preparation Time


Time on Task per Week

Total Time on Task Per semester


170 minutes (2.8 hours)

2,550 minutes (42.5 hours)


340 minutes (5.7 hours)

5,100 minutes (85 hours)


510 minutes (8.5 hours)

7,650 minutes (127.5 hours)


680 minutes (11.3 hours)

10,200 minutes (170 hours)


850 minutes (14.2 hours)

12,750 minutes (212.5 hours)


1,020 minutes (17 hours)

15,300 minutes (255 hours)

Applications of the credit hour policy to online courses may be broken down into three main activity categories: (1) laboratory activities, (2) readings, or (3) independent research and writing.

Activity Categories



Estimated Time Weekly


Experiential and online applications of course content

1.5 hours


Independent and scheduled readings.  Reading times are dependent on the readers prior knowledge of the content and experiences

2 hours

Research & Writing

Original paper, project, or portfolio commensurate with face-face course time

2 hours

Student learning outcomes (SLO) and assessments are identical for face-to-face and online courses. The course must be equal in content and level of difficulty as the face-to-face course (Vai & Sosulski, 2011). Learning tasks in online courses must make best use of online technologies and pedagogies. A few examples of online learning tasks and estimated time-to-completion rates are presented here.


Online Learning Tasks

Potential Task

Estimated Time Weekly

View 4 (15 minute) recorded lectures, take notes, and explore web resources

2 hours

Post a short reflective response to a task (written, oral, or video)

1 hours

Apply calculations to a set of problems in the discipline

2 hours

Conduct a field experiment or interviews in the community

1-3 hours

Participate in an online field trip

1 hour

Read 1 journal article (20 pages) or book chapter with new concepts

2 hours

Complete online quiz to check for understanding

1 hour

Post layered discussions (response to posts and response to peers)

30 minutes

Create or develop a project to demonstrate acquired knowledge and skills

1-5 hours

Participate in small group meetings (web-conference or asynchronous)

1 hour

Write, edit, or conduct research

1.5 hours

Faculty Engagement

Instructor responsibilities in online courses are similar to those in typical face-to-face or independent study courses. Thus, in addition to course development and preparation, faculty provide formative feedback and summative evaluation of student work. A comparison of face-to-face and online course activities are as follows: 

Comparison of Face-to-Face and Online Course Activities


Online Versions


Recorded lectures and interactive presentations

Small-group work

Participation in online discussions, post video commentaries

Experiential learning activities

Arrange online labs, interviews, field trips, or view student videos

Class discussions

Asynchronous forum where instructor expands on lecture, answers questions, and facilitates student interactions

Feedback on assignments

Written or verbal comments, web-conferences, rubrics, grades, etc.

 In determining the time on task for an online course, the New York State Education Department (2013) recommends that the faculty member consider the following items:

  • The student learning outcomes and aligned assessments
  • The list of topics in the course outline or syllabus; required readings and related materials
  • Statements in course materials informing students of the time and/or effort they are expected to devote to the course or individual parts of it
  • A listing of the pedagogical tools to be used in the online course, how each will be used, and the expectations for participation (e.g., in an online discussion, how many substantive postings will be required of a student for each week or unit?)


Guidelines adapted from: Rochester Institute of Technology, TIME ON TASK website at: