Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

Make it small and intensive: An approach to teaching small classes

Chris King
School of Marketing and Tourism
Bunbury Campus, Edith Cowan University

Educational class sizes vary considerably but in my experience the classes are either extremely large or small. We are moving from seminars to lectures and tutorials for large classes but the response to smaller classes is they are no longer financially viable. An answer to having viable small classes is the intensive teaching format. Intensive teaching is an alternative scheduling and organisational format that relies on student directed learning and facilitation rather traditional teaching. The format extends class length by having teachers and students in one class all day or half a day participating in one unit but for a time shorter than the prescribed 15 week semester.

This paper examines using intensive teaching for the smaller classes, different types of intensive classes utilised by the author, the responses and evaluation of students that have been in these intensive classes and the work load for students and teacher.

Intensive Teaching

Literature searches for the term intensive teaching/ education indicated that there is very little literature within Australia on the topic but countries as the USA and Russia have used this system extensively. In Russia intensive teaching is used frequently for language courses although it has developed to include socio and psychological aspects to include the joy of learning, using music to help in psychological motivation, role plays which reflect situations that students can relate to, and ongoing learning so that the theory is followed by application; this is entered in educational literature under the heading of suggestopedia. Galina Kitaigorodskaya, Director of The Centre for Intensive Foreign Languages Instruction, Moscow State University states that suggestopedia
includes the activation of individual potentials, personality-oriented communication, selection of textural material, class role playing and student communication. (1991,3)
Research results on the effectiveness of suggestopedia in language classes by Kitaigorodskaya (1991, 4) indicated;
experiment proved statistically that suggestopedia beats the traditional methods on all points. It is worth mentioning that the number of speech mistakes per utterance in the speech of our students was smaller, while the number of the their utterances exceeded by five times that of the traditionally taught student.
Most intensive teaching in countries outside Russia do not have the planned additional motivation aspects but they do have many similarities. Suggestopedia reflects intensive classes as they have smaller class members and therefore require a different and more personal communication and information exchange, the preparation of theory in an acceptable and understandable manner with the lecturer often acting as a facilitator rather than a teacher, the use of application methodologies such as role plays, case studies or application for projects conducted for 'real' companies. Intensive classes includes far more contribution from students and teachers but for a shorter period of time. Intensive classes rely on all members working as a team and preparing for classes in advance. The pace of the classes are lead by the students and the teacher fills in the gaps of knowledge and confirms the students knowledge base with the use of case studies, simulated games, role plays or ongoing project work. The big difference between intensive classes and suggestopedia in my opinion is in the use of motivational psychological aspects such as music which seems to be used mainly in Russia, but there is no reason why this could not be added to 'our' intensive classes to test if it does increase motivation and the joy of learning.

Intensive teaching has been used at all levels of education from primary to university and adult education. Fallon (1995) used it in a high school teaching one class daily for six weeks. Analysis of the teaching style compared with 'regular' teaching style was determined using interviews, observation and document analysis. The results indicated that in this class format the teacher had a deeper influence on the students, students had more opportunity for participation and individual expression which increased motivation and involvement. Scott (1993) conducted a semester long sets of courses in British literature and marketing ' in which each set of courses included a course taught in an intensive format with the same instructor and content.' (Scott; 1993, 42). This analysis of the different teaching formats included observation, videotapes of classes, document analysis, student questionnaires and student interviews. The results of the analysis indicated that the learning was continuous which improved the formation, understanding and synthesising of ideas. Discussions were more in depth and academic performance improved. Students stated they could concentrate on a small number of classes and plan their schedules better, classroom relationships were better (closer) and the instructor was more relaxed. Overall the results indicated that intensive classes were more powerful learning experiences but the learning experience could be moderated by attributes such as teaching skills, degree of intensiveness, students' other responsibilities, students' age and intellectual development, time of the year, subject matter and relative classroom experience.

Reynolds (1993) conducted research into group cohesiveness and interaction and found that cohort group had higher cohesiveness and interaction than non-cohort groups but the teaching format, traditional versus intensive, did not significantly influence these factors. Kovaltchuk (1991) considers that interaction in intensive teaching can be improved by information exchange. Information exchange can be improved by better retention and more effective input using methodologies such as non verbal communication, music and singing. Consider the students coding and decoding similarities and differences and this may also include the introduction of inter-cultural understanding. This similarity of understanding can be achieved by 'communication instructions' and the exchange of action as well as information. Person perception can be improved by interpersonal feedback and this feedback can also be useful to the instructor in identifying new techniques. Goldstein (1991) builds upon this idea and states there are three cornerstones to effective intensive learning; communication exercises, micro group interaction and communication continuity. Communication exercises have objectives, have guides and conditions to achieve these objectives, they work as a motivation and encourage intra-group cognition. Macro group interaction consists of organising different forms of macro group interaction which encourages cognitive activity. Communication continuity consists of building brides of communication to create personality oriented, informal and sincere communication in groups. This leads to additional cognitive activity which "exceeds the boundary of a communication continuity." Goldstein (1991,95)

Intensive teaching can be used for people from different backgrounds, different ages and occupations that learn in a very short time but Stepanian (1991) states there are still practical and theoretical problems to be solved such as the limits and possibilities of the integrated course. Stepanian considers the possibilities are extended by intensive courses covering three levels; the beginners, intermediate and upper-intermediate or advanced. Each level should have a distinct objective but each level should include interaction, role play, global presentation and group work to other forms of teaching. The three levels in relation to language are language competence, language actualisation, and professional oriented communication. This type of division into levels or objectives could easily be incorporated into any intensive course and could add structure to assist students and the instructors or as in the case of Stepanian they were three different courses which built upon each other. The author stated the courses if run separately should not be more than a month apart. Intensive courses are also being conducted for business people and teachers in Russia and being followed by refresher courses (Kaminskaya, 1991), but some of these courses are extremely intense with refresher courses being conducted over 2.5 months. There is no evaluation of their effectiveness.

Dayna Timmerman ( 1991, 287- 290) has expressed intensive learning in a poem entitled Accelerate The Learning.

Accelerate The Learning

Well, won't you sit back,
And listen to our song?
It's about education,
and it won't take long.

We're all card carrying members
But we want to get better
Each and every day.

So we read
And we learn about a paradigm shift   
And we think we know how
To give teaching a lift!

Accelerated learning!
That's quite a name.
Once you try it
You'll never teach the same!

Well, we are all learners---
And we love to teach!
We want to boost the learning
Of everyone we reach!

So we'll push our brain buttons
And we'll march to a beat.
We'll cross our arms
And raise our feet!

We'll trace a butterfly
That's in our mind
And be ready for learning
Of any kind.

With BOTH our brains on--
The left AND the right
and the Corpus Collosum!
We're out of sight!

We'll add some color
To help the message make sense.
We'll add humour, drama,
And even suspense!

Remember the senses--
We do have five.
We'll use each of them
To make learning ALIVE!

We'll read it in a concert!
We'll sing it in a song!
We'll add classical music.
How could that be wrong?

With imagery
We can go on trips
While we stay at home
With our learning tips.

We'll sprinkle some art
Around the room....
We'll add green plants
Or flowers in bloom.

We'll put on a costume.
We may wear a tam!
To help create a lesson
That's memorable ma'am.

And they'll race to learn more
Then they thought they would.
Not because they have to
Or because they should.

They'll learn more because its easy
When they open their minds!
They'll let the thoughts come in!
They'll never be a bind!

Because we'll loosen the ties
That makes learning no fun!
Using both sides of the brain
It's simple, hon!

We'll remember to play
When we want them to learn
Its OK to let them laugh
'Til we make our tummies burn!

So we'll just have fun
And let the knowledge flow in!
Its a wonderful state
For a kid to be in.

Copyright 1989
Dayna Timmerman
Denver, Iowa.

Intensive Teaching: The Classes

The intensive teaching format has been used extensively in Russia but mainly in language teaching. Within other countries as the USA and Australia the format has been used for a variety of classes. There are many different methods and ways of using intensive teaching but the methodology used will usually relate to the type of class and the objective of the classes. The author has conducted intensive classes for: These classes have been conducted as intensive classes due to small enrolment numbers, the format of the course material and requirements of the unit, and teaching overseas. Each one of these will be described individually with the evaluation from students and the lecturer. Evaluation is based on student interviews, student questionnaires, lecturer's diary entries kept specifically for evaluation and observation.

Intensive classes due to small enrolments

In traditional classes with small numbers the author had found it difficult to motivate participation and found that the class seemed to end with the lecturer spoon feeding the students and the students acting as sponges soaking up the information. Overall the lack of involvement decreased motivation and learning. As a result classes with less than 10 students enrolled in the unit were changed to intensive classes.

Strategic marketing and communication management were intensive classes due to the size of the classes. The strategic marketing and communication management classes were run in Perth and students meet for five days over the semester. The days were from 10 am to 4 pm with one hour for lunch and two coffee breaks of 10 minutes each. At lunch all the participants went to a restaurant and socialised over the lunch break. The five days did not run consecutively, the first day was for course discussion and outline and to advise the students of the requirements of this type of unit format, the following classes were conducted once every third Sunday.

The course structure was very formal and indicated what reading was required for the classes and which case studies, projects or class exercises needed to be prepared. The structure required students to be self motivated and to prepare beforehand. If the students were not self motivated than they inevitably withdrew from the unit or failed the unit. The structure of the course relied on preparation and class time being used to revise the theory in the mornings and then apply the theory using case studies, projects for 'real' companies, simulated games or role plays. The format of the course relies on clarifying the theory rather than lectures and then application of the theory to ensure understanding and realistic or simulated application and implementation.

Strategic marketing was a third year marketing unit with four full time and one part time mature aged student. All students completed the unit and after the first week prepared for class. The feedback was very good from this class but the lecturer had realised that she had made some mistakes in that the theory was sometimes rushed through as the students indicated they understood the theory and its application very well. In the evaluation it became obvious that the students were trying to leave early and therefore were not asking questions. In the revision they therefore needed to go over these areas in more detail. One student was concerned that they could not have covered all the material for the unit as less time was given for the lecture material than in a three hour weekly seminar. All the material was covered but it was simplified to plain English, examples were given and the essential concepts were explained and applied in case studies in the afternoon sessions. Some students stated there was too much reading required. The students did like the format as it focused the learning, the meeting once every three weeks rather than every week, the extra material they were given in relation to journal articles, chapter outlines, and of course the lunches were a real success. The lunch and socialising was an important part of the course as one group was formed that worked well together and liked each others company. I believe this increased motivation and assisted attendance. The meeting on Sundays were not a concern to students and one student stated that being on the campus without other students was a positive factor.

The communication management class was liked by all the students as they were all part time, mature aged postgraduate students. They enjoyed the flexibility and the freedom that the format gave them. The feedback from this class was very positive except for one student that attended the first two classes but did not prepare for the classes. It became obvious he was not self motivated and he would not get through the workload within the semester. The preparation ensured that students could do the exercises set for the afternoon and one student decided that he would complete the unit in the traditional format in the following semester.

From a lecturers point of view the units were time consuming in that there was a lot more preparation, more material distributed and working on Sundays was sometimes unwelcomed but once the classes commenced the motivation, participation and atmosphere was very good. The classes were enjoyable and everyone knew each other very well. The interaction, discussions and the examples given by the students reflected their understanding of the theoretical concepts. The academic standard increased and the majority of students responded well to the additional workload. This format was particularly effective with mature aged and part time students.

Intensive classes due to the format of the course material

Cross cultural negotiations was a unit which was based on international negotiating and students in Perth were to negotiate with students in Singapore to negotiate a joint venture. The unit consisted of two major components; the introduction of the theory and the application of the theory during the negotiations. The unit was based on role play and the negotiations took place via video conferencing.

Due to the nature of the unit and also the different semesters in Australia and Singapore it was determined that this unit would consist of four hour class time per week and at least two hours group semi autonomous learning time over an eight week period. The longer classes allowed for preparation for the role plays and an intensity of learning. This particular unit was extremely time consuming for all the people involved and all the students stated that they thoroughly enjoyed the unit, that they had learnt an incredible amount about negotiations, group work, organisation, lateral and rational thinking and themselves but the work involved was far too much for one unit worth 25 credit points. These students learnt to problem solve and to objectively look at a situation without preconceptions or stereotyped ideas. This is the most rewarding and demanding unit the author has ever coordinated. The learning form the role play was intense and caused self evaluation and meant the lecturer needed to continually debrief the students. This form of teaching is probably the closest to suggestopedia as it adds an extra dimension of learning and motivation. This unit was extremely intensive in format and course structure and was a brilliant learning tool. The unit itself needed modification to reduce the workload but the intensive format was essential to the learning in the unit.

Intensive teaching due to teaching overseas

Teaching students overseas often requires intensive teaching periods. Periods of five to ten days of intensive teaching. This format in itself is acceptable except when the students are also working full time and studying a three quarter workload. In these types of cases the intensive teaching in my opinion can change to intensive overload. In cases as this using additional material such as simulated games, debates and in class activities are essential for retention of information by students who are limited by time, work and family commitments. Evaluation by students when these activities have been utilised have been far better than using a traditional case study methodology.

This variety of methodology was also used in training teachers in Mongolia about teaching methodologies. These teachers were working in the mornings and attending classes in the afternoons to early evening. Intensive classes were organised so that the methodology was discussed and explained and then the participants were divided into groups and each group had to preform an exercise which reflected the teaching style under discussion. The aim was to inform the participants of different styles but the decision as to how they would teach was of course their decision. This format of doing the exercises in class certainly encouraged participation and working in groups allowed the participants to help each other. This class had approximately 30 participants which I feel is too high for intensive teaching. The evaluation from the participants was good and people that followed this session stated the academic and communication skills of the participants increased significantly but not all participants passed the unit. I believe if the class size had of been smaller than more time could have been spent with individual participants which would have increase the pass rate to 100%. In an ideal situation the class size should have been smaller and the teaching load of participants should have been reduced but overseas teaching is expensive and must in the end be economically feasible and advantageous to the majority.

The teaching of overseas full time participants has been extremely effective but it does require participants to do their own reading and preparation so that they can ask questions. The most effective format I have found is dividing the time 50-60% covering the theory and giving examples of their application and then going into a workshop format applying the concepts in the final component of the course. The theory and concepts must be covered first to give the participants the information required to participate in the workshops. Students evaluation of this form of teaching has been very intensive, long hours and demanding but the grades of students have improved as has their understanding of the topic. The introduction of the workshops certainly improved the evaluations and the students understanding and application of the theory.

Intensive teaching evaluation

Students have been very receptive of the intensive teaching format and study and learning skills and the academic standard of students has increased but there are requirements made on both students and teachers.

The requirements made on students is they must be prepared to be self motivated and prepare for their classes, they must have the time to put into the unit, they must not be involved in too many other activities. These results are in line with Scott (1993) who stated that intensive teaching effectiveness can be moderated by degree of intensiveness, students' other responsibilities, age and intellectual development. Scott also discusses teaching skills which is difficult for the author to evaluate but this may be a consideration. The author feels very comfortable with this style of teaching and actually prefers it to traditional teaching. This attitude would influence the results. Therefore teaching skills and /or feeling comfortable with the teaching style may be a consideration and a moderator of the success of intensive teaching.

The motivation to participate seems to develop as part of the course structure and probably as a reflection of working in a team and the socialising aspects help develop the team spirit and cooperation. This format has particularly been successful with mature age, part time and post graduate students who have the maturity to cope with the individual work load. Scott (1993) again discusses age and intellectual development as moderators and the author also considers this teaching format is influenced by maturity.

The methodology used in the intensive teaching format reflects the course requirements but also sometimes the demands on the participants. If students work full time and study they may require a participatory or action oriented approach in the classes to help them retain the information. This has been effective in the authors experience and enjoyable and informative for the participants. This utilisation of action activities is in line with Kovaltchuk's observation that information exchange can be improved to increase retention and effective input by using a variety of methodologies. Goldstein (1991) also supports this proposition as he states that macro activities increase cognitive activity, assist in improving communication bridges and lead to additional cognitive activity.

From a lecturing or facilitating point of view the learning rewards are high and the actual classes are enjoyable as participation and motivation is high but these classes can involve a lot of preparation for the original design of the courses. Classes can of course be on any day but if part time students are involved it includes often working on weekends. Overall I believe that intensive teaching has many advantages especially for the small class where hours may be reduced but learning and motivation is increased for all the participants.


Intensive teaching is an effective and viable form of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses but I would recommend that it is used primarily for small classes. Classes which include the motivational and psychological aspects as discussed in the literature from Russia take the learning to an enjoyable and motivational level. Simulated games, role plays and debates work extremely well in intensive courses as it is reinforcing and if the class consists of small numbers than the socialising reduces the barriers of communication between participants and increases learning and enjoyment. Intensive teaching can involve a lot of preparation but if used in conjunction with socio and psychological components can be rewarding for all participants.


Fallon, K. (1995). Intensive Education : How It Effects Teachers' And Students' Work Conditions. Annual Meeting of The American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, April 18-22.

Goldstein, J. (1991). Three Cornerstones of Intensive Learning. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 91-96.

Kaminskaya, L. (1991). Teaching Teachers to Teach. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 29-40.

Kitaigorodskava, G. (1991). Suggestology in the USSR. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 3-18.

Kovaltchuk, M. (1991). Sociopsychological Aspects of Intensive Teaching. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 41-52.

Reynolds, K. (1993). Students in Cohort Programs and Intensive Schedule Classes : Does Familiarity Breed Differences? Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Pittsburgh. November 4-7.

Scott, P. (1993). A Comparative Study of Students' Learning Experiences in Intensive and Semester Length Courses and of the Attributes of High Quality Intensive and Semester Course Learning Experiences. North American Association of Summer Sessions, Portland , November 16, 1993.

Stepanian, A. (1991). Integrated Short-Term Intensive Course Structure. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 19-28.

Timmerman, D. (1991). Accelerate the Learning. Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning and Training, 16(1), 287-290.

Please cite as: King, C. (1997). Make it small and intensive: An approach to teaching small classes. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p169-176. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University.

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