Distance Learning Program Planning and Policies

Distance learning is becoming ubiquitous across the nation as higher education institutions strive to offer students flexible, affordable, and innovative opportunities to learn. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WASCUC) defines distance learning as “a formal interaction which uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and which supports regular and substantive interaction between the students and instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously.” This definition applies to multiple modalities at Hawai’i Pacific University—online, hybrid online, hybrid in-person, or virtual. 

No matter the modality, distance learning at HPU continues to advance the HPU Mission of being an international learning community where we prepare our students to live, work, and learn as members of a global society. In alignment with the HPU vision, we strive to design distance learning opportunities that are highly personalized, student-centered, and experiential while embedding our institutional values of Pono, Kuleana, and Aloha. As an institutional member of NC-SARA, HPU distance learning programs also follow the Interregional Guidelines for the Evaluation of Distance Education.

At HPU, curricular change is a faculty-driven process, requiring both college curriculum committee approval and approval by the university curriculum committees. All programs striving to be offered in a distance learning modality (fully online/online-hybrid/ in-person-hybrid/virtual) must be approved through the appropriate college curriculum committee and the university undergraduate or graduate curriculum committee. After college curriculum committee approval, the distance learning advisory panel will provide recommendations to programs to assist in program planning.

In order to begin the process of developing a distance learning program, departments are required to go through the distance learning approval process. To gain approval as a distance learning program, departments are required to submit the distance learning program approval form to csybrant@hpu.edu

The following criteria must be met:

  1. HPU departments and faculty must complete their internal college approval procedures and undergraduate/graduate curriculum committee procedures to request approval.
  2. For fully online programs, all courses in the program must be offered completely asynchronously online with no on-campus or in-person meeting requirements.
  3. Academic Services, Student Services, and Helpdesk must be available to the student from a distance.
  4. HPU departments and faculty should be aware of International Compliance regulations and digital services/export taxes if accepting students living in foreign countries and may want to seek assistance from General Counsel.
  5. (Professional licensure programs only) – Programs must establish a written process to determine a student’s location at the time a prospective student seeks information about an academic program leading to professional licensure, or a student enrolls in, and/or an existing student notifies the institution of a change of address, for purposes of issuing the required disclosures under the rules as to whether the academic program, regardless of modality, fulfills the professional licensure requirements of states in which the prospective student or occupational licensure programs as well as certification programs. Each HPU program should make sure it is providing this direct disclosure and include a sample of its direct disclosures to current and prospective students in its policies and procedures documentation.
  6. Fully online programs must have an approved substantive change or administrative approval from the accrediting body, WASCUC. If we offer more than 50 percent of a degree program electronically distance-delivered, approval from WASCUC is required before student recruitment can begin. 
  7. HPU departments should also be aware that distance learning program development requires liaising with various HPU offices outside of the Office of Online Programs & Academic Partnerships, such as Marketing, Admissions, the Registrar, etc. It is the responsibility of individual programs to follow up with the appropriate offices once programs have been approved in order to prepare programs for launch.
  8. Design and development of any NEW distance learning courses in programs will be facilitated through the Online Instruction Fundamentals short course. This 2-hour self-paced, asynchronous short course assists instructors in cultivating and implementing online course design, development, and delivery skills. After successful completion, instructors may bypass the short course when designing subsequent new distance learning courses. Please submit a timeline outlining when program faculty will complete the Online Instruction Fundamentals short course before the launch of any new distance learning courses.

Additionally, should you need assistance crafting program learning outcomes, please use this resource on Writing PLOs.


All courses offered in a distance learning modality (online/online-hybrid/in-person-hybrid/virtual) must go through the appropriate internal college and undergraduate/ graduate curriculum committees procedures for approval. 

Effective distance learning courses are intentionally designed to leverage what the modality has to offer. Rather than conceptualizing a course that has already been taught in-person as “converting” to online, it is essential to frame it as designing a new course using similar content learning objectives. Designing a new online or hybrid course is a time commitment, both in faculty development participation and in the actual design and development of the course.

Program leads should plan 3-6 months to develop new courses in advance of launch to ensure time to work with an OLAP instructional designer to help frame instructional activities and provide feedback on the quality of course design. Anyone designing new distance learning courses may take the following steps:

  1. Register for the Online Instruction Fundamentals short course.
  2. Self-enroll in the online course template to replicate best practices and consistent navigation.
  3. Submit an HPU Distance Learning Module Review Request so that HPU instructional designers can review the module referencing the Quality Matters Rubric and provide one-to-one consultation support throughout the entire process. Once the Online Instruction Fundamentals short course is completed, instructors will receive a certificate of completion that can be used towards evaluation and promotion. 

Distance Learning courses must be continually assessed and revised to ensure best practices in a quickly evolving modality. Instructors teaching in distance learning programs will be invited to participate in faculty development summits for online instructors offered throughout the year.  Additionally, look for faculty development opportunities such as webinars, tutorials, community conversations, and advanced short courses.

The expectation for distance learning courses is that students will spend the same amount of time working to achieve the learning outcomes of a course as they would in the same course offered in a face-to-face modality. Thus, if a standard face-to-face 3-credit course requires a total of 112 work hours (37.5 of “seat time” and 75 of “out-of-class work”), to accomplish the learning outcomes, the online equivalent similarly necessitates 112 total work hours, time on task, by the student, regardless of the length of the term.


Time on task is the total learning time spent by a student in a college course, including all learning activities and any time spent studying and completing course assignments and assessments (e.g., reading, watching, researching, writing, discussing, collaborating).

"Instruction" is provided differently in distance learning courses than in classroom-based courses. Despite the difference in methodology and activities, the total "learning time" online can be counted and should be comparable to time spent on tasks in a classroom-based course. Instructors developing and/or teaching the online course should calculate how much time a student doing satisfactory work would take to complete the work of the course, including: 

  • Watching course “lectures"  
  • Reviewing course notes 
  • Reading course materials  
  • Participation in online discussions 
  • Conducting research  
  • Studying
  • Writing papers or other assignments 
  • Contributing to projects
  • Collaborating with peers
  • Completing all other assignments

Time spent downloading or uploading documents, troubleshooting technical problems, or in chat rooms (unless on course assignments such as group projects) should not be counted. 

The hours per week or module will, of course, vary depending upon the length (in weeks) of the course (e.g., 8-weeks versus 16-weeks).


See Figure 1 below for a breakdown of the time on task for hypothetical 3-credit course formats. 

Figure 1. Time on task hours per week for 3-credit course formats

Course weeks 

Hours per week

Total course hours












  • RICE/CTE has done research on the amount of time it will take to complete coursework. In their research, Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey have created a Course Workload Estimator that helps calculate the time necessary for taking tests, reading, discussions, and writing assignments. 
  • RICE Enhanced Course Workload Estimator 


Following is an example of one week (7 hours) of learning tasks or activities and respective completion times for a 16-week, 3-credit course (Turner, 2005):

Time on Task


Viewing two, 15-minute lectures (text or video), with web links

0.5 hour

Reviewing lectures and exploring links

0.5 hour

Posting a short "knowledge check"

0.5 hour

Reading assignments

1 hour

Completing a 10-item online quiz

0.5 hour

Posting to discussions (original post, responses to classmates' posts, responses to responses)


Small group project meetings (Zoom conference or asynchronous discussion)

1 hour

Work on final research paper and presentation

1-1.5 hours


7 hours



A course offered in a term of less than 16 weeks (e.g., 8 weeks or 3 weeks) shall contain the same contact hours, preparation time, content, and requirements as the same course offered over a 16-week term. The simple conversion for these courses is to take the total contact hours (112 for 3-credits) and to divide by the number of weeks.



McDaniel, E. A. (2011). Level of student effort should replace contact time in course design. Journal of Information Technology Education, 10(10).  

Rice University. (2023). Course Workload Estimator. Retrieved from https://cte.rice.edu/resources/course-workload-estimator

State University of New York Empire State College. (2023). Determining Time on Task. Retrieved from https://www.sunyempire.edu/dlis/design-your-course/determining-time-on-task/

Turner, T. (2005). Student workload in the online course: Balancing on a rule-of-thumb. Educator’s Voice, 6(3).

Wake Forest University. (2023). Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) Estimator. Retrieved from https://cat.wfu.edu/resources/tools/estimator2/

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