The pace of the course decides how fast students could and should progress through the course. It determines whether you work based on a schedule, or let the mastery of the current content be leading in the progress through the program. To make a decision about pacing, you should be aware about the level of self-regulation* skills of your students.
When a course works with class-based pacing, all the students follow the same path. In general this means that the students work on the same assignments, attend the same (online) lectures and have the same readings to do. Although students can still work ahead or lag behind with some parts of the course (like readings or assignment), they still depend on the synchronous moments that are part of the program.
A mastery-based pacing means that not the progress through time, but the progress through the content determined the pace of the students. Whenever they are ready for the next step - whether this is an assignment, chapter or reading - they can continue with the program. Although this type of pacing offers a lot of motivational autonomy, it does make it harder to build a community, as students are not working on the same activities at the same time.
In self-paced learning there is no such thing as prerequisites to continue to the next step or part of the course. In this situation the student takes all the responsibility when it comes to their progress through the course and the understanding of the content, although self-tests and formative assessments can be provided for support.
Class-based and mastery-based pacing might be the complete opposite, but they can exist both within one program. Some types of teaching and learning are best accommodated with class-based pacing, for example a serious game that has new information available each week. Others can be done best on a mastery-based pace, such as a group assignment in which the fulfillment of a sub-assignment or the writing of a first chapter could give “access” to the following step.
- Decide the pacing based on the activity and the related goals.
- Take into account the level of self-regulations* skills of your students
- Communication is key: make sure to be clear on what responsibilities and actions are expected from your students and when you expect this.
*the ability to plan and execute learning activities independently without needing someone else to tell you what to do and when to do it” From Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How (New York: Routledge, 2014) by Barbara Means, Marianne Bakia en Robert Murphy