Modes of Educational Delivery

The Professional School of Psychology has a tradition of innovation that is reflected in the five modes used to deliver instruction. Any one of these venues is engaged for course instruction depending on the nature of the program being delivered, the specific interests of the students enrolled in the program and the number of students who need a specific psychology course. Given that PSP has become a venue for the global classroom, much of the instruction now being delivered at the school is done at a distance–so we will begin with a description of this model and the distinctive way in which PSP provides a blending of what is often called “synchronistic” and “asynchronistic” education (we are about to explain what these fancy terms mean).

Hybrid Distance Learning) Model

Many of the students enrolled at The Professional School of Psychology do not live in Northern California. They often live thousands of miles from the school’s administrative center in Sacramento, California. They lead busy and challenging personal and professional lives that do not allow for travel on weekends to the Sacramento campus. As the geographic boundaries of the world have broken down over the past two decades, PSP has begun to offer programs at a great distance from Sacramento, students enrolling in the school from as far away as Israel and Singapore. These distance learning programs offer particular challenges for those who are enrolled in these programs—especially those who come from quite different cultures. They speak English as a second language and often live in social systems that are undergoing profound change and provide unreliable technology. Given these instructional challenges, PSP offers the following guidance with regard to distance learning instruction.

Synchronistic and Asynchronistic Instruction

Most of the nonresidential programs at PSP are offered through a distance learning format. While none of the PSP courses involve exclusive text-based instruction, they all involve some use of computer-based instruction. Typically, distance learning involves two different forms of instruction. One form is called asynchronistic instruction—meaning that the instruction is prepared and delivered at a time and place that may not require the immediate involvement of all (or even any) of the students. While they are usually not mentioned in this context, books exemplify asynchronistic instruction in that a student will not necessarily be completing the assigned reading at the same time as other students (or the instructor). During the era of advanced instructional technology, asynchronistic instruction is usually engaged through the preparation of instructional material that is placed on an Internet website which students access at a time and at a location that is convenient for them. The instructor often requires students enrolled in the course to prepare written responses to this material. Many “on-line” educational programs at other graduate schools make extensive (sometimes even exclusive) use of asynchronistic instruction.

While PSP encourages faculty members in the school’s distance learning programs to make some use of asynchronistic instruction, there is a very strong preference that a substantial portion of each course is delivered through so-called synchronistic instruction. This means that the instructor and students are engaged at the same time in the teaching/learning process. While they may be geographically dispersed, the instructor and students are communicating directly with one another in real time. This communication may be limited to audio or may include video and even the sharing of text material—but it requires immediate interaction. Furthermore, a substantial portion of each distance-learning course at PSP (at least ¼ and often 1/2) will be conducted in person. The instructor and students meet for several days in a workshop format or (in the case of individual senior tutorials) meet at or near the student’s home, at or near the faculty member’s home, or in a location that is convenient for both tutor and student.

This commitment to a hybrid synchronistic distance learning and in-person education is premised not only on the desire expressed by many mature and accomplished learners at PSP for an educational format that includes extensive interaction with the instructor and other students, but also the desire of most instructors at PSP to ground their teaching not in technology, but rather in direct contact with their students. While faculty members teaching in a distance learning format need to know about and be comfortable in using the new technologies, their real expertise will continue to be founded in their knowledge of the field and their skills in motivating and helping to guide the advanced education of their mature and accomplished students.

Instructor/Student Interaction

We are all growing accustom to communication that occurs through use of computers, however, there is still a way in which extensive digital communication can be alienating and can lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. We know from psychological research that these communication problems exist in part because the interpersonal relationship channels are narrowed. We only hear the other person’s voice or see them on a restricted computer screen. Given these conditions, it is critical that a faculty member provide more structure than might be the case with residential programs. Furthermore, a faculty member must be in frequent contact with each student so that the student does not lose direction or motivation. Sadly, distance learning programs often experience very high drop-out rates (often as much as 90%). Fortunately, PSP has a very low dropout rate for students enrolled in distance learning programs (lower than 10%) and is committed to keeping this rate low by providing the “psychological containers” (structures, consistent procedures) to reduce student anxiety and uncertainty.

While any faculty member at PSP must be flexible in working with the mature and accomplished learners who enroll at the school, they must also provide consistent structure and clarity of expectations, particularly when teaching in a distance learning format. To ensure this consistent structure and clarity of expectations, faculty members in distance learning programs are expected to review and return any student work within one week of submission, keep a log of all student submissions and faculty responses to these submissions, provide regular and detailed feedback to the student regarding their performance in the course, and offer appropriate assistance to the student regarding misunderstandings based on language or culture. The school is committed to a high proportion of synchronistic (rather than asynchronistic) instruction in its distance learning programs precisely because of this need for consistent structure and clarity of expectations.

The Yearly Gathering

As part of its unique Hybrid Model of Adult Education, PSP convenes a week-long Gathering each year of its students from around the world. Held during the second week of August in either Asia or North America, the Gathering provides a distinctive opportunity for students to not only complete two courses (the Gathering is supplemented by several digitally-based course sessions before and after the Gathering), but also meet with their fellow students in an intensive residential setting. The Gathering is held in a retreat location that provides beauty and tranquility, as well as access to local arts and diverse market places. Most importantly, it provides students, faculty, administrators and PSP Board members with an opportunity to share meals, walks, and entertainment with one another – and with the essential opportunity to talk with one another about educational experiences at PSP. While most of the courses at PSP are being held via distance education, the presence of a yearly residential experience further enriches the educational experiences of PSP students – a Global community of life-long learners emerges and is reinforced by each of the Gatherings.

Residential Model

A traditional, although intense, instructional model where faculty meet with students at scheduled time using the guideline ratio of 2 hours of student preparation for every hour with the faculty, or 64 student hours to 32 faculty contact hours (96 total hours). While not always the case, Residential cohort groups usually meet in one of the classrooms at the Professional School of Psychology.

The assumption of this model is that students benefit from faculty contact and interaction with other students in their cohort group to achieve learning objectives in the least amount of time. Courses are usually scheduled over two weekends, with at least a month between weekends.

Cohort Group Model

Educational programs at PSP based on the unique Cohort Group Model are built around a group of 3-8 students. All or most of the students in a specific cohort group take the same psychology courses and build their own distinctive and highly supportive learning community. In most cases, a single faculty member or several faculty members teach a substantial portion of the program and are available for individual consultation with each student, thus providing further continuity.

Senior Tutorial Model

The tutorial model requires more student preparation outside of class so that time with faculty and classmates is intense and focused. Students spend 6 hours preparing for every hour with faculty, or 96 student hours for 16 faculty contact hours (112 total hours). This model allows students more time absorbing material, and greater flexibility of when to schedule those hours, but increases the overall time commitment.

A much fuller description of the Senior Tutorial Model — a truly unique mode of educational delivery — is available on this website. While the tutorial model is usually based on work with an individual student, PSP does offer some tutorial-based programs that are built around a cohort group. Furthermore, some students blend their tutorial-based courses with some courses that are offered in a traditional residential format.

Independent Study Model

Independent Study is used when students miss a psychology course, or are interested in taking a highly individualized course. Faculty members usually work one-on-one with students and students are required to work independently. For this reason, the Independent Study model requires the most total hours (128 hours) for a student to complete four units.