As some of you may have noticed, I slacked off yesterday with regard to posting something to the Degree of Freedom site.
Part of the reason was to give Part 1 of my interview with Michael Roth from Wesleyan University the chance to stay at the top of the site one day after the holiday weekend. But I also needed to grab some extra time to (1) get this week’s newsletter out; and (2) adjust to a new summer schedule that involves spending time with my kids and making sure they get from A to B based on a camp schedule that shift weekly.
As some of you may know, I’m juggling this project with my role as a stay-at-home dad. This presents some openings for togetherness when all of us are in school (the boys and I have a daily homework club in the afternoons during school year). But during the summer, they are free to pursue their bliss even as I continue with my junior year program of classes, reading, assignments and the like.
I thought about this when considering what a “normal” approach to a compressed free BA degree might look like in terms of timing.
As I mentioned during my interview with Scott Young of MIT Challenge fame, it’s become pretty clear that if an independent learner wanted to learn what they’d get from a traditional four year BA, they wouldn’t necessarily need four years to do it.
Older learners, for example, may have already gotten through those right-of-passage years between 18-22 when college provides a safe haven for moving from late adolescence to early adulthood, a place where college studies can be balanced with equally important college tasks of making friends, pushing limits and experimenting both intellectually and socially.
But an older student who has already passed through this phase (or a younger one who can find other ways to have the non-academic portions of this experience outside of college) – someone in the position to dedicate far more of their psyche to studies – does not necessarily need four years to take the thirty-odd classes normally associated with an undergraduate degree.
That traditional four years, after all, includes at least a year off when you add up four summer vacations and the various other breaks and holidays on most college schedules. And even when students are at college, a traditional semester involves taking four classes which includes approximately 12-15 hours of class time per week. And if you triple that number to include studying and doing homework, you’re still looking at approximately 36 full (40 hour+) work weeks per year as your undergraduate work load.
And even here, students tend to become more efficient with their studies as they progress through four years of college. And this efficiency continues to grow for those who spend time in an employment world less forgiving with deadlines when skills developed in college (research, synthesis, writing, communications, etc.) are put to use.
What this all adds up to is that someone committed only to studies (not participating in clubs and teams, not finding a date for the weekend sock hop) can likely squeeze a college level workload into far fewer than four complete years.
As I mentioned here, the one year I’ve chosen to compress my education into is probably pushing the envelope a bit too much. For even though I’m hoping to prove it possible to squeeze this much learning into this short a timeframe, if I were perusing the same program without other goals (notably the year-long research agenda associated with this blog as well as the newsletter and podcast), I would probably spend more time taking advantage of class components like discussion boards.
Or better still, I would only take classes (MOOC and otherwise) after putting together a live or virtual learning cohort that was interested in studying at the same speed and level as I was for each of my online courses.
But if this project proves that taking 32 courses to completion in just twelve months is possible, that clearly demonstrates that pursuing the same program in a more “normal” 2-3 year timeframe is also possible.
And for those who don’t have the advantage of being able to study full time who need to fit their courses between other responsibilities (like full-time work and/or family), the efficiency of the independent learner combined with the convenience of learning on demand offered by MOOCs mean that online education can add up to something (like degree equivalence) within a reasonable time period (maybe four years, maybe longer) with learning consisting of more than something those with other responsibilities just do on the side for fun.