“Degree of Freedom” Creator Seeks Expedited B.A. Through Online Education

Is it possible to complete all courses necessary to learn the equivalent of a B.A. in philosophy in a year’s time? From home? And how about for free?

This form of expedited education would have been impossible a few years ago, but because of the prevalence of MOOCs and other online courses in recent years, American writer Jonathan Haber has set out to achieve this ambitious goal.

Haber is the webmaster and creator of Degree of Freedom, a blog documenting his experiences as he attempts to fit four years of college-level courses into one year’s time. He brands this experiment as an “adventure in online learning”, and updates his readers (nearly) daily with progress and commentary on his mission.

Haber’s project spans the entire length of 2013, during which he plans to take 32 online courses, both from well-known MOOC providers and smaller companies offering online material equivalent to that offered on campus. His four-year breakdown is as follows:

As the schedule denotes, Haber is just beginning his “junior year” of online college, and is starting to focus on courses with much more in-depth philosophical concepts. The MOOC platform has mostly been used to teach beginner’s courses, and has been embraced as a more personal and flexible alternative to the large lecture halls of general education classes.

The contrast between the widespread availability of MOOCs with Haber’s need for a very specific field of instruction is exactly why I am most excited to hear about Haber’s junior year. It is during this part of the project that he must become more experimental with his instruction, and utilize some of the smaller MOOC and online course providers in order to find more specialized classes. I am especially excited to read Haber’s reactions to his new course load and learn more about these smaller companies.

With this wide variety of courses and providers, Haber will truly be able to experience all aspects of the online learning environment. However, while his approach is fully immersive, it also brings into question the continuity of the education he will be getting. Because of the different providers and multiple curricula Haber is utilizing during this project, his education runs the risk of being nothing more than random patches of classes, lacking a focused purpose and becoming more about completing assignments than attaining deep learning.

Without the close personal attention of any professor or TA, and without any in-person interaction with his peers, will Jonathan really feel as though he has fully absorbed the information? I think that will be my biggest question as the project comes to a close, and I wonder what kind of deep (or critical) philosophical thinking Haber will be capable of after his experience. While the variety of universities, low costs, and speed with which Haber is able to complete so many classes are definitely a plus, the lack of continuity in the online education format may be a big enough downside to degrade the overall quality of learning.

Haber is taking a very intense schedule that is definitely not recommended for students taking MOOCS, but the ambition and hurriedness of this whole project are what give it meaning. Online degrees have been around for years, but have always been associated with high tuition costs and poor course quality. Through this experiment, Haber is bringing a closer lens to edtech’s recent innovations, and is showing the incredible capabilities

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of our current online resources. I am very excited to follow his journey as he explores the depths of the online education arena, and can’t wait to see how he feels at the end of the year. Good luck Jonathan!