Self-directed curriculum Master's (or doctorate)?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Trek, May 8, 2022.

  1. Trek

    Trek Member

    I have two different questions, only related a little...

    A while ago, when digging around, I believe I found a online Master's where you could study anything you wanted. It was from a very small school, and I guess the instructors were willing to grade your papers on any topic. Hopefully I'm remembering right. Of course I was pleasantly surprised to find it!

    Has anyone heard of anything remotely like this? I'd like to enroll in a highly-flexible program where I could largely choose what I want to learn.

    I have a Master's and this would be mostly for fun. Obviously I could study on my own, but I like having a term paper due or multiple papers.

    Within some doctorate programs, it looks like students work on their dissertation almost the entire time. I'm curious about this too. Are there any doctoral programs where I could have little interaction with advisor/classmates/administration? I like to work independently and using my own structures. It seems like many doctoral programs would expect working closely with the advisor. Is that the only kind of program that exists?
  2. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    This is the first one that came to mind. There are two required courses, but the other 10 can come from any of the disciplines listed on that page. I believe that includes every one of Amberton's Master's-level courses from all of their programs combined. Amberton is also very amenable to accepting transfer credits (up to 12), even in situations they have no course equivalencies.
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  3. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    Capitol Technology University has a couple of thesis-only master's programs and dozens of dissertation-only doctoral programs. You also have the option of publishing three articles for most of their doctoral programs.
  4. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    For a truly design-it-yourself degree, you'll need to first, build a time machine. Then set it for 1986. Location: Cincinnati, Ohio.

    Programs like Amberton's are flexible, but you're still studying their courses.

    As for dissertation-only doctorates, that's the norm in Europe, South Africa, Australia and others. This is also known as the "big book" approach. In many cases, you're not admitted to the PhD right away. Instead, you're admitted to the MPhil and then promoted to the PhD after some successful research, writing a thesis proposal, or something like that.

    In the US, we use the "little book" approach, where the doctoral student takes a couple of years of courses followed by a smaller dissertation.

    The distinctions around professional and scholarly doctorates still apply. Residency can vary; it's often determined by one's thesis advisor.

    Thesis-only PhD programs are designed for isolation. But you cannot avoid contact with your advisor--nor would you want to if you hope to graduate. As for administration, having them available as possible is a feature, not a bug.

    If you're interested in doing all your work in isolation with no contact or direction from the university, doing anything you want in any way you want, that is certainly available We call that a diploma mill. But you can skip all that other stuff; they won't require it. They just need your credit card number and purchasing information, including an address to send the diploma to.
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  5. chrisjm18

    chrisjm18 Well-Known Member

    Reminds me of Sophia from the Golden Girls.
    "Picture it: Sicily, 1922..."
  6. Jonathan Whatley

    Jonathan Whatley Well-Known Member

    Classic interdisciplinary or self-guided master's by distance:
    Andrews University MA in Leadership
    Antioch University MA in Individualized Studies
    Athabasca University MA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    Goddard College Individualized Master of Arts and others
    Harrison Middleton University Master of Arts (not RA, NA DEAC)
    Prescott College MA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    Royal Roads University MA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    SUNY Empire State College MA in Liberal Studies

    A tier that's more a mix and match of available courses includes in part:
    Amberton University MA in Professional Development and MS in Human Relations and Business
    Bellvue University Master of Professional Studies (MPS)
    Delta State University MA in Liberal Studies
    Jacksonville State University MA in Integrated Studies
    Liberty University MA in Interdisciplinary Studies
    Western New Mexico University MA in Interdisciplinary Studies

    Doctorates by distance that are among the most interdisciplinary or self-guided:
    Amridge University PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies
    Andrews University PhD in Leadership and Doctor of Leadership (DLead)
    Harrison Middleton University Doctor of Arts (DA) and EdD (not RA, NA DEAC)
    Royal Roads University Doctor of Social Sciences (DSocSci)
    Union Institute & University PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies
    University of Memphis Doctor of Liberal Studies (DLS)

    There are several on-campus interdisciplinary and liberal studies master's and PhDs. The University of Pennsylvania College of Liberal and Professional Studies Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts is an advanced master's degree for candidates with a first master's.
  7. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Interdisciplinary isn't the same as self-designed.
  8. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Doing a Union degree had a ton of side benefits. The ability to discuss this issue cogently is one of them.

    When doing a college degree program, three things must be decided:
    1. What is to be learned
    2. How it is to be learned
    3. How that learning is to be demonstrated
    In traditional schools, all three of these are determined by the school. In many nontraditional schools this is also the case, their "nontraditional" nature being from other elements (like delivery methods).

    In nontraditional programs, sometimes some of this can be moved to the student. For example, interdisciplinary programs might allow a great deal of flexibility in choosing courses. They give the student a whole lot of (1), but they retain (2) and (3) for themselves.

    Or, like in the case of Excelsior, students have a lot of say in (1) (because course requirements are flexibly stated), (2) because students can choose how they learn the subject matter (or if they already have learned it), and (3) because Excelsior accepts many forms of measurement for credit. (Including credits.) But the school still determines the broad categories that must be filled, broad guidelines for how to fulfill them, and specifically the degree to be awarded.

    With Union, the learner determined--with the guidance of his/her committee and the approval of the Dean's office--all three of these. This included being able to declare the major area of study (initially; later it was the concentration and specialization). The Learning Agreement is extensive--mine was more than 100 pages--and describes all of this, from learning objectives to learning activities to how that learning will be demonstrated. Ideally, this was a blast. In practice, there were definitely some hits and misses.

    Fielding Graduate University has its students largely determine (2) and (3). The University of Leicester's DSoSci program, on the other hand, dictated all three. And so it goes.
  9. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I agree with Rich. OP sounds like they want to study in an unstructured, self-paced environment. Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, integrative, and all of the other self-designed programs are not independent study programs. You have flexibility in choosing your courses, but your courses are still online, have a set curriculum, are taught by an instructor, and usually have deadlines.

    At Capitol Technology University, which is located in Maryland, you will be matched with a chair early on, but you mostly dictate what you're going to do. There is no curriculum. Your chair might tell you to search for some articles so you can learn more about the field, decide what you want to do your dissertation on, and figure out whether the research has already been done. They'll also have you come up with your own timeline and send it to them. Other than that, you don't have to talk to anyone for weeks or months unless you or your chair want to set up regular meetings to discuss progress and receive guidance. All that's required is a weekly discussion entry telling your chair what you did for the week. If you did nothing, then you report that you did nothing.

    There is another American university that offers a dissertation-only PhD in Creativity Studies, but I don't have inside information on how they operate. CapTech has majors, and your dissertation topic has to fit within that major. Their most flexible program is in "technology." The PhD in Creativity Studies allows for a wider range of dissertation topics.

    Competency-based programs are self-paced and usually involve little to no interaction with an instructor. A mentor will do periodic check-ins to monitor your progress. However, you have no say in what you're going to study.
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  10. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    Were you/are you in a CapTech program? I'm curious where the info comes from. Not because I doubt it, but if it's as described I want to add that to my list of programs to consider.
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  11. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    I was, but this information is also available on their website. People find it hard to believe that these are truly dissertation-only programs and will argue 'til the cows come home. LOL
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  12. JBjunior

    JBjunior Active Member

    Their website lets them down in that aspect. I just checked several of their doctorates and while most had either a dissertation or a publication option, it was in addition to a prescribed around 60 credit curriculum for each of them. Will you point me to the dissertation only options on their website?
    Last edited: May 14, 2022
  13. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    The courses are the dissertation. In each course you'll work on a segment of the dissertation, not on learning content in your subject area.

    This is different from a traditional American PhD program where the course content is about developing the expertise you need but not explicitly on the writing process.
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  14. JBjunior

    JBjunior Active Member

    I get that, or rather realized that after my post, it just isn’t presented as clearly as it could be. It lists the two options and then the curriculum immediately after. As an American living in Europe, I am very familiar with the different models. In addition, the doctoral admissions page at says “We offer doctoral programs with and without a research requirement to help you align your advanced degree with your specific career goals” so they are offering doctoral coursework somewhere, I think.

    My program was similar in that we were working on the dissertation process (exploring options, how to structure it, how to write, how to develop research questions, etc.) from day one and almost every course had some element that contributed toward the dissertation. The difference was that there was a substantial amount of taught material and some classes that may or may not have contributed to your personal dissertation path, depending on the subject.
    Last edited: May 14, 2022
  15. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    That isn't true because all of their programs require a dissertation or three publications regardless of whether there are content courses. They're always canning and creating new doctoral programs, so it's possible they used to have a non-research doctorate and didn't update their admissions page. PhD programs are always going to have a research component. Their only non-PhD doctorates are the DSc and DBA, and both of them require a dissertation or publications.

    In the U.S. system, I don't think you can get away with not having credit hours because of accreditation and financial aid. Accreditors want doctoral programs to be a certain length, and the Department of Education disburses financial aid based on credit hour course loads. Even competency-based programs have to be broken down into semester or quarter hours even though those systems are based on time. University of the Arts does a better job of labeling their courses making it clear that they all focus on the dissertation.
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  16. sanantone

    sanantone Well-Known Member

    The PhD in Business Analytics and Data Science is the one program that has actual courses. They plan to create electives for the DSc in Cybersecurity. Those are also the only two programs that have strict admissions requirements. As of now, the DSc only has special topics courses that are basically independent study courses in which students can work on publications and other stuff.

    Tell me again how the European Model works. How can you earn a degree without taking any courses? You actually enroll in 10 courses, but not in a classroom with other students. Instead, the focus is on your original research. As you move through your courses, you plan a large research project overseen by your chair and committee. The chair and committee guide, lead, mentor, and teach. You will review the literature, plan a methodology, collect data, analyze the data, and prepare your dissertation. Some students do not do a dissertation but rather publish three peer-reviewed scholarly articles in recognized academic journals.
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