For many traditional graduate education programs, the semester-long, three-credit course is the normal path that students navigate to complete a full degree. But is that program design always the best for everyone? Purdue’s College of Engineering offers a unique and innovative alternative in its online master’s degree program on edX.
Learn more about Purdue’s top-ranked online Electrical and Computer Engineering master’s degree.
“Traditionally many universities base their offerings on a three-credit model, but besides fitting a course into an on-campus 15-week period, there’s no strong reason to structure courses that way,” said Dimitrios Peroulis, head of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Purdue.
“Particularly as we’ve been thinking about upskilling working professionals and offering online degrees, we asked ourselves: is this really optimal? It turns out that in many cases, it may not be. So we started considering the possibility of breaking down our courses into one-credit modules.”
Shorter Modules, Efficient Learning
The approach for the Purdue ECE program’s one-credit course offerings is not to replace traditional curriculum but to complement it. One-credit courses are identical to three-credit courses in terms of quality and rigor—these are not seminars. The team designed the courses to rethink topics and efficiently convey the essence of micro subject areas in shorter blocks of time.
“The inherent nature of the short course improves productivity and efficiency. It forces people to think in much shorter timelines in terms of learning the required material. It keeps you engaged and interested and keeps everybody learning at a fast pace,” Peroulis said.
This shorter, efficient style of modular learning allows students to broaden exposure to different disciplines and learn only what they need.
“A lot of times somebody might be willing to take only an introduction of the topic without necessarily needing to become an expert. Today for example, if somebody wants to learn about solar vehicles, they take an entire 15-week course. While in reality, they may want to know only some of the fundamentals and not discern all the details behind it. Within a three-credit module, that’s not possible,” Peroulis said.
“On the other hand, when you have one-credit modules, you can pick and choose the topics that you’re interested in and essentially gain what we call ‘breadth at the edges,’ meaning that you can still spend the majority of your credit hours focusing on the area that you want.”
Breadth at the Edges: Build a Wealth of Knowledge, Explore Interests, Choose a Path
This idea of “breadth at the edges,” building knowledge across sub-disciplines outside of your focus area, emerged from conversations with various stakeholders and was crafted to fit the needs of modern engineering professionals.
Become a better communicator and collaborator: “In traditionally structured programs, you may only take one or two courses outside of your focus. So you may have few opportunities to interact with people from other disciplines. When you take courses from multiple disciplines, it’s natural to now become aware that people are using different languages in those types of disciplines. A term used in your own sub-area might mean a different thing in a different one. By exposing yourself to this type of diversity, you’ll be able to more easily become accustomed to working in multi-disciplinary teams,” Peroulis said.
Explore and Define a Custom Path—With Support: Purdue’s ECE master’s degree allows students to select courses that cover a wide variety of topics. With the flexibility of the one-credit-hour system, if you’re not sure which path to take, you can explore as you go. “You can even decide to change your mind at some point if you find you need something closer to your career path. Each student is assigned a faculty advisor to work with to ensure that their courses are matched to their interests. We also have specific sample plans of study to help students optimize their choices,” Peroulis said.
Agile Curriculum That Prepares You for a Modern Engineering Career
With over a dozen one-credit courses and counting, Purdue’s online electrical and computer engineering master’s degree program allows you to both explore interests and build breadth at the edges, as well as build a custom pathway that best positions you to reach your own career goals.
“By opening up the general degree and developing content in all of the subdisciplines, it’s essentially a new approach to this field that benefits a lot from this Lego-building style. This type of breadth-based degree, if you will, is pretty unique at this point,” Peroulis said.
“It’s also a good way for us to keep our curriculum more current. It’s one thing to change an entire semester-long course or update it…it’s a much simpler thing to update a one-credit course; we now have the ability to much more easily keep up with the latest in the field.”