This is the fifth and final article in a series on the various fully online masters degree programs that are available in forensic psychology. The earlier articles in this series examined the forensic psychology masters degree programs at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the University of North Dakota, Argosy University, and Walden University.
I decided to examine the fully online masters programs in forensic psychology that are available since so many students are interested in forensic psychology and wonder about it as a career path. I also believe that the future of education is online and that online pedagogy is an interesting way to learn, with much to offer. With so many programs of study now available online an increasing number of opportunities exist for personalized education. The various tools and available technologies make online learning the wave of the future, if not the present. Online learning is asynchronous, meaning that the student can logon and complete class work according to his or her own schedule, rather than have to be at a specific place at a particular point in time.
With the significant increase in the number of online programs of study available over the last few years, I decided to have an in-depth look at some of the more popular fully online masters programs in forensic psychology. This article takes a look at the program offered by the University of Liverpool.
Online Master’s Program in Forensic Psychology
The program offered by the University of Liverpool is an online masters program in forensic psychology and criminal investigation. Students prepare to begin the program by completing two modules before beginning their program coursework. The first preparatory module—Student Readiness Orientation—takes 10 hours to complete and the second module—Foundations for Academic Success—takes 40 hours to complete over a period of 3 weeks. Once the student has completed these two modules, he or she begins the program coursework, which consists of 8 modules (each about 8 weeks in duration) and a dissertation. The entire program takes an average of 30 months to complete; although students are able to go at their own pace and take between 24 and 36 months to complete the program requirements.
The online masters degree in forensic psychology and criminal investigation at the University of Liverpool consists of 8 modules (each worth 15 credits) and a dissertation (worth 60 credits). Each module is 8 weeks in duration (except for the first, which is 9 weeks in duration) and is sequenced according to the student’s best development in the program (which I take to mean that there is some flexibility in the order of modules that a student completes).
As with any online program, students can pace themselves according to their own timelines and schedules. The courses/modules at the University of Liverpool appear to be delivered in a somewhat prescribed sequence, with a total of 8 modules and a dissertation required for completion of the degree requirements. I was unable to find information regarding how long a student has to complete all degree requirements but the website indicated that students could complete the requirements as quickly as 24 months or as slowly as 36 months.
Students in the online masters degree in forensic psychology and criminal investigation at the University of Liverpool appear to pay a single fee payment for the program (rather than a per credit hour fee as is typical in North America). According to the website, this is determined by the student’s country of residence. Students from the United States pay $21,600 for the program; students from Canada pay $21,800 CDN; students from the United Kingdom pay £ 9,500; students from Australia or New Zealand pay $20,100; students from the European Union pay € 14,400. These costs appear to be in line with other online and on-campus programs offered in the United States.
The online masters degree in forensic psychology and criminal investigation at the University of Liverpool is described on the website as follows:
The MSc in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation, offered by the University of Liverpool’s world renowned School of Psychology, is one of the first postgraduate programmes in the field of forensic psychology and criminal investigation to be offered in an online format at an international level. Cutting edge research and contributions from the leading academics and practitioners in the field combine to create a rich, interactive and highly stimulating experience for students throughout the programme.
During the programme students will thrive in the interactive e-learning environment with the use of multimedia, case scenarios tailored specifically for this programme and designed by professionals in the field, and active discussions within the students’ virtual classroom.
The programme has been designed to appeal to individuals currently involved in the process of criminal investigation or for those who have an active and passionate interest in the psychology of crime, criminals and investigation. This programme is ideal for practitioners already working in the field, those pursuing a career in psychology, or those seeking a complete career change who have developed a keen interest in the field of forensic psychology and criminal investigation.
Applicants are expected to have completed a bachelor’s degree and to have some relevant work experience. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is not required for admission to the University of Liverpool’s Masters Program in forensic psychology and criminal investigation.
Licensure as a Psychologist
Perhaps the most important thing to know about this program is that it does not lead to licensure. This means that those who complete this program will not be able to become licensed as a psychologist (either at the Masters level for those states that make this available, or at the Doctoral level) unless a different degree program is subsequently completed by the student.
From the website:
Note on licensure:
The MSc in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation is not a licensure programme and does not prepare an individual to become a licensed psychology professional.
Non-Credit Preparatory Modules (required)
Student Readiness Orientation
Aim: To equip students with the technical skills necessary to successfully study online, aided by inspirational testimonials from current students and alumni, in a rich multimedia environment.
In this module, students will grasp the basic technical information and knowledge needed to successfully participate in an online curriculum. They will learn how to use the online classroom to get assignments, interact with instructors and other students, and submit work. In this introduction students will gain a clear idea of what is expected from them as they participate in an online classroom. Finally the orientation ensures students have an overview of the rules regarding quotation and citation–essential to any postgraduate study, whether online or campus-based.
Foundations for Academic Success
Aim: To provide students with a deeper insight into the requirements for successful participation in the postgraduate programme, and to give them the opportunity to put some of the essential skills and techniques learned during the Student Readiness Orientation into practice.
As well as providing a foundation for academic success, this module will ease students into the credit-bearing modules – ensuring they are fully prepared to succeed on their programme of study. Assignments focus on the practical application of writing and critical thinking skills. By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate their ability to evaluate scholarly resources, and define the role that proper citation and referencing plays in academic integrity. Students will be competent at doing basic searches in the University of Liverpool Online Library and be able to outline a logical and coherent argument with supporting evidence.
Required Modules (120 credits; 8 modules worth 15 credits each)
Fundamentals of Investigative and Forensic Psychology
Aim: To equip students with knowledge of the psychological processes most applicable in the relatively new and innovative field of investigative and forensic psychology.
This module provides a foundation for subsequent modules on sexual and violent behaviour, courts and the judiciary, criminal behaviour and offender profiling, and behavioural investigative advice. During this module, students will explore the historical development, origins, methodological issues and conceptual debates surrounding the theory and practice of investigative and forensic psychology. Upon completion of this module, students will be able to confidently analyse and critique the relevant psychological processes and pluralistic nature of investigative and forensic psychology, as well as demonstrate an understanding of the similarities and differences within this specialised discipline.
Command and Control: Leadership and Teams in Critical and Major Incidents
Aim: To develop a thorough knowledge of leadership and teamwork issues applicable to critical incident management and crisis intervention driven by principles of leadership and motivation.
Students will learn to critically evaluate the various models of leadership as they apply in critical and major incidents, and adverse environments. This module will also assess and evaluate the impact and role stress plays on decisionmaking. By the end of this module, students will be able to recognize the role of anger, aggression, impulsivity and stress when dealing with difficult suspects / offenders and in difficult negotiations. They will also recognize the influence and importance of leadership and effective team performance in a range of adverse environments.
Strategic, Tactical and Operational Decisions: Judgement and Decision Making in Critical and Major Incidents
Aim: To develop an in-depth knowledge of judgement and decision making issues relevant to critical incident management and crisis intervention.
This module will enable students to apply and critique the differences between dynamic, time compressed decision making and slower, protracted enquires. Students will apply traditional and naturalistic decisionmaking and their application to relevant agencies tasked with handling critical incidents. Upon completion of this module, students will appreciate the psychological mechanisms that underpin decision error, action inertia and so called ‘accountogenic decision’.
Applying Research Methods to Forensic Psychology and Criminal Investigation
Aim: To demonstrate the ability to assess methodological paradigms within the creation and execution of, and understand the position of research in, applied psychological research.
In this module, students will be introduced to multivariate statistics and methods, and obtain a range of data analysis techniques that can be applied in the ‘real world’. Students will be able to explain and discuss the principles underlying quantitative research and demonstrate their understanding of the link between methodology, method and analysis. By the end of this module, students will be able to discuss and evaluate methodological approaches and demonstrate their knowledge about paradigmatic issues surrounding psychological research. Students will also be introduced to the basic principles of experimental design and learn how to conduct analyses using SPSS during online Statistical Practical sessions.
Psychology of Criminal Behavior
Aim: To develop an astute awareness of the aetiology of criminal behaviour (from biological to social learning).
This module will raise the students’ critical faculties of the psychological issues involved in investigating and managing criminal behaviour in forensic settings. Students will also explore and critically evaluate the varying methods agencies employ to investigate criminal behaviour, including risk assessment and risk management. Upon culmination of this module, students will be capable of demonstrating their theoretical knowledge of crime, and identify the procedures, policies and approaches of multi-agency responses to criminal behaviour. The psychological processes that multi-agencies implement to base their responses will also be ascertainable.
Sexual and Violent Crime
Aim: To develop an astute awareness of the aetiology of sexual violence (from biological to social learning).
Students will mentally evaluate and determine the precision of the psychological issues involved in investigating sexual and violent crime. The methods employed by agencies to investigate sexual and violent crime, including risk assessment and risk management, are also critically analysed throughout the module. Students will be able to identify the procedures, policies and approaches of multi-agency responses to sexual and violent crimes, and understand the psychological processes that underpin these approaches. Key areas that will be explored include juvenile sex offenses, sexual deviance, internet offending, and domestic violence.
The Psychology of the Courts
Aim: To explore the psychological, investigative, and evidential perspective strands that impact upon the Criminal Justice System, the forensic viewing practices, and the courtroom procedures respectively.
This module will develop through the critical analysis of psychological, investigative, and evidential perspective strands. The examination of the psychological perspective will allow students to explore perception and memory issues, together with the implications for witnesses and the Criminal Justice System. The investigative perspective will allow students to critically explore specific investigative areas such as identification issues and the effectiveness of forensic interviewing practices. The evidential perspective entails the application of the psychological and investigative perspective strands in the courtroom. The range of witnesses who interface with the Criminal Justice System will also be explored, together with diversity issues and the implications the responses from the courts have on the witnesses. Upon completion of this module, students will be able to assess to what extent cognitive psychological research is relevant to eyewitness testimony, and critically evaluate the contribution and impact of research on the Criminal Justice System. Forensic interviewing practices, witness and suspect management, and judicial (legalistic and juror) decision making will all be covered and analysed allowing graduates to qualify for key roles in the field of forensic psychology.
Offender Profiling and Criminal Behavioural Analysis
Aim: To develop an awareness and practical understanding of the psychological concepts necessary for offender profiling and criminal behaviour analysis.
The aim of this module is to provide students with a methodological underpinning of behavioural profiling, suspect prioritisation, risk assessment, geoprofiling, and crime scene linkage methods. The potential barriers that may impede these methods, and the psychological means necessary to avoid said drawbacks, are investigated. Students will also critically assess the use of psychologists and profilers as experts for offender profiling purposes, and learn how to interpret this expert advice to reduce ambiguity. Upon completion of this module, students will have gained the aptitude to discuss and evaluate the methodological approaches used in the aforementioned psychological concepts examined in this eight week study.
Dissertation (60 credits)
Aim: To prepare a significant piece of empirical or archival study, that will be an original or critical exposition, of existing knowledge within the field. The culmination of the programme, this written project demonstrates students’ mastery and integration of all their previous learning. The dissertation is the cornerstone of the UK university system. It is an original, scholarly work that applies the students’ new knowledge and experience and allows them to prove their proficiency in the skills and techniques they have studied and acquired. Students choose their dissertation topic in conjunction with their Personal Dissertation Advisor, an academic supervisor who will provide support throughout the study and writing process.
The coursework for this program appears to cover a broad base of forensic psychology as it is conceptualized in the United Kingdom, which traditionally has a stronger emphasis on criminal investigation and profiling than does the United States or Canada. Another notable difference is that the curriculum content appears to emphasize a systems-wide or sociological perspective to forensic psychology, as opposed to the strong emphasis on the individual found in the United States. The inclusion of a dissertation requirement for this program of study makes this perhaps the most rigorous fully online masters program available.
As with all the other online programs reviewed (with the possible exception of the program at the University of North Dakota), this program is not licensure eligible, meaning that graduates will not be able to become licensed to practice as an independent psychologist upon completion. Licensure as a psychologist is typically reserved for those with doctoral-level degrees, except in a few states where masters-level individuals can become licensed to practice some, but not all, aspects of psychology and are typically required to be supervised by a doctoral-level practitioner.
Like many of the other fully online programs available, a personal mentor is assigned to each student to assist with issues that arise during the student’s tenure in the program. The addition of the two non-credit preparatory modules appears to be a unique solution to ensuring that each student has the required foundation for online education before beginning the program of study.
This masters degree program appears to be a viable option for someone interested in a degree in forensic psychology and who prefers a more global perspective on this field. Individuals who plan to live and work outside the United States may benefit from a broader perspective than that typically offered in degree programs within the United States.