Broaden Your Skillset for Free
Enrolling in a massive open online course (MOOC) is a great way to enhance your continuing professional development and learn new skills. MOOCs have been around for the last 10 years, but have recently grown in popularity. They are offered by many institutions, and cover a wide variety of topics.
How Do MOOCs Work?
Like a regular university course, MOOCs often have a specific start and end date, but are often shorter than traditional university courses. The content for MOOCs is exclusively online and you will need to register with a MOOC provider to apply for a course. You can usually see a breakdown of the course prior to registering, and the same course may run several times a year.
The MOOC platform will provide you with video lectures, a forum to discuss topics with other students, and assignments and quizzes to test your comprehension. MOOCs are often made up of 1–2 hours of video lectures per week, and a recommended 4–6 hours of reading and studying in between.
Major MOOC providers include Coursera, Edx, Udacity, FutureLearn, and Udemy. There are many others, and some universities also offer MOOCs directly from their websites.
- Edx: offers almost 2,500 courses from Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, among many others. Courses range from topics in biology, business, finance philosophy, engineering, and more.
- Coursera: offers over 3,500 courses and the majority are available for free.
- Udemy: has a huge range of over 20,000 courses. Some free courses are available but most range in price. There are often sales and major discounts on courses which can be enrolled in for as little as $11.99. Udemy also provides unique features such as a mobile application for your cell phone.
- FutureLearn: is a UK based company founded by The Open University. It offers hundreds of courses with a particular focus on educational institutions from the UK and further afield.
Benefits of MOOCs
They Are Free
If the course fees for a traditional college education are too expensive for you, MOOCs can offer a solution. In many cases, MOOCs are often free and course materials are widely available. There is no charge to register.
Since you don’t need to attend in person, you can fit the course around your schedule. New material is posted throughout the course, but you can access the materials 24/7, wherever and whenever you like.
Wide Variety of Topics
There is also a huge range of topics to choose from, so you can pick out only the courses that interest you. This way, you don’t have to take modules you’re not interested in to complete the requirements of a degree.
Choice of Different Universities
You can choose courses from a variety of different universities. Some of the top universities in the world offer MOOCs delivered by world leading experts in their field. A huge range of other providers offer MOOCs, too.
Low/No Entry Requirements
Many MOOCs don’t have specific entry requirements and there is no need to provide academic transcripts to register. The educational philosophy behind MOOCs is to make learning accessible for all, and the low entry requirements are one way to achieve this. In fact, most MOOC courses are at an entry level and would be considered first year undergraduate modules.
Cons of MOOCs
It’s Not All Free
For the majority of MOOCs you can study all the course content for free, but if you would like a certificate of achievement at the end of the course, there usually a fee. It can range from $50 to $300.
Lack of Accreditation
Some MOOCs are not officially accredited, and you won’t be able to use a passing grade on your course as credit for a degree. However, there are exceptions to this, such as the Edx Micromasters programme.
Check with the course provider to see whether credits can be earned for your course and which institutions will accept your course credits for future study. Fees for conversion into college credit can vary but start from $600.
Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
You may be in the same course as thousands of other people, so you won’t get the same feedback and response from your classmates or the course lecturer as you would in an in-person course. Although there will be discussion boards and other mechanisms to support learning of the material, it is unlikely that you’ll get graded papers and assignments directly from your lecturer.
Many MOOCs have auto grading features for assignments and multiple choice quizzes instead.
A Lack of Depth
Since MOOCs are generally completed over a shorter time-span than a traditional college course, information is often condensed. This means recorded lectures will often be shorter than if you were to attend a similar topic in person.
Some students may feel the information provided to be too basic, as the design of the course has had simplicity and ease of access for many people in mind.
It’s Easier to Give up On
Without the pressure and commitment of paying a large fee for a course at college, some students are more likely to abandon and drop a MOOC if work or other commitments get in the way.
In fact, many MOOC providers estimate the dropout figure to be as high as 90%. You will need strong reserves of self-motivation to pursue the course and ensure you can commit to its duration.