Online education has presented an opportunity to students from all corners of the world to access quality education. It began with colleges and universities taking advantage of affordable internet and digital storage to move class interaction and some coursework online proliferated to MOOCs in 2008.
All You need to Know about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
- What are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?
- How MOOCs Work?
- Why Should You Consider a MOOC?
- Merits of MOOCs
- Where do you find MOOCs?
- How to choose a MOOC?
- Get Value from Money Invested in MOOCs
MOOCs are university-level courses offered online to any person with an internet connection that wishes to take up the course. These courses are usually delivered through select websites and run in association with universities, foundations or private companies. MOOCs naturally consist of a blend of peer-to-peer learning, downloadable literature, discussion boards, quizzes and video content.
This model for availing learning content online not only makes education content accessible to any person interested, but it also does not put limits on attendance or completing an entire program.
MOOCs are comparable to online courses in terms of their structure. Both offer learning materials in a downloadable form, in videos and also in group charts. While MOOCs offer assignments and tests, there are no transferable credits for these. In some platforms, you will be required to pay a certain amount to get a course certificate or have your work graded to allow you to use it in other traditional courses.
While many people who use MOOC are graduates who aim at topping up their competences and skills, these courses are actually not restricted to a group of people. It is only reasonable that you should be computer literate to a certain degree seeing that all the learning material is propagated online.
MOOCs offer an opportunity to gain specialized knowledge that may not be attainable through traditional or local courses. Since they allow you to study from anywhere at your convenient time, there is no limit to the knowledge and skills you can pick up from a flurry of subject areas.
MOOCs offer you an opportunity to network and connect with people world over who share the same passion and interests with you. The course discussion boards, student forums and other student get-together activities create new learning dynamics, thus making you a more curious learner.
While there are MOOCs offered for a fee, the free ones are also just as beneficial. You may take up a MOOC as an accessory or an alternative to your regular degree program. You can take advantage of these courses to prepare for graduate studies. This is possible for paid courses where tests are graded and then you are given a certificate that allows you to enroll for a graduate program without first taking up a traditional degree program. The MOOCs that offer certifications have their curriculum designed in an almost similar to that of a degree program.
While there is no standard format for MOOCs since different providers have their own standards, they all have similar advantages.
- Emulate Customary Classroom Environment
The format for both the downloadable MOOCs, the videos and the class chat rooms mimic real-life traditional classrooms. There is also a lecturer to consult for some cases, especially the paid ones. Traditional universities that offer MOOCs are increasingly providing one-on-one professor-student interactions during online classes. This makes it easy to ask questions about concepts that you found complicated to grasp on your own. There are also chat rooms where students can interact and hold group discussions. These not only change how you think about the concepts presented to you, but also give you a chance to be on the same level with the other virtual students. Mimicking actual classrooms is important for paid MOOCs that give actual college credit upon completion.
- Emphasize Student-Student Collaborations
A typical MOOC will not have an actual professor, therefore, a learner’s biggest asset is other students. The courses resemble a huge study group where students connectively learn the study material together and assist each other. Student connectivity is emphasized on more by the self-paced nature of MOOC. There are potentially thousands of students all over the world taking a similar MOOC at any one moment. This means you can never miss someone to chat to about any concerns you have with your course.
- Access to the Best
MOOCs are offered by experts of different fields of study. If it has been financially or physically impossible for you to sit in a lecture room at a prestigious university, you no longer have to feel sorry for yourself. You can now get access to the best learning materials and even once in a while interact with experts on specific subjects.
- Test Before You Pay
MOOCs are a great way to find out if you’re going to like a particular field of study or if you will like a selected learning institution. You can experience the quality of teaching at higher learning institutions and the expectations and demands as far as studying is concerned. Knowing the amount of work that you’ll be expected to complete before being awarded a degree certificate can make you psychologically prepared for your undergraduate or degree program. Getting some of the course work upfront can also enlighten you on what you really want and if you like the field you are about to pursue.
- No Entry Requirements
There are no barriers to taking a MOOC. You won’t be asked to sit for an interview, you don’t need an ATAR score and you will certainly not be asked for your previous education related achievements. All you need to take up a MOOC is the determination and love for the field or subject of study.
- They are Free
Unlike regular degrees or traditional online units, you can take a MOOC at absolutely no cost. The only time a provider will ask you to pay some money is when you want to be graded and then given an official certificate that you can use in other learning institutions or job applications. The fee is not usually exorbitant and starts for as low as $50.
The most popular MOC platforms today are Udacity, Coursera, Futurelearn, EdX and Khan Academy. These platforms pool their course content from the prominent universities around the world, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Harvard University and Trinity College Dublin.
In the UK and Australia, there is a MOOEC platform that is in partnership with the Griffith University GELI, the Queensland University of Technology, the Goldcoast TAFE and Pier online among other NGO providers. The courses are offered in English. The Open Universities Australia (OUA) has its own MOOC platform called Open2Study where other reputable Australian institutions also avail their courses.
- Coursera is a creation of professors from Stanford College. The company, however, offers course instructors and content from reputable universities, including Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Duke and Princeton. It’s a for-profit organization and therefore most courses are given at a fee. There is both peer-review grading and automated grading and specialization on completion of certificates. Classes are delivered in form of video lectures, online quizzes and practice excercises.
- Udacity offers free courses although they also have paid courses that can gain students’ entry to the California State University. It has recently also partnered with AT&T and Georgia Institute of Technology for a MOOC in Computer Science (graduate). It’s free courses are categorized into three levels; beginner, intermediate and advanced. Founded by Peter Thrum, the company has a preference for sourcing course instructors and content from big players in the technology industry business as opposed to colleges for their technology courses, such as data sciences. All the courses have an open enrollment and classes are mostly delivered in video lectures with quizzes integrated into them.
- At Udemy, you can get both paid and free courses. Many of the courses are from organizations and private institutions as opposed to non-academic instructors. There are both fixed-date courses and open-enrollment courses offered in discussion forums, online labs, excersises and video presentations. The company also offers automated grading.
- EdX is a non-profit MOOC provider that is a creation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. It also receives course content from Georgetown, Berkley and Rice University in the USTU Delft in Netherlands, Australian National University and 70 other learning institutions, businesses and non-profit organizations. The learning platform by this organization is open-source, which allows other independent providers to use the platform to teach their online classes. Courses are offered as both fixed-date and open-enrollment, and verified certificates are given at a fee of $25. Classes are delivered as discussion forums, exercises and video presentations and some classes qualify for college credit.
- Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan after his YouTube videos for explaining Science and Math concepts to his cousin got a massive following. The platform has since evolved to offer student participation forums and online excersises that take after MOOC, although it has not been determined that it is a MOOC provider. Learning materials are propagated through interactive forums, practice exercises and video lectures, and grading is done through peer-review.
The biggest task while choosing a Massive Open Online Course is to decide whether to take up different unrelated courses to prepare for an undergraduate or degree course or to take up a complete program. There are also MOOC takers who aim at advancing their skills and knowledge to gain an edge over others at their workplaces.
MOOC providers offer courses in collaboration with reputable colleges and therefore can give you college credit or complete verified certificates. MOOCs that are offered through direct collaboration with universities can culminate in credits for a degree program. You can use the certificates to enroll in a traditional learning institution or to secure positions in employment. There are also MOOCs that offer job placement services after one has completed their courses. Such providers as Coursera and Udacity should be a top priority if your main goal for the courses is to fit in the job market.
Other key considerations you should take when shopping for a MOOC provider include:
Since MOOC courses are delivered by experts, it is easy to forget that your main aim for taking a MOOC is to learn. For you to learn best, there must be quality in the materials given and also the course instructors. If you don’t have any background on the course you are taking, you may want a provider who offers more one-on-one interactions with instructors. If this is just a follow-up course you have done then you may be fine with a provider that doesn’t.
The differences in presentation of classes is another important consideration you should make before taking up a MOOC. Some providers are popular for their intimate learning approach that mirrors sitting down in a lecture theatre, which is ideal for auditory and visual learners. Other providers are well-known for their video presentation styles. Yet others, like EdX are ideal for hand-on learners due to their interactive projects. Chose a provider that offers the most ideal pedagogy for you.
There is a big difference between free and paid MOOCs, and its called price. Luckily there are MOOC course aggregator sites that are “search engines” (like this website www.takethiscourse.net), where you can choose a provider offering the course you want at your price range. These sites can also enlighten you on enrollment dates if the providers offer the course you want on a fixed date. The more the benefits that a MOOC offers the more it will cost.
Research shows that the completion rates for MOOCs are at about 15 percent, with free courses registering more dropouts than paid ones. The key to completing your MOOC and getting value for your money is being self-disciplined. With the freedom that this learning offers both in learning schedule and in the amount to learn, it is easy to get reluctant and fail to show up for classes, take up quizzes and give all your attention in class.
While choosing individual MOOC courses, choose ones that that feed into each other or into a main degree or graduate program. Take advantage of in-person meet-up groups and online forums offered by MOOC as they are a great way to get motivation and socialize with other people. Use discussion forums provided by some MOOC platforms to check out comments and review so you gauge the level of difficulty, ratings and support for the specific course you consider taking.