Our Guide to Massive Open Online Courses


Higher-EducationMassive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs for short) are college-level courses that anyone can join for free online. Because they are online, there is no limit to the number of people who can enroll. What makes MOOCs so exciting is the huge potential they have for expanding knowledge around the world.

The three major providers of MOOCs today are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Each of these three companies offers a different take on the online learning experience. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them. Coursera and Udacity are for-profit but edX is a non-profit project. It was started as a collaboration between Harvard University and MIT, but today has the backing of over 30 major universities. Udacity’s courses are highly web-oriented which means they are perfect for studying electronically. Coursera has the widest selection of courses— unlike most MOOC providers they even have humanities courses like philosophy and poetry. Coursera also offers the most professionally produced materials out of the bunch.

One thing to remember about MOOCs is that the enrollment and coursework is always free, but there are things that the providers will charge fees for. The MOOC platform is still in its infancy, and they are looking for ways to be sustainable. Job placement, testing, and certification are some of MOOC services that may cost you.

Another problem with MOOCs is that they have a tendency to have very high dropout rates. The high rate probably has more to do with dedication on the students’ parts than the quality of the programs offered. Since there is no cost for signing up for an online course people don’t feel as if they are losing an investment if they decide to quit. Other people sign up for courses to get an idea about a subject without ever having any intention of completing the coursework. Here are a few tips to help make sure that you don’t take the MOOC you are in too lightly.

1. Do the homework. Quizzes and homework are designed to help you grab hold of the material you are being exposed to. If you are going to audit the classes, you are probably not going to be as invested in the class or learn as much as a student who is working hard to turn in work with the right answers.

2. Don’t get in over your head. Prerequisites for MOOCs aren’t suggested guidelines. Just like in traditional universities, MOOC courses have prerequisites. If you don’t know the basic material that is required for a course you are not going to succeed. Make sure you have some introductory courses done first before you move on to the more sophisticated stuff.

3. Contact. One of the great things about MOOCs is that you never have to deal with interacting with administrators, professors, or fellow students. Some people find this completely freeing. But other people may feel disconnected with the programs and their classes. Reaching out to other people in the course you are in through the web forums available in all MOOCs is a great way not to lose touch with the class.