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MOOCs: Growing In Popularity Every Day

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) are growing in popularity every day. Not surprisingly, because these are educational courses you can access online; they are massive because there is theoretically no limit to the number of people who can sign up to them, and they are open because they are almost always free to take and often free to copy and redistribute too.

MOOCs provide digital learning resources and use tests (or ‘problem sets’ in the lingo) to help learners self-evaluate their progress; and while they do not tend to offer academic credits, successful students can often ‘buy’ a certificate as evidence for use with their resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV).

MOOCs are sometimes split into two types: cMOOCs and xMOOCs.

  • cMOOCs follow a connectivist model and take a ‘pick and mix‘ approach to learning, combining the best resources and involving students in the course development pro
  • xMOOCs are more traditional in nature and usually, deliver a pre-set curriculum.

The Benefits of MOOCs

MOOCs have evolved from the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, a collaboration between both private and public organizations dedicated to providing free access to education, removing many of the barriers (chiefly price and location) that prevent wannabe students from engaging in learning. Many MOOCs are associated with leading centers of higher education such as Harvard and Stanford universities and the MIT.

MOOCs offer a wide variety of different courses, for example, HR professionals may find some benefit in taking a free generic course on Human Resources, while a course like learning about Chinese Language & Culture or Negotiation & Conflict Resolution might help to overcome specific challenges or take advantage of opportunities.

MOOCs are often designed around timeframes rather than specific classes, which adds an element of flexibility to students with limited time for accessing their learning. Some MOOCs are designed to fully embrace the digital resources that most students can now access to. These might use a mixture of HD videos, modeling software and Powerpoint/Keynote presentations – together with a community forum—to provide a highly interactive and engaging platform.

Challenges with MOOCs

One of the biggest challenges with MOOCs is inconsistency. For every course that makes full use of an array of digital presentation tools, there will be another, which barely raises itself above the level of dated distance learning videos (you know, the ones they put on late at night to double up as a cure for insomnia). The fact that MOOCs tend to have a low completion rate suggests that more work needs to go into improving the course content.

MOOCs have also, so far, failed to set the world alight in the way the OER movement first envisioned. Part of this is probably due to the inconsistent quality mentioned above, while other critics have blamed poor marketing and a lack of communication. For example, some courses fail to identify their target audience or are too narrow in scope to appeal to most learners. Other students have missed their course start dates because of a simple lack of notification.

Where to Find a MOOC

There are so many MOOC providers out there to choose from that it can be daunting to make a decision. One way to sort the wheat from the chaff is to look at those MOOC providers that include student reviews on their listings.

Alternatively, there are a number of MOOC providers that have already built up a good name for themselves.

These include Coursera, the most popular MOOC provider of all with over 10 million members; edX, a non-profit provider associated with Harvard and the MIT and Udacity, founded in association with Stanford University.

Go and try out a MOOC – you will be amazed at what you will walk away with knowledge wise!

Photo Credit: skool.master via Compfight cc

5 Lessons In Learning And Leadership

Here in the Boston, Cambridge we are lucky, there’s a college around every corner. Harvard, M.I.T., Wellesley, Boston University, the list goes on and on. Our streets, libraries and local coffee shops are clogged with passionate students shelling out 40k (plus extras) a year for the privilege of earning those coveted diplomas.

I hate to be a bubble-burster, but some of them may be overpaying. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of education, and a degree from a top-flight school still counts. But we’re seeing a sea change in the kind of learning the marketplace is demanding. That start-up in Silicon Valley or Williamsburg, Brooklyn cares more about your passion, social-media skills and ability to keep learning than it does about that little piece of paper from your alma mater. And established companies are realizing that they need people who have their pulse on emerging knowledge, innovation and markets. In a nutshell: these days the learning curve stops at the grave and starts very early in our careers.

So whether you’re a leader, manager, employee or freelancer, it’s time to start actively learning to maintain career momentum. Please, no groans. I’m not talking about homework and pop quizzes. I’m talking about igniting your curiosity, following your bliss, and exploring the infinite possibilities of real-world, social media and online learning.

Here are 5 steps to jump start your adventure in learning:

  1. Take inventory. What are your strengths, and more importantly, what are your weaknesses and limitations? This is both in relation to your organization, and to the larger world of work. Write them down. Be honest. This inventory is your roadmap to action.
  1. Know your options. You need to know what’s out there: where are the on-line courses, social media, and real-world, non-digital opportunities to learn? Stay focused on two things: first, what will help you bolster your strengths, up your performance, and grow as a leader; and second, what excites you. Which leads me to:
  1. Follow your passion. We all remember sitting through classes that bored us to tears. Invariably we did poorly in those subjects. There may be some basics you need to know for the specific demands of your work. Nail those. Then turn to what turns you on. Follow your natural curiosity. Obviously, this can’t be the extinct birds of Borneo? Or can it? If some subject or endeavor really stimulates you, it may well contain nuggets of applicable, actionable wisdom. Make a list of what excites you. Find online communities of like-minded people. And watch the sparks fly and the learning start.
  1. Put first things second. Once you’ve got the learning bug and know where to go to find your fix, start thinking in terms of your current project. At the end of the day, delivering sustained, stellar performance is what learning is all about. Find that piece of the project that most ignites your passion, and dive into the learning pool in search of actionable knowledge, skills, and insights. Look at your current project through this learning lens. Today.
  1. Teach to learn. Teaching is an amazing learning tool. Find someone whose curiosity dovetails with yours, but where you have more knowledge and/or skills. Mentor this person. Pass on what you know. Engage. Give back. In the doing, your own know-how will be refreshed and replenished. And you will learn from your mentee. I guarantee it. His or her questions will force you to expand your knowledge, and her beginners’ minds will deliver fresh insights. You will be renewed. A variation of this is to find a peer and become learning partners. Two brains are better than one; your curiosity and hers will spark new explorations, your passionate exchanges will strengthen you both.

Lifelong learning used to be a cozy catchphrase popular in retirement communities aiming at the PBS/NPR demographic. No more. Today, it is an imperative for a sustained, successful, fulfilling career. And that’s the most important lesson of all. Every single generation. Every one of us.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes.com.

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