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!