MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

By Flora Richards Gustafson on August 21, 2013

MOOC, short for massive open online course, is one of the hottest trends among those who wish to further their education. The online courses use interactive participation on a large scale with generally over 100 participants (some with thousands, hence “massive”) giving you an interactive forum that has a community feel. The good news for those of you getting ready for college life is that some universities are starting to offer MOOCs for credit.

In essence, MOOCs are online classes. Most are free, don’t offer college credits and usually offer certificates of completion. Because there are so many students enrolled, many classes are highly interactive with discussion boards and Facebook groups, and you may meet with fellow classmates in your area for study sessions. Many MOOCs have you complete homework, quizzes and exams.

Depending on the course, your time investment may be comparable to what you spend on a regular college course. The prerequisites for a MOOC vary. Some classes don’t have any prerequisites, while others suggest that you have knowledge in a particular subject. Classes you take for college credit are more likely to require you to provide proof that you took a certain college subject if you aren’t already enrolled with the institution.

MOOC experiences

You can access MOOC lectures at any time of the day from almost any device that has an Internet connection. Andrés Solis from Alajuela, Costa Rica is a MOOC student and a huge fan. He is bilingual in English and Spanish, and works for an American company. Solis has earned certificates for completing courses like “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies” and “Know Thyself” from Coursera, a certificate from the University of Pennsylvania for “Gamification” and a certificate for “Social Network Analysis” from the University of Michigan.  

Solis completed some courses as he recovered from a surgery and shares, “One of the most important aspects of MOOCs is their accreditation and validation for professional purposes.” He states that people who take MOOC courses from an accredited school have a good chance of getting a better job or becoming eligible for promotions. Solis says many schools that offer MOOCs give companies and universities a simple way to verify online that you took a course with a special ID or “avatar.” Your “avatar shelf” shows the course you took, the date completed, your grade and the course syllabus.  


MOOCs for teens

Colleges aren’t the only institutions taking advantage of MOOCs. The University of Miami’s Global Academy, for example, designed MOOCs for high school students to help them prepare for the SATs. This gives students the chance to get extra help when they’re available without paying for a tutor. Some high schools use MOOCs for advanced classes, like college-level calculus, where the teachers don’t necessarily lecture on a topic in class, but explore the concepts learned with the students and answer questions.

While most colleges offer credits for the traditional online classes offered, only a handful offer credits for MOOCs. In an interview for a November 2013 Time article, the president of edX, Anant Agarwal, Ph.D., stated that he expects more colleges to offer credits for MOOCs by 2014.  In the meantime, you can take the advanced courses to help you get ready for your undergrad studies or prepare for a CLEP exam.

Colleges and universities that offer credits for MOOCs generally charge for the course. The cost depends on the class and the school that offers it.


MOOC Trends

One advantage of MOOCs is that they give people free access to college courses and a higher level of education. While MOOCs alone may not help a person earn a college degree, taking the courses can advance skills and knowledge. In a January 2013 interview for Time, Daphne Koller, co-creator of the online education company Coursera, stated, “We think this model will spread, helping academic institutions offer their students a better education at a lower price.”  

The following are some of the trends that have emerged from MOOCs:
  • Interesting professors who are great on camera.
  • Mobile apps to access courses, read books, watch presentations and listen to lectures.
  • The ability for anyone to create an online course.
  • The use of nontraditional textbooks, such as graphic novels and videos.
  • Access to free e-textbooks while enrolled in a MOOC.
  • Former MOOC students mentoring new ones and managing online groups.
  • Increasing number of MOOCs from community colleges.

The leading providers of MOOCs offered by colleges are edX, Coursera and Udacity. The concept of a MOOC is barely a few years old, so the benefits (and college credits) will continue to evolve as more schools take advantage of this popular educational medium.



Schools of Stature Offering MOOCs

Big-name schools are into the idea of offering MOOCs, including:
• Dartmouth College
• Harvard University
• Princeton University
• Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT)
• University of California (UC) Berkeley
• Stanford University
• Yale University
• Carnegie Mellon University

Some schools offering MOOCs for credit:
• San Jose State University
• Georgia Institute of Technology
• State University of New York (Empire State College)
• University of Colorado
• Duke University
• University of California at Irvine
• University of Pennsylvania
• Georgia State University
• University of Pennsylvania


About the Author

Flora Richards Gustafson

Flora Richards Gustafson

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