MOOCs are all the rage these days.
They aren’t Motivational Online Occupational Consultations.
Neither are they Modern Organisations for the Over Confident.
Nor Mocha Oreo Overindulgence Cupcakes (oh, now that would be nice).
Nope. MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses.
They only really hit the headlines in 2012, but have rapidly become… erm… massive.
If you want to study it, chances are there’s a course available.
The courses are:
Open to anyone, anywhere (hence the “massive”)
Free (hence the “open”)
and are delivered online (erm, hence the “online”)
So, for example, if there’s a course you fancy, delivered from an American institution, and you live in the UK… you can still take the course. If you fancy learning to code for fun, there’s a MOOC for that and if you want to learn about cooking, from the basics to gastronomy, so you can impress your friends, there’s probably a MOOC for that too.
These are usually general level courses and are intended to whet the appetite of the learner, leading you into more detailed study if you want to go further. They are a fabulous way to dip in and out, and to see if what sounds fantastic on paper, actually does keep your interest. If you have always wanted to learn Psychology at university level, but didn’t get the chance to take the subject at school, what better way to see if you are suited to the subject than to take an online course?
Generally between three and ten weeks duration, these are the perfect pix ‘n’ mix courses… you can do one, two or more at a time (if you have the time), or you can move straight from one to the other, or do one then another one, if and when it takes your fancy. All for free.
What will I find on a course?
Generally the courses can be a mix of written material, quizzes, videos and audio. Each course is individual, and each institution will approach a MOOC in its own unique way. Some require more work than others: some will get you to do coursework and assignments, there may or may not be extra material to read, you may be directed to “talk” to your fellow students online, or you may just have to read what is presented. Some tutors are more open to communication than others, some may just write the course and stay in the background, whereas some jump right in there and treat the course as an extension of their classroom. I’ve taken courses where it’s mainly written, with very little interaction (and interest), and courses where the tutors are very interactive. You can guess which are the more engaging!
So what’s in it for the Institutions?
Well… it does take a lot of work to create a course; they’re not doing this just for the love of it (although for some I do believe that the tutor is genuinely excited about engaging with a wider audience). In the days of restricted funding, MOOCs are the perfect way for a university to scream “Look at me… I’m fab… I can teach you well… let me give you an example of my awesomeness!”
By giving you an interesting and fulfilling experience, the institution is hoping that you will enjoy learning with them so much that you will go on to further, paid study. The more potential students a MOOC can attract the better. These days education is expensive, so institutions are all too aware that the wider the audience the better the chance of attracting paying students.
Things have come a long way since I was sorting out dusty Distance Learning documents in a Business School library fifteen years ago.
So what’s in it for you?
Fab, free courses. No hassle. No commitment. No restrictions.
You can sign up for a course and if you don’t like it you can leave. There is no-one breathing down your neck asking questions.
You can sign up for a course and if you love it you can go on and do another one in the same field, or a complementary subject, or something totally different.
You can use MOOCs for professional or personal development. It’s the perfect way to add to your CV if it’s looking a little thin, or to prove to a potential employer that you are able to carry out individual research and study.
Being short courses they are the perfect way to find out if a subject is for you, or not.
You can fill those empty hours with a new experience.
You don’t have to live near a university or college to be able to take part… you can learn anywhere that you have access to the internet, via your computer, tablet or phone.
With some of the world’s top universities taking part, Massive Open Online Courses provide a win-win situation for everyone. They reach potential students – some courses have thousands of participants at any one time – and learners get a free introduction to a course of study.
Of course some institutions will be better than others, so it’s best to look into who is creating the course. The two main providers at the moment are Coursera and FutureLearn – they don’t run the courses but gather together courses from all over and allow you to browse. Mooc-list.com is a curated list that also allows you to search for courses from all over the world.
On a personal note, so far I have taken a number of courses via FutureLearn, run by a variety of universities, and have thoroughly enjoyed all but one. Forensic Psychology was amazing and really brought home how much I adore psychology as a subject (I last dipped into it about 20 years ago)… same for the Open University Creative Writing course. They really brought home that I would like to study these subjects further. At the moment I’m taking the Shakespeare and his World course… a ten week course in which we study a new play every week and place it within the Bard’s life and experiences. Fabulous, if you like that kind of thing, which I do.
If you have an inkling that you’d like to learn something new, even if you have never studied since you left school, why not give it a go. You really have nothing to lose!