Getting started with MOOCs

Getting started with MOOCs

If you are new to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), it can be quite daunting knowing where and how to start. These guidelines will help you get on the right track to start your education online.

First of all, what is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a university course provided over the internet free of charge*. Many high profile universities now publish courses online which are based on their campus-based curricula. Increasingly, large corporates are also partnering with MOOC platforms to deliver training in on-demand skills. These courses can be accessed anywhere and by anyone who has an Internet connection and a computer. They are “Massive” in the sense that thousands of students worldwide can be enrolled in the same course at the same time. Some MOOCs are scheduled with a set start and finish date, others are “on-demand” allowing students to enrol at any time. Both formats allow students to work at their own pace giving more flexibility than a traditional classroom-based course.

Some MOOC platforms charge a small fee to access premium features, such as assignments, grading and certificates.

What type of education do MOOCs offer?

MOOCs are available across different levels of education, including pre-university, undergraduate, masters, professional development, vocational and technical. As there is no filtered admissions process, learners enrolled in a course will have very varied levels of knowledge and understanding of the subject ranging from beginners to experienced professionals. Information regarding any necessary prerequisites can be found on the MOOC description page.

MOOCs can offer solutions to different learning goals and motivations. For example, they are a good way for pre-university students to explore possible areas of future study, they allow learners to get a deeper understanding of a subject, or professionals to gain more competencies and skills in their field.

How long is a MOOC?

MOOCs can vary in length from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the type and depth of the course. Most courses are organised into modules which follow a linear learning path. The curriculum and timetable of activities can usually be found on the course home page. Some MOOCs have deadlines for submitting assignments while others offer more flexibility for learners to progress at their own pace. It is important to find out such information before embarking on a course.

Where do I look for MOOCs?

The most common way to access a MOOC is via a MOOC platform which is a website that works in partnership with educational institutions and universities to deliver their courses.

There is an increasing number of such websites, which doesn’t always make it easy to know which one to go for. For an overview and rating of the main MOOC platforms, our MOOC Platform Comparison Table can help you choose.

Alternatively, you can use Online Course Directories which offer a database of courses offered by the different MOOC platforms. See MoocLab’s Guide to using Online Course Directories.

How is a MOOC delivered & assessed?

Usually MOOCs are delivered in video format with interactive quizzes, assignments and tests. Often students enrolled on a particular course have access to a course forum allowing exchanges with peers and sometimes instructors. Most commonly, assignments and coursework are graded using a peer grading system where fellow students evaluate and provide feedback on each other's work based on grading criteria. On successful completion of a MOOC, most providers offer various forms of certificates, some of which are free, others a paid-for service with identity verification. These certificates do not award credit and may not always have professional recognition, although MOOC providers are starting to partner with universities and private companies to offer validated exams and university credit. For MoocLab’s guide to certificates offered by the main MOOC Providers, click here.

What are the Pros and Cons of MOOCs?

MOOCs offer an abundant choice of educational resources for learners to acquire new knowledge and skills, and develop professionally, without the constraints and costs that campus-based courses impose. They can suit many different types of learners, but it is also important to reflect on whether they are the right choice for you. Below are some pros and cons of MOOCs to help you decide.

MOOCs Pros & Cons Infographic.png

You can use the checklist in Getting started with Online Learning to further help you decide if a MOOC is the right form of study for you.

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