What's a MOOC good for?

April 7, 2014

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Coursera. Udacity. EdX. Not exactly household words. But they may be someday, and they are getting their share of publicity these days...both good and bad.

Coursera, Udacity and EdX are the three major MOOC platforms. A MOOC (which stands for Massive Open Online Course) is a course delivered online to an audience of unlimited size with no constraints on who can participate and in general, free to use. Experts at universities world-wide have been designing, developing and delivering courses via these platforms for about five years. 

Like any new venture, it has taken awhile for MOOCs to find their niche. Some have considered this open platform an alternative to the traditional system of higher education. Realistically though, there is too many obstacles and too much tradition in place for that to ever come to pass. It's not because MOOCs do not deliver a quality experience. I recently completed an 8-week course on the Coursera platform taught by a leading expert in the field of Gamification from an Ivy League school. As a motivated, self-learner I got more than my money's worth. The course included about a half hour of video lectures each week, some additional readings and web sites to explore, a quiz or a written assignment, and a final exam at the end.

I was one of 48000 active participants in the course. Faculty interaction, with those numbers, is one-way communication. The instructor delivers the material and sets up an environment where peer-to-peer interaction provides answers to questions and assessments of written work. Not necessarily a good model to deliver a quality higher education, but an exceptional model for professional development. Dollar for dollar, the value of MOOCs for professional development is unbeatable.

Over the course of 8 weeks, I could find 3-4 hours a week to watch lectures, explore the class discussion forums, read some articles that had already been determined as key to the field. There was never a set time to attend a workshop or turn the computer on for a webinar. The flexibility was moderated by weekly due dates which prompted me to get assignments completed or videos watched so I could effectively answer quiz questions. The model is perfect for busy students and professionals to find time to learn more.

Looking for a certificate of completion to add to your professional portfolio? Then complete all of the assignments (and do well on them). The major platforms will make a certificate of completion available to the students who push through to the end. 

Just want to learn something new, or don't have the time to devote for 6-8 weeks? No worries. Over half of the individuals who start a MOOC do not complete the course. They have equal access to all of the videos, and while the course is open during that period, can pick and choose what they'd like to watch.

The Spring semester will soon be over, and many of us will have a bit of down time (or at least some more unscheduled time). This might be a good opportunity to look at a MOOC. I guarantee that some class that matches your interest will always be in session.

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