Resources for online learning have multiplied over the past 10 years, with the newest advances being the availability of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Distance education through a MOOC may be particularly attractive to those with home, work, or other responsibilities that keep them out of the classroom, but the self-guided learning format can be difficult for some. Here are 10 tips for making the most of these open university courses.
1. Evaluate your circumstances. Outline the pros and cons of adding education to your current schedule and responsibilities. Be honest with yourself about the depth of your interest in education and the commitment level required to do well in a MOOC.
2. Decide on your learning goal. What are you hoping to achieve? Is this education for personal enrichment? Is your goal to gain certification in a certain field, or move towards for-credit classes? Are you investigating a possible career path? It will be easier to stay focused if you have a clearly-stated goal in mind.
3. Do your research. There are several provider hubs for MOOCs, including Udacity, Canvas Network, Coursera, and more. Which one you choose will depend on what each has to offer, and how that aligns with your goals and interests. Class descriptions, too, should provide an outline of expected work load and methods of delivery. Carefully gathering this information will help you make informed decisions and find a good fit your online learning goals.
4. Secure reliable access to required technology. Course materials and interaction for each MOOC may be delivered in different ways – video lectures, discussion forums, social networking sites – but all require the use of reliable technology. Borrowing a friend’s computer or using the local library’s public wifi may not be sufficient to keep up with a MOOC’s demands.
5. Set aside dedicated time for study. Putting yourself on a schedule will help create a routine, encourage your mind to shift gears from your other responsibilities, and will give you a better chance at staying on the MOOC’s set schedule.
6. Create a dedicated space for learning. You do not need a fancy desk or a home office, but creating a space where all of your learning materials are located will help in keeping you focused and organized. Having everything at your fingertips will also help make your time more efficient, which is a concern for many who are trying to fit education into their daily lives.
7. Connect with others in the MOOC. Interaction and discussion are often required components of a MOOC, but connecting with other students online outside of “class time” can be beneficial in creating a kind of buddy system. Talking through certain challenges or clearing up areas of confusion of a given class can help keep you motivated and on task.
8. Journal your experience. Your MOOC will likely require some kind of assessment of what you have been learning, but it could be helpful on a more personal level to take notes on your experience with the class. What has impacted you most about this MOOC? How has your perspective on this topic or field of study changed? Do you think it will influence any further coursework, or any changes to your career? Having a record of your thoughts and impressions can help you evaluate your progress as you go, and help you make decisions about your educational future.
[Share your experience by reviewing your MOOC on LearningAdvisor.com]
9. Go with the flow. When you first start out, it can be difficult to find your groove with online learning. The pace and format may not be what you expected, and you may experience fluctuations in availability and interest. The key is to ride out these waves, and remind yourself of your educational goals. You might need to make minor adjustments to your approach if difficulties with your MOOC persist, but sticking with the course through its completion will teach you a lot more than just the class material.
10. Reward yourself. Completing a MOOC is no small task. When you choose online learning, you are embarking on a path that requires a great deal of self-discipline and dedication. Find something meaningful to you, and then reward yourself with it when your class is done.
[Have you enjoyed a MOOC? Why not consider an online degree?]
MOOCs provide vast learning opportunities not previously enjoyed by individuals unable to study on campus or in class. With some dedicated effort, online students can achieve great things through a MOOC and move towards larger goals for their education and their future.
Stacey Nerdin is a freelance writer and professional blogger living near Portland, Oregon. When not busy with her four kids at home or sending packages (and money) to her daughter at college, Stacey enjoys reading, technology, her DVR, and naps.