A recent innovation in higher education distance learning that is picking up steam in both popularity and credibility is the availability of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Designed to make quality learning accessible to anyone globally, MOOCs consist of higher education courses on a variety of topics offered online, for free. Since 2008, this open online learning movement has been advanced by several esteemed institutions of higher education including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University. Students taking MOOCs do not need formal admission to an institution or fulfill prerequisite requirements. MOOCs level educational accessibility across countries, cultures, and economies.
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I’ve taken a MOOC as my own school district has recently started accepting them as part of teachers’ annual professional learning requirements. From my experience, I’ve concluded there are critical points to note to find success in taking open university courses.
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1. Define your purpose and expectations for taking a MOOC. Ask yourself why you want to take the course. Is it simply for lifelong learning of a passion or hobby? Is it for professional or career advancement? If your answer is the latter, make sure you clearly understand that, even though they are offered by higher education institutions, most MOOCs are not available for college credit or credit towards completion of a degree or professional certification.
2. Assess the time and effort you are able to invest in taking the course. Make sure you have the time and interest to commit in completing the course. Don’t register for a MOOC knowing you probably will decide to quit the course before it is finished. You will gain no educational experience or acquire new skills if you quit.
3. Research what types of courses are out there. There is a wide array of course content available through MOOCs being offered by numerous high quality higher education institutions and platforms. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are the easiest platforms to start with in finding free online courses from institutions across the nation. Examples of the array of course topics include genetics and evolution, calculus, risk management, web development, and even guitar.
4. Ensure that the course/platform meet your expectations. If you are looking to learn specific skills or knowledge sets from a MOOC, carefully review the requirements, pacing, syllabus and interactive opportunities to determine if it is the right fit for you. Your employer may also grant professional credit and value towards your completion of a MOOC. Double check how your employer may value your completion of a MOOC. You may be acquiring skills and knowledge that can help further your career.
5. Make sure you have all tech specifications to take the course. Because of the nature of online learning, All MOOCs require access to a computer and internet. If your employer allows you to complete work on the course during your contract hours, ensure the site for the platform you are using isn’t blocked by internet filters and that bandwidth isn’t an issue for access.
6. Have self-discipline. Make a consistent time to work on the course on a daily or every other day basis. It can be easy to fall behind on course requirements if you don’t follow a routine schedule just as you would in a face-to-face environment. Just because it is free doesn’t mean that it is easy.
7. Treat the course as you would if this was a face-to-face college course. Remember that these courses are being designed, offered and delivered from esteemed universities and professors around the nation. Have a mature approach to learning the content, ask questions when possible, complete all work and assessments with personal effort, and complete work on time.
8. Engage when/if possible. Participate in the online discussion forums and other available opportunities for interaction and learning. One advantage of taking a MOOC is that you are in a global classroom of thousands from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and cultures.
9. Provide feedback on what value you found in the course. Professors and the universities that are offering MOOCs need to know how successful the course was to you. Don’t only offer ways to improve the course, but inform them of what you found valuable with it. The online learning movement is so new, they’ll appreciate your support in driving it to further success for the global masses.
10. Don’t let the learning stop after you’ve taken the course. Evaluate what skills/knowledge you’ve gained and apply it where possible. Include newly acquired skills on your resume. See how these skills can advance your career. You may be inspired to take more MOOCs, paid courses, or enroll in a degree program.
I strongly suggest you take advantage of these opportunities for education through online learning. It is an amazing opportunity to fulfill your own lifelong learning.