6 Questions about MOOCs You May Be Afraid to Ask

Starting your first MOOC can be a daunting task. It's easy to scroll through and explore the different available free courses, but actually beginning is a whole different story. Some of the most frequent questions before starting a MOOC include:  What is a MOOC? A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course at the college or graduate level available to anyone who has access to the Internet.  Age participation ranges from the 9 to 87 (but could be even larger).  Don’t worry about the 9 year olds; you would never know it unless they tell you.  Typically, there is no charge for a MOOC, except if you elect to take a Signature Track (see question 2).    [READ: Virtual College Makes it Easier for Mom to Stay on Top of Her Game]  What is the signature track?   The Signature Track is available with some courses, and if you pass the class you will receive a Certificate of Merit.  This can be used on resumes, within online profiles, or to sure up you skill set.  These typically run between $30 and $60.  You can “audit” the class for free, but may not get a certificate, even if you pass.  Currently there are less than 10 “publishers” who offer these courses worldwide.  Each varies on pricing and certificates.   How much work is there?   The amount of work varies depending on the length of the course, the subject, and requirements of the professor. The description will tell you approximately how much time you will need to put into the class.  However, I have found this varies from class to class, your background in the subject, and how much you want to get out of the course.  I have seen time requirements from 4 to 14 hours a week.  If you really want to get the most from the course double this time commitment.  [What MOOC should you take? Check out our advice for choosing a MOOC.]   How should I use the forums?   The Forums are a place where students and teachers meet to discuss all types of subjects from the lesson on a given week, agreements, disagreements, theories, extra articles and videos, etc.  You can find almost anything on the Forums around the course.  Don’t get discourage by some “outrageous” posts.  Just ignore them and move on.  You know it is the 15 minutes (or I should say seconds) of fame.  According to Wikipedia.org, “In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)   What are the quizzes and written assignments like?   Each course can offer short form quizzes that are embedded in the lectures (doesn’t count toward your grade) and formal quizzes from 15 to 30 multiple choice questions.  Some professors let you take the quizzes a few times with no grade penalty, while others will knock 20% off that particular score.  The written assignments are intellectually engagingand most people really enjoy them.  However, they are graded by 5 of your peers (and you also get to grade 5 of your peers).  Thereis a lot of arguing about these grades, but typically the lowest grade is thrown out, you can have a TA review the grades, or you can choose to look at what folks are trying to tell you by the score and comments (difficult to take, but very educational).  How do I get started?   Check out MOOCAdvisor for MOOC reviews, news, and advice to learn if MOOCs are right for you.

updated February 2, 2014

Starting your first MOOC can be a daunting task. It’s easy to scroll through and explore the all the possible free courses, but actually beginning is another story. Some of the most frequently asked questions before starting a MOOC include:

[Find free online courses at Kaplan Open Learning.]

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course at the college or graduate level available to anyone who has access to the Internet.  Age participation ranges from the 9 to 87 (but could be even larger).  Don’t worry about the 9 year olds; you would never know it unless they tell you.  Typically, there is no charge for a MOOC, except if you elect to take a Signature Track (see question 2).

[Read: Virtual College Makes It Easier for Mom to Stay on Top of Her Game]

What is the signature track?

The Signature Track is available with some courses, and if you pass the class you will receive a Certificate of Merit.  This can be used on resumes, within online profiles, or to sure up you skill set.  These typically run between $30 and $60.  You can “audit” the class for free, but may not get a certificate, even if you pass.  Currently there are less than 10 “publishers” who offer these courses worldwide.  Each varies on pricing and certificates.

How much work is there?

The amount of work varies depending on the length of the course, the subject, and requirements of the professor. The description will tell you approximately how much time you will need to put into the class.  However, I have found this varies from class to class, your background in the subject, and how much you want to get out of the course.  I have seen time requirements from 4 to 14 hours a week.  If you really want to get the most from the course double this time commitment.

[What MOOC should you take? Check out our advice for choosing a MOOC.]

How should I use the forums?

The forums are a place where students and teachers meet to discuss all types of subjects from the lesson on a given week, agreements, disagreements, theories, extra articles and videos, etc.  You can find almost anything on the forums around the course.  Don’t get discourage by some “outrageous” posts.  Just ignore them and move on. You know it is the 15 minutes (or I should say seconds) of fame. According to Wikipedia.org, “In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.”

What are the quizzes and written assignments like?

Each course can offer short form quizzes that are embedded in the lectures (doesn’t count toward your grade) and formal quizzes from 15 to 30 multiple choice questions.  Some professors let you take the quizzes a few times with no grade penalty, while others will knock 20% off that particular score.  The written assignments are intellectually engaging and most people really enjoy them.  However, they are graded by 5 of your peers (and you also get to grade 5 of your peers).  There is a lot of arguing about these grades, but typically the lowest grade is thrown out, you can have a TA review the grades, or you can choose to look at what folks are trying to tell you by the score and comments (difficult to take, but very educational).

How do I get started?

Check out LearningAdvisor for MOOC reviews, news, and advice to learn if MOOCs are right for you.

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