Advice from a MOOC Dropout: MOOCs Don’t Take Themselves

Advice from a MOOC Dropout: MOOCs Don't Take Themselves

MOOC, or “Massive, online, open course,” The open-source, high-enrollment great-great (at least) grandchild of the correspondence courses that taught our ancestors shorthand, it’s a high-volume cousin of the myriad online learning options of the 2000s.

I signed up for a MOOC last year, through Stanford free online courses. The title, “Crash Course in Creativity,” sucked me in. Registration, at, was easy, and I was in.

I’d love to tell you that I aced it, connected with students from around the world, and created an amazing project garnering attention from notable professors and digital luminaries.

I can’t. Because in spite of the best intentions, I completed none of the coursework, because, busy building a brand-new business, I didn’t have time.

The hard truth of online courses, large or small, is that, yes, they take time– time a lot of us don’t really have. Here are a few tips to mesh MOOCs and time management:

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1. Honestly assess if you have the time or not.

When I signed up for the Stanford MOOC, I didn’t. But the title was awesome, and the content looked great. I’m ever distracted by shiny things on the internet, and that I just couldn’t fit it in didn’t register until I was receiving e-mails from real people asking me what I wanted to do about projects.

So I ended up with another e-mail to respond to sheepishly, and another unsubscribe process if I wanted to remove myself from the organizers’ administrative load (a kind thing to do.) I did not need this, they didn’t, and neither do you.

2. Does the MOOC topic motivate you to devote your time to taking it?

Now that I’m working for myself, I realize just how much money and energy that time actually costs. Anything I choose to do — a class, workout, social activity, especially during business hours — is a potential drain on my earning potential.

But as a longtime teacher and a lifelong learner, I support learning what you can, when you can. If a MOOC fit my current needs well, say website design, or gives me an opportunity to network with a potential clients or colleagues, or helped me fill in an academic credit gap (many colleges and universities are looking into credit-bearing MOOCs now due to space and budget constraints) maybe it would be worth some juggling. Balancing your current needs with MOOC topics for a good fit — especially if it makes your daily life easier and/or more effective — may make it worth what time you may be shaving from other places.

2. Do you understand the technology?

The vast educational tech world may be unfamiliar to even those used to daily internetting. There’s no shame in this. Every industry has its own lingo and tools offline, and the same is true in the digital space. Investigate the access requirements of the course. Do you have to log in daily? With what programs do you access materials? How do you consume — and potentially produce — multimedia?

The electronic world opens up a whole new list of requirements for learners beyond a notebook and a pen. It’s frustrating to get into the first week of a course and realize you have no idea how to even say hello to classmates, or submit work. Be clear on this going in, so you don’t waste time down the road and get discouraged.

3. What are your assignment/production requirements?

I didn’t investigate this enough in my first MOOC foray, and it turned out that what was expected (and rightfully so, given the scope of the course) was more than I had time or bandwidth to put out. What are you required to do, and by when? Knowing this ahead of time can help you decide if it’s realistic for you.

4. Will your potential lack of participation have a negative effect on other students?

Group work, sometimes a challenge in offline courses, can be even moreso online. People exist in the ether, and can quickly disappear into it. If you’re not concerned about the impact on yourself of bailing on a course, consider that it disrupts others’ experiences if you don’t show, disappear with your part of a group project, or drop out entirely. Don’t be that person.

5. Do you really want to take this class?

One of my basic observations in my many years of teaching is that a motivated student trumps most obstacles. If you are hungry for the information, especially if it will help you in your life and/or work, you will figure out a way to fit it in. Had I signed up for a MOOC that taught me how to do my business accounting in October, I guarantee I would have signed in daily. It’s not that the Stanford MOOC wasn’t great. It was me.

While this experience didn’t leave me feeling good about myself, it left me excited about the potential of the MOOC, like other online learning options I’ve tried, to widen the educational playing field for people who not only desire, but need, all kinds of learning options. I look forward to trying again, with a better fit, clearer vision, and more effort when the time is right.

Have you taken a MOOC? Review your course on LearningAdvisor!

Laurie White

Laurie White

Laurie, aka LaurieWrites, was born a small sedentary child who spent her formative years in the partial care of Sid & Marty Kroftt, the Superfriends and Julie, the Love Boat cruise director. While other kids wanted Jordache jeans for their birthdays, she asked for and received an annual subscription to People Magazine.

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