As a college professor, I wholeheartedly believe in open learning: all who want to take part in a college course should be able to. However, due to many reasons (distance, resources, money), lots of adults think learning at a university level is unobtainable. Enter massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are open university courses that help any type of student learn a variety of topics. Basically, they’re online courses that allow students to log on and listen to a lecture from many of the world’s most prominent lecturers.
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My favorite MOOC platform is through MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley called edX. edX is a nonprofit (aka free!) virtual university. You do not receive college credit for the courses, but you can register and then immediately choose from hundreds of topics and classes that have been categorized on the website. Think of it as TedTalks, but in course-form. You “take” the course online around your own schedule throughout the semester with other students who registered online too. To get the most out of an MOOC, you should be interactive: follow along with the lectures, do the homework or activities, and keep up with the material. If you complete the course, you receive a certificate that shows you finished the course. Remember, this is a free college course, available to anybody with an internet connection who wants to advance their own knowledge. Imagine how informed the world could be!
So how do you figure out which MOOCs to take? My advice is to decide why you’re taking the open online course in the first place. Are you trying to have a better grasp on the information that your new employer specializes in, or do you just want to learn more about a topic of interest? If you think the MOOC certification could be professionally relevant, go for it! If you just want to further your knowledge about The Ancient Greek Hero, Artificial Intelligence, or Statistics (my favorite!), go for it as well! If you can find an immediate practical use for a course you could take, the better your time will be spent. However if you’re just looking to learn more about something fun, your time will also be well used. Knowledge is always power, regardless of what you decide to use it for!
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Overall, MOOC and edX’s biggest advantages are that they’re online (so that you can work around your work and home schedule) and they’re free (so that anybody can take them). Professors who lecture at large, prestigious universities are available at the click of a button, so that anyone with an internet connection can learn from the greatest minds these universities have to offer. The only disadvantage that I can see is depending on the success of MOOCs, I could eventually be out of a job! The future, however, is clear: open online courses are the new great ways to offer university education to a large audience for free.
What course are you going to take next?!
Sarah is a mid-20s PhD candidate in Behavioral Neuroscience at a southern Baptist university. Originally a Pacific Northwesterner, Sarah now lives in Waco, Texas teaching statistics and conducting research.