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Are MOOC's Right For You? How to Evaluate Your Options

May 15, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are usually free, with no enrollment limit and open for anyone to attend online. Thousands of students might be enrolled in a single MOOC—which means that, although you might have to read, watch lectures, and even do homework, you don’t get evaluated or any attention from the professor. This might seem like a less-than-ideal situation—but some MOOC’s are offered by professors at Yale, Stanford, and MIT.

So should you take a MOOC—over another type of online learning or earning an accredited online degree? The answer depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s an overview of types of learners—and whether a MOOC is right for them.

Lifelong learners

If you just like to learn and are not looking for career advancement or a degree, a MOOC may be ideal for you. It’s flexible, you can drop in or out as you see fit, and requires little commitment or monetary investment on your part. If you find the current MOOC you’re taking isn’t meeting your needs, you can move on to another one. MOOC’s are free or cheap and flexible in all—making them a better option than investing in a new degree program for the casual learner.

People who want to learn a skill

If you need to learn a skill for either a professional or personal project, MOOC’s may or may not be right for you. According to a study completed in 2013 by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, only approximately 4% of enrolled students completed MOOC’s they enrolled in—and engagement in the course tended to drop noticeably after the first week or two after enrollment. This could indicate that in their current form, most MOOC’s don’t do a good job of engaging and educating students—although on a case-by-case basis, what doesn’t work for one student might be perfect for another.

Workers who want to advance

If you want to advance in your career or stand out in the job market, however, MOOC’s may not be the best option. They generally do not provide a credential that has value on the job market. Although some do offer verifications of completion or certifications, many employers do not recognize or understand them—although this is not true for all employers. However, if you need a job- or career-specific qualifications, it’s best to choose education organizations that are recognized in your industry.

People who need a degree

Most MOOC’s do not count toward any type of degree, although a small handful of schools have experimented with offering them for college credit. This may change, however; recently the American Council on Education designated five Coursera MOOC’s as deserving of college credit. This may give more schools the impetus they need to start offering these classes—mainly in science and math—for credit in the future.

If you’ve decided you do want to go with a MOOC instead of other online or traditional options, it’s best to take an objective look at the programs available. Look for programs that have experienced instructors, and those that offer a platform and learning style that works for you. You may have to try several classes before you find one that works for your goals and your learning style.

MOOC’s can be a great option for the casual learner or for those who don’t need a certification or degree. However, if you are looking for a class that will help you advance a career or earn a degree, MOOC’s are generally not the best option out there for online learning. Look into more traditional accredited online degree programs—and you’re more likely to find something that meets your needs.

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