Demystifying MOOCs – Part 1


MOOCs are now no different from products which we buy online, when it comes to the choices offered. Similar to online products, there are now numerous courses from institutions across the globe. In fact, since most MOOCs are free, there is now a confusion in the minds of the learners. For instance, a potential learner may have these queries in mind:

  1. Which MOOC should I take, given the numerous choices from various prestigious institutes and Universities?
  2. If two universities (or institutions) are offering the same kind of course, which one do I select?
  3. How does a MOOC help me? Should I take a MOOC which helps me professionally or should I take the one which is closer to my heart (for example, music)?
  4. Is there any tangible benefit of completing a MOOC?
  5. Will a particular MOOC help me in getting promotion or a hike?
  6. How should I judge a MOOC?
  7. Is MOOC recognized globally?

(Before I get deeper into this, I suggest you know what kind of learner you are, by reading my previous blog.)

I will try to address the first two questions in this blog.

Which MOOC should I take, given the numerous choices from various institutes and Universities?

First of all, it is obvious that learners take up the course based on their interest. But given the volume of choices, a learner may feel that he/she has interest in various courses. For instance, a student of computer science may be interested in courses like Java, HTML, SQL and Database management. A marketing student may be interested in courses like marketing basics, advertising, brand management, sales management, and so on. Given this, it is obvious that potential learners may end up enrolling for more than two or three MOOCs and complete none! It is because, each MOOC requires at least 3-4 hours of effort every week (in some cases, it is even more). Now, if a learner takes more than 2 courses at a time, his or her learning will be dis-organised, they may not be able to spend adequate hours of study and finally may end up doing haphazard work which leads nowhere.

So let’s try to find solution for this.

A) If the learner is looking at professional benefit, the best way to solve this issue is to have clear long term and short term learning objectives and these two should have a strong link. Let me give you an example. Suppose my overall goal (long term objective) is to be an expert in the field of organisational behaviour. Then, my short term learning objective should include two steps:

  1. Completing two or three individual courses (MOOCs) in this area such as organisational behaviour, people management, applied psychology, human resource management, leadership, emotional intelligence, etc. (but, as mentioned before, these should be taken one at a time or max two at a time). I may take these courses from same provider or from different providers (such as edX, Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, Future-Learn, etc.)
  2. Completing one bundled online program such as X-series (from edX), Nano degree (from Udacity), Specialization (from Coursera) or similar program from other providers.

While working towards the above, it is recommended to complete the first step before taking up the second step (though not compulsory). It is because a learner will get some experience in learning online before he or she takes up the ‘package’ course.

B) Some learners may not be looking at professional benefit from the MOOCs. Their purpose may be to:

  • learn something new (for instance, music)
  • gain more insight into the subject which they are already aware of
  • get some ideas to solve some issue or problem (example, analytics)
  • explore new possibilities (for instance, photography)

These kind of learners may take any course without worrying about their overall goal. They also need not worry about the sequence of courses or the ‘specialization’ programs. Individual courses will suffice.
Now let us address the second question.

If two universities (or institutions) are offering the same kind of course (at the same time), which one do I select?

Let me answer this question by counter questioning you “Which brand do you prefer while buying a product or service?”. Naturally your answer lies in considering various factors such as reputation of the brand, the product & service quality, the popularity of the brand, etc. Selecting a MOOC is no different. It is natural to select the course from reputed institution or University. However, I would suggest some additional parameters.

  • First, look at the reviews by learners from previous re-run of the course (if any). This is the best way to judge a course and make the right decision.
  • Second, select a course that is relevant to your place of work (or country). For instance, if there is a course on ‘Taxation’ by Universities from two different countries, it does not make sense to select the one that does not apply in your country, unless you intentionally wish to learn that.
  • Third, always ensure that the course suits your needs and learning style. For this, I recommend that you check the course syllabus, course duration, pre-requisites if any, course format, amount of learning effort needed and the kind of certificates the course offers.

I hope you find this useful. In my next post, I will try to address next set of questions.

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