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How to choose a MOOC

Updated on June 23, 2013

How to choose the right MOOC for your needs.

A MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), is an online University course. Courses are available free or low cost, from some of the largest and most prestigious Universities in the world, through various portals.

The erruption of MOOC learning, which is available to anybody with an Internet connection, has lead educators to rethink classical educational theories and standards, as doors are now wide open to anybody. This is a huge global shift, and is a very exciting time!

Read below how in-class, on campus students and some Universities are coping, and decide which MOOCs are right for you!

I have also included modules for teachers and instructors as well, on how to MOOCify your courses, with lit. links and video. I'd love your feedback!

Thanks to MOOCS, I am studying Computer Science at Harvard, and am currently a visiting summer student at the University of London. Two years ago, this was only a dream, the future is wide open!

MOOCs the future of education

Which one is right for you?

So you have decided to sign on for an online course! Hurray!

This is an exciting time in education. (I can't say that enough!)

In order to decide which courses are right for you, first ask yourself why you are going to enrol in a MOOC. Below are a few reasons:

- Upgrade

- Receive certification

- Learn a new skill

- Fill in some gaps you have in education or business

- Maybe you have a strict schedule with only specific study hours available

- Curiosity

You may have other reasons, but once you have decided why you want to enrol, this will help you decide which courses will be right for you and finally choose your courses from the Portal list below!

For me, I wanted to learn a new skill from one of the top Universities. It was also my goal to transfer to become a regular (enrolled/paying) student after I had upgraded my skills, and also, to actually try a course to see if I liked it, without having to worry about enrolment and course drop fees.

So now we can move on to some other considerations.

Choosing your courses - Some things to consider

There are a number of important factors to consider when choosing your courses.

~ If you are upgrading, you will need to take specific courses, and moreover if you are hoping to transfer credits, check with both the MOOC as well as your other educational institution to see if this is possible. In my first course, there were thousands of students, from all over the world. Many were students who wanted to move to the USA to work, or continue their schooling. Many were not aware that most MOOC credits were NOT transferable to other institutions.

~ MOOCs vary in length and intensity. Some courses are re-wriiten or written specifically for on-line learners (of shorter length ie: a few weeks, with only a few hours of study needed each week), and some are not. When I signed up for my first course, it was a new skill, and a rigorous schedule. I had no idea how difficult it would be and I did not allow myself enough time. I believe the syllabus said 10-15 hours a week, but it was actually about 20-30 some weeks with the learning curve! This is really important to consider, especially if you are taking a MOOC alongside a full time job or other in- person classes.

~ Many MOOCs come in different languages, make sure it comes in yours!

~ Are you an independent learner? Although MOOCs have student 'Forums' where you can post ideas and questions, with staff and peers assisting, you are still basically on your own. I joined three Facebook groups for my class, and I don't know if I could have made it through without my classmates there (only .9 of our class received certificates!), so knowing how to reach out and find support is really important.

In some places though, as you can read in the articles I have posted, community centres and libraries etc, are organizing 'study groups' as well, you can check to see if there is one in your area, or set one up yourself! Sometimes just having someone to go over a problem with in real life can be a big help.

~ This goes along with time commitment, but I want to say it anyway, because when I saw all the courses available I was like a kid in a candy store! But, resist! Don't overload yourself. Courses will always be available, and it is better to put your full attention on one thing, rather than being stressed and spreading yourself too thin.

~ Ensure you have access to the computer hardware and software requirements. If you are not sure, check the syllabus and/or ask at the start of the course. Although many of the courses have downloadable programs to use, many students I found, either did not have the correct system requirements or enough disk space to do the required work. This was not only for my CS courses, but for Audio courses etc, as well.

~ Are you a patient person? With classes that have thousands of students, it is just not possible for staff and instructors to answer everybody's questions in a timely manner. I saw a lot of frustration from students if they did not receive immediate answers to questions or problems. The staff to student ratio is really poor, so be patient, ask other students first and search for answers on your own, because in some courses you may never get an answer.

Also remember, these are all brand new platforms! I know as I was going along in my first Harvard course, adjustments were being made constantly to software, systems and the course itself. We're all learning to do this together!

~ ***notes to myself - Don't forget to make time to eat and sleep! ;-)

Time management - An important factor in choosing your course(s)

A video made by a MOOC student

Peer Support - A classmate of mine made this Study Room App

Having the study room available was an amazing help, and a great place to meet with fellow students!

Things that will make your student life easier!

Checklist - Important things to look for when choosing your MOOCs

1) Look to see if the course gives a certificate, if that is what you are after. (Some courses will charge for this around 50$ USD). A certificate is a great show of accomplishment, and can also be attached to your resume or CV.

2) Look to see what the suggested 'time commitment' is, in hours-per-week. You will know your available time, but remember if you are learning something brand new, or taking a very difficult course, especially if it has 'hard' deadlines, you may need to allow yourself a lot of extra time.

3) Ensure the class comes in your language of choice.

4) Check to see if your credits are transferable, if that is what you are needing.

5) Check for study groups or 'meet-ups' in your local area. Check social media and the course forums to see if there are on-line sites or study groups available to you.

6) Consider the financial cost. Is the course free? Will you have to pay for the certificate? Will you need to upgrade your computer?

Student to student, a few tips for success

These are a few things I learned vis trial and error in my first MOOCs

1) Even though your lectures are on-line, which makes them really easy to scroll back through, and even though you may be able to print the lecture transcripts, TAKING NOTES BY HAND INCREASES INFORMATION RETENTION. I knew that back in university 20 years ago, but thought I was above it in MOOCs. NOT the case! Take notes, just do it.

2) Time management is HUGE! remember you have to work, eat, sleep, do your other course(s) and have a life! My first course was really difficult, and right at exam time I had a new course just beginning! It was poor planning all around and made things very stressful. So check your calendar for special occasions coming up, holidays, and exams schedules as you are deciding on which MOOCs to take!

3) Set up a 'study space' for yourself. Let your family know when you are there, you are not to be disturbed. It is the same ideas as working at home, you want to be able to walk away from your 'office' and into your home, so make sure there is some kind of clear distinction. You don't need to add another room, if you are short on space, just make sure you can put your things out of sight when you are done for the day.

3) Remember it is all worth it. The headaches, the stressful sleepless nights and cranky exam taking days, ask your family to forgive you and hang on a bit longer. Afterwards you will be a brand new person - the acquisition of knowledge and accomplishment is THAT great - I promise;-)

4) Ask me anything, I am a part of your MOOC network!

Have you taken an Online or Distance Ed course?

See results

For teachers, students, parents and everybody else! - Learning in the digital age

This is such an important topic, it will be well worth your time to watch this. It's an hour long, so grab a cup of tea and sit back and take it in. It really is an amazing age we are in, and the more information you have now, the more likely you and/or your kids or your class can hit the ground running!

For Teachers - The potential for teachers is huge!

Imagine you are a teacher, anywhere in the world, you now have access to course plans, teaching videos, lectures, materials, quizzes and assignments all at your fingertips.

Teachers - How to MOOCify your courses - Part of an online seminar

Although this seminar will be over by the time you read this, I thought it was important to include as it gives a good outline for starting to think about how you can MOOCify your existing on-ground courses, and open up peer discussion.

We are in the fourth great age - the Digital Age

GSV EDU Education Innovation Summit 2013 - 'Duking it out with the MOOCs'

Here are some archived videos from the Livestream conference!

A bit of inspiration to get you started - We are really all connected and MOOCs are giving us the power to make change!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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    • JennAshton profile image
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      Jenn Ashton 3 years ago from Canada

      @Old Navy Guy: Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Old Navy Guy profile image

      Old Navy Guy 3 years ago

      You have provided some really great information on a very little talked of opportunity. Online classes are really great, but organization and discipline are the key. Cheers