What is a MOOC?

A MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, is a free, virtual college class available either through a university’s own website or an external website like Coursera or edX. The goal of these courses is to offer the material typically found only in college classrooms to anyone with an internet connection. While no actual college credit is typically awarded for completing one of these courses, many parent institutions provide a certificate of completion (for a fee) and a final grade to their online students. Here is some information on online education that you may find useful.

With upwards of 10,000 students per class and little—if any—contact with your professor, why should you enroll in a MOOC? Review the below reasons many students opt for MOOCs, and then decide if these courses fit within your academic plan.

1. To preview the content of a class or subject

Many MOOCs serve as useful introductions to a given field. Coursera, for example, offers a class entitled, “Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health.” Designed to be a public health primer, the course lasts just six weeks and has no prerequisites. Classes like these are a wonderful way to determine if you have an interest in a subject before you invest your tuition money, in-class time, and a space on your transcript to a course in that field. This is some great information on the rise on online college courses.

2. To refresh the material learned in a previous course

Did you take Calculus I in the first semester of your freshman year of college, but you did not schedule Calculus II until the second semester of your sophomore year? Many students in situations such as these rely upon MOOCs to review the material they have previously. They are then prepared to complete a higher-level class in that subject.

3. To pursue an outside interest that is not offered at your school

Even with the comprehensive list of courses that the majority of colleges and universities publish today, students are occasionally unable to explore all of their academic interests. If you attend a small liberal arts college, for example, classes like “Financial Markets” (available through Yale University on Coursera) may be difficult to find. With MOOCs, you possess the opportunity to learn material not found on your own campus.

4. To enhance a resume

Earning a certificate of completion is a concrete method of proving that you have learned enough in a course to pass a college class in that subject. Certain students take a specific MOOC to demonstrate their capabilities to future employers and college or graduate school admissions officers. Here is some great information on how to create your first resume.

5. To challenge yourself

Without any academic penalty, students in MOOCs are encouraged to enroll in courses outside their comfort zones. Unlike classes that are recorded on your transcript, MOOCs emphasize progressive learning and understanding over mastery, and they allow students the freedom to learn without the pressure of performing perfectly.

6. Flexibility

Because they are online, lectures and problem sets can be completed according to the student’s schedule. Students can also take as many or as few courses as they wish without penalty, and they are able to drop or add a class frequently.

If you are searching for an educational experience focused on furthering your own knowledge with an emphasis on progress, a MOOC might be right for you. The most popular MOOC websites are Coursera.org and Edx.org, but remember that individual universities (like MIT) also maintain their own websites. MOOCs allow you to become an independent learner in a global community, and for some students, being one of 10,000 represents an ideal learning opportunity.