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Professional Development Opportunities Through MOOCs

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Professional Development Opportunities Through MOOCs

In the digital age, we have found near-instantaneous ways to disseminate and intake relevant information. You can regularly hear the phrase, “Google it” uttered in a casual conversation. 81% of U.S. adults have a smartphone and 73% have access to the internet from the comfort of their homes. College has transformed from a structured, brick-and-mortar experience to a fully virtual, distance-learning enterprise. And taking that idea even further is the idea of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.

What is a MOOC?

If you’ve never heard of the term MOOC, it is an open-access learning course with (typically) free, unlimited participation to anyone with access to the internet.

Websites such as edX, coursera, P2PU, and others, have an array of interactive, communal-learning options to choose from. While you always have the option to enroll in most courses for free, by paying a small fee you can unlock additional content, and if desired, receive a completion certificate. Full certifications or specialty degree programs are also offered, but those will have more expensive fees attached to them.

MOOCs first came into existence in 2008 and morphed to full-power when The New York Times deemed 2012 “The Year of MOOC.” The main idea with these courses is that some of the best education in the world is readily available to anyone who seeks it out.

Classes are offered on an audit-like basis from any number of higher education institutions. Harvard offers courses in anything from anatomy to 19th-century opera to entrepreneurship, and beyond. You can enroll in a course about cybersecurity from MIT or cryptography from Stanford. Google conducts courses covering GitHub and Python, and even offers full certifications in IT support. The possibilities are vast and varied.

What you can expect is best described as an (often) self-paced barrage of useful data. The courses hold traditional material (like filmed lectures, suggested reading, comprehension questions, etc). But you also have the option to interact with other uses, create social media discussions, and provide feedback. You have to be self-motivated and accepting of the fact that it is an imperfect system.

The main question you may have is, why take one? The answer is simple: professional development. Add new, valuable skills to your resume, further learning in an area you already have some knowledge in, or simply showcase your ability to be a continuous learner to a potential employer. At minimum, it can be a great conversation point during an interview.

The Positives of MOOC’s

  • The structure provides easy access to higher education opportunities. Some organizations even offer full degree or simple certification programs (mostly in technology-related fields).
  • It’s Free(ish). The courses themselves are free in almost all circumstances. But if you wish to have a certificate to prove your completion, the average cost is between $25 to $50 depending on length and the organization offering the course. It’s more if you wish to do the full programs.
  • Allows for a flexible schedule. Most courses are self-paced. You can sit and do the entire thing in one go, or you can set a personal daily/weekly limit.
  • Provides a collaborative learning and sharing environment. People from around the world attend these courses. In addition to getting insight from differing perspectives, simply attending the course can allow you to add “team-player” or “networking pro” to your resume.

MOOC Drawbacks

  • Some users feel that the environment may allow for inconsistencies, ie: cheating, erroneous grading, lack of instructor connection/feedback, etc.
  • The time and effort it takes to complete some courses may be asking too much for a free online course. Students must be able to self-manage and follow-through.
  • Must have basic understanding of digital/technological learning.
  • Retention can be an issue. One bit of data said that 46,000 people enrolled in a software engineering course, but only 13,000 completed it.
  • Some higher education professionals fear that this structure will create two classes of learning: well-funded, substantial universities vs. value-pack, cookie-cutter institutions.

Ultimately, education should be attainable for all.  Any opportunity to learn, add skill sets to your resume, or simply expand your worldview is a great thing.  Even better when it is at virtually no monetary cost to you.

Even if you use the MOOC platform to dip your toe into a new endeavor before deciding to enroll in a higher education institution, it can be a useful tool to consider if you have a bit of free time on your hands.