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Everything You Need to Know About MOOCs to Make the Right Move

MOOCsYou do everything online these days—watch TV, order take-out, pay bills, tweet about life, maybe even buy groceries. Because you’re so well-connected, you’ve probably considered taking a few classes here and there, if not totally finishing your degree online. And it makes sense: If you’re on the computer a lot anyway, why not? You already have the computer skills.

You have a lot of options when it comes to online coursework. One of the most popular options are called MOOCs, or massive online open courses. MOOCs are online courses that aim to bring education to more people than can fit into even the largest campus lecture hall—usually for free, and with no college credit offered. Participants watch video lectures in the comfort of their home and often complete homework, take exams or participate in online discussions weekly.

If you think MOOCs sound interesting, there are many options you can check out.

But you probably have questions that need answers before jumping right in. You probably also want a bit of assurance that the experience will be different than when you were enrolled in a traditional setting. Don’t worry. We have the answers you're seeking.

What are the pros & cons of MOOCs?

By now you might be thinking that MOOCs sound perfect for you. That might be the case, but everything has pros and cons, MOOCs included. We tracked down sources—including people who’ve taken MOOCs—to give you the scoop on the key advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of MOOCs

  • Online learning helps you use technology to your advantage, says Brooke Lustig of ePrepz. Lustig says it gives students the ability to learn without having to be in a classroom. That usually means there’s time flexibility, too. So if you’d rather meet some friends for happy hour after work, your MOOC can wait.
  • MOOCs might help if you’re between jobs. You’ll show employers that you’re dedicated to learning and gaining new skills, says Kennedy Schultz, founder of Explor-A-World, a site that focuses on children and language learning.
  • You can take MOOCs on nearly any subject. Unlike with traditional education, where you might only be able to choose between a few courses, there’s no one to say that you can’t take a politics class just because you’re a health sciences major.

Cons of MOOCs

  • You likely won’t earn college credit, no matter how well you perform in the MOOC. This is changing though, and it depends on the school, so be sure to check with your institution of choice.
  • You have to be self-motivated to complete MOOCs. “Unless you do the required reading, watching, exams and any projects, the class will be as effective as if you never went,” says Robert Linder, president of Emerald Marine Products. Linder’s taken two MOOCs and admits he didn’t take advantage of all that was offered. He also says that his experience would have improved if he had gone the extra mile in class.
  • In most cases, you’ll have no one-on-one time with the professor, in-person or otherwise. The New York Times reports that tens of thousands of people can participate in any one class, so it would be nearly impossible for the professor to talk to everyone individually.

Who uses MOOCs?

A traditional college experience can have a variety of barriers, from physical location to difficult entrance exams. MOOCs, however, generally let anyone sign up. Anyone who has reliable access to the Internet can theoretically take part in a MOOC.

Not everyone who signs up finishes, though—in fact, the average completion rate is less than 7 percent. Don’t let that scare you off though; completion of a MOOC depends on you and your willingness to get it done, and plenty of people have finished MOOCs.

Meagan Fitzgerald, head of marketing and operations at 23Snaps has taken two MOOCs through Coursera and is in the middle of two more. Fitzgerald’s courses have focused on gaming, economics and operational management topics.

“I am a professional who is using the courses to supplement my professional knowledge as well as indulge in learning more about my personal interests,” Fitzgerald says.

Schultz has also been using MOOCs to expand her business knowledge. Her MOOCs have focused on techniques and theories she could use in her business, such as a storytelling course where she learned about new technologies she should be using.

Whether you’d use a MOOC for personal or professional gain, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people doing the same—and thanks to the MOOC format, you can connect with them.

Are MOOCs right for you?

If you’re intrigued by the concept of MOOCs and are self-motivated enough to complete the requirements, they might be a good option for you. But if you struggle to manage your time and work on projects independently or you simply like the structure of a physical classroom environment, don’t waste your time with MOOCs.

It’s too early to tell if MOOCs are the way of the future, but they are growing in popularity. The truth is, education experts are still debating whether MOOCs are helping or hurting today’s education—but that’s looking at the big picture. Are MOOCs right for you and your goals in life? If so, take the time to learn more.

It’s also important to understand that MOOCs are only one part of online learning. To find out more, check out our online learning blog. If you’re ready to take the next step and finish your degree, learn more about Rasmussen College's Flex Choice option and see if it’s right for you.

Elizabeth Xu

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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