MOOCing About

mooc 2This year I’ve decided to undertake my first MOOC. If you don’t know what one of these is then I’ll let Wikipedia explain it to you as it’ll do a better job than I, but fundamentally it stands for Massive Open Online Course. It’s online study, mostly free of charge (sometimes there’s a paid option if you want actual credits or a particularly flashy certificate), and as far as I can see, on most any subject you can think of.

So why am I interested in undertaking a MOOC? I finished my undergraduate programme this time last year and was due to start my masters last October, however things changed and that plan has unfortunately had to be temporarily shelved. I enjoy learning though and, having worked with at least one foot in higher education for the last four years, I’m really intrigued by the MOOC offering, particularly at a higher education level. Is it possible that a free online course can really be as good as that provided by a university? Well, yes, it can in terms of content because many well known universities all over the world have their own MOOCs. But when you go to university you’re not just in it for the content, your also in it for the life experience, the learning experience, the support, the great qualification, the networking… University is about more than just the content of your lectures.

So far a MOOC won’t get you a degree or even university credits (except in some rare instances in the US). The whole system is based on honour, trusting that you want to learn and that you complete the course and exercises off your own back and that you take any tests unaided and in the conditions requested. In its current form this works well – all you get at the end is your learning (but provided in a structured, engaging way way) and, I’m told, some sort of e-certificate of completion which doesn’t count towards anything but presumably makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and as though you’ve accomplished something. But, while you don’t receive any official recognition, the knowledge is what you’re presumably there for and who knows, maybe there’s a challenge or entry exam you can take to demonstrate equivalency of knowledge at your institution of choice.

So my journey starts here. I’ve signed up for a couple of courses, both different formats, subjects and providers. Here’s a bit more info about them and the differences between them:

Principles of Microeconomics

  • Provider: Saylor.org
  • Level: Undergraduate
  • Start when you like
  • Structure: 7 units, done at your own pace
  • Anticipated completion time: 124 hours
  • End of unit exams for practice purposes but pass determined by a final exam after the course has been completed
  • Part of a bigger programme for those who wish to continue their Economics studies (you can effectively “major” in economics if you complete 11 courses)
  • Anti-social (no tutor contact and minimal contact with peers. Though there is a discussion forum it appears to be mostly unused)

I don’t know much about economics so I’ll be starting from scratch on this one.

Principles of Project Management

  • Provider: Open 2 Study
  • Level: Unknown
  • Fixed start date
  • Structure: 4 modules over 4 weeks, complete with deadlines
  • Anticipated completion time: 16 hours
  • Individual end of unit exams only
  • Standalone course
  • A little social (I don’t think there’s any tutor contact but, again, there is a forum and presumably this will be used more considering everyone will be completing the course at the same time)

I already know a good bit about project management and have an Agile PM qualification so it will be easier for me to gauge the content for this one.

I have already started the microeconomics course and I’m really enjoying my first unit. While economics is certainly not an easy subject, the materials are well written and use lots of everyday examples to describe more complex ideas and models. I am finding it very accessible. There is a real mix of materials: some videos, some recorded lectures, some articles, some “textbook” reading, all broken down into bitesized chunks. Each unit and sub-unit suggests the amount of time you will need to allow and these can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as an hour. I’ve accessed various resources on PC, mobile and tablet but the only downside to studying on the go is that you really do need to take notes (on this subject anyway!) so you need a dedicated notebook and to have that with you at all times if you don’t want to have to repeat your activity.

So how do I think I’ll fare? I’d like to think I won’t become one of the drop out statistics (allegedly up to 90%) and, having completed my undergraduate programme on a part-time distance learning basis, think I’ll work better with the more flexible, deadline-free format as this is familiar territory for me and I’m used to managing my own study time (or, you know, not…). I think I’ll probably be a bit half-hearted with topics I find less interesting because ultimately it doesn’t really matter if I pass or fail the final exam as I’m not getting any official recognition for my work. I think I’ll find that lack of recognition frustrating when I finish, particularly if I have studied hard. But mostly I think I’ll be pleased with what I’ve achieved, and with the fact I will have have discovered, for free, whether I’d like to pursue my studies more formally in either field.

So we shall see! I’ll be keeping you informed over the coming weeks and months about how I’m finding my programmes. I will share my experiences and feedback, good and bad, and hopefully pique your interest to try a MOOC of your own 🙂

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Over ten years’ recruitment, employability, HR and sales experience in both the private and public sectors. I've worked in construction recruitment, FMCG headhunting, and in higher education on the employability agenda.

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