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All About Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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Updated: June 27th, 2022
All About Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

The education world has changed dramatically due to recent strides in technology and the internet. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great example of the way that new technologies have managed to expand educational access. In this article, we’ll go over all of the benefits of MOOCs and help you decide whether they are a good fit for you. Let’s get into it!

How much do MOOCs cost?

Here’s perhaps the most appealing thing about MOOCs – you can take any of them for free! All of these resources are available for the general public, meaning anyone with an internet connection can make an account and enroll free of charge.

In rare cases, some aspects of a MOOC may be hidden behind a paywall, but there is always at least some aspect of the class that is entirely free, and more often than not, they are completely free of charge.

Who offers MOOCs?

A wide range of different institutions offer MOOCs at this point, including some of the country’s most prestigious institutions like Princeton and Yale. This means that you can take courses designed by some of our country’s top professors, free, from the comfort of your living room. 

Many institutions use a third-party service to administer the courses; although the materials are prepared by the institution, sites such as Coursera and edX offer an interface to help you browse materials and submit your assignments.

How do I enroll?

Enrollment will look different depending on the course you take and the institution offering it. Some schools will refer you to third-party hosting services, while others allow you to enroll directly on their website.

Typically, all you’ll have to do is provide some basic information about yourself and create an account with an email and password. Some courses allow you to enroll and start at any time you’d like, whereas others might have you sign up and wait for a set date when the course will begin.

How does grading work?

Grading and assignments can vary by class – typically, if the course includes assignments and tests at all, they are either automatically-graded, or peer-reviewed. Since MOOCs are free, they cannot employ anyone to grade your assignments by hand. However, some MOOCs offer an optional hand-graded assessment at the end for a fee if the student wants to earn a certification from the class.

What is the schedule like?

MOOCs typically have a very flexible schedule. The lectures and materials are usually all pre-recorded and accessible at any time that you wish over the course of the class. They usually give you up to 16 weeks to complete all the material, and if you are not seeking a certification, you can always re-enroll the next semester if you don’t complete it in your given time span.

Overall, MOOCs have a uniquely laid-back schedule, and if you enroll in one, rest assured you won’t have to make any great compromises in your schedule.

Can I earn college credit for taking MOOCs?

Most MOOC courses do not offer college credit, as they do not offer comprehensive assessments of your progress. That being said, a select few programs can translate to credit at the institution which offers them. In this case, students typically have to pay some sort of fee for their assessment, as it takes staff hours to properly grade the results.

If you plan on taking a MOOC for college credit, ensure that you have cleared the idea with the MOOC provider and your school beforehand. Even if you are taking a MOOC that corresponds directly with a class being taught on campus, there is a chance it will not translate.

How about other credentials?

You can definitely obtain a credential by completing a MOOC course! Typically, you’ll have to pay in order to obtain it – although the course itself is free, providers charge a fee for the effort involved in assessing your progress and keeping records of your success in their books. So, as long as you are prepared to pay, there are many MOOCs out there that offer certificates. These can help you move up in your career or even switch career fields.

Related: Top certificates to earn this year

Is there financial aid for MOOCs?

Fortunately, there is financial aid available for MOOCs! Although most of the courses do not cost any money, you will typically have to pay to obtain a certificate from them. Financial aid can lessen this burden. Our article on Coursera financial aid is a great place to start your search for financial support.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Whether you are looking to learn something out of interest, earn a certificate in a skill, or even earn college credits, MOOCs might be a great match for you
  • Most MOOCs are entirely free, though if you hope to gain a certification from them, you will have to pay
  • One great advantage of MOOCs is that they are very time-flexible, meaning you can set your own hours for learning and accommodate other responsibilities
  • All assessments in free courses are either automatically-graded (multiple-choice) or peer-reviewed
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions

How do I contact my instructor in a MOOC?

Typically, students are unable to contact their instructors in a MOOC. Once an instructor completes a course, they typically step back from it and resume teaching other courses; they may not work on the class for years after completing it. This is how they are able to keep the instruction free of charge; the only cost on the school’s end is the server being used.

What are the best MOOCs?

There are great MOOCs available from all over the country; the best will depend on you and your goals. You can take interesting courses designed by Ivy League professors, or you could take more professionally-oriented courses that offer certifications in a skill or field that interests you. The best MOOC courses for you will be the ones that match your priorities the best.

How can I earn college credit in high school?

Though MOOCs may offer a pathway to college credits, the best ways for high schoolers to earn college credit is through AP Exams and by taking advantage of Dual Enrollment. These are accepted at a wider variety of colleges and can earn credit, placement, or both.

Also see: How does AP Credit work?

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