MOOCs – Free Education for Everyone

What are MOOCs?

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses aiming to give everyone access to information and education.

For many of the courses, you don’t need any previous knowledge though an interest in and basic understanding of the subject matter is recommended.

There are many providers of MOOCs out there. Some of the better-known ones include Coursera (all interests), FutureLearn (all interests), Udacity (mainly programming/Web development), edX (all interests), Stanford Online (all interests) and many more. Class Central consolidates most courses into a list that then takes you to the providers. A lot of universities and institutes offer short courses that are often introductions to their full-time taught courses.

Some courses remain completely free. Others charge for a Statement of Participation. FutureLearn currently charges £29 plus shipping per course if you want an official certificate. Prerequisite is completing at least 50 % of the course (progress is monitored). Others, like Coursera, offer Verified Certificates on some courses. Costs for these change from course to course but seem to start at about $40. They use something called Signature Track, in which you have to verify that it’s you completing the assignments. At the end, you’ll receive a certificate that can be attached to online professional profiles like LinkedIn. Other Coursera courses offer a free Statement of Accomplishment for everyone while other still don’t offer anything at all.

A FutureLearn Statement of Participation. Photo by FutureLearn
A FutureLearn Statement of Participation. Photo by FutureLearn

So if you’re just doing a course for fun (say, for example, you’ve always been interested in cryptography or history or poetry and see a Beginner’s course offered) you might not want to spend money on a certificate as long as you learn something. But if you’re doing a course to add it to your professional profile, you might want to have something in your hands to say you participated and completed the course.

But that’s personal preference.

However, it is worth noting that although the courses are often taught by university staff and the Statement might mention the University, MOOC courses are seldom for university credit and completion of a MOOC does not necessarily mean any association with the university in question. But that depends on the course and type of certificate offered. Signature Track Verified Certificates, for example, are official recognition. Read the small print.

A Coursera Verified Certificate and a Coursera Statement of Accomplishment side by side. Verified Certificates are recognised and come with a fee. SoA's are usually free but not as recognised.
A Coursera Verified Certificate and a Coursera Statement of Accomplishment side by side. Verified Certificates are recognised and come with a fee. SoA’s are usually free but not as recognised.

I think at this point it’s only fair to tell you which courses I plan on doing. I know my list is long (and not helped by the fact that I see more and more interesting courses wherever I look), but bear in mind that they’re not all at once.

A few are on at the moment, others run in November, but I’ve signed up already so I won’t forget. Others still have dates TBA, or I’ve signed up for future sessions even though they are currently on.  These might well run into the next year. Some only last three weeks, others last six weeks and two of them last ten weeks. They are fairly evenly spread out over the year. Several of the courses are self-paced as well, so I can complete them anytime.

Also, I come from a culture where having 14 different subjects per week at school is the norm, so I’m used to full-on schedules, varied subject matters, lots of homework and tight deadlines.

Courses complementing my M.A. in Cross-Cultural Communication:

Professional Development

Writing/Literature related courses:

I have a B.A. in Travel Journalism (well, it’s called that, but it was really a Joint Honours Journalism & Tourism Management), but social media has changed since I graduated. The journalism course is just to get back up to date. I’ve also done Visual Communication before in a summer session course, so the use of advertising and slogans/posters as well as how the portray and affect cultures is something I’m extremely interested in.

I live close to the Dutch border and I’d like to learn a bit. Usually, I can read Dutch (it’s close to our local dialect and I did learn Afrikaans in South Africa) but formal instruction can’t hurt. Last year I took Mandarin lessons but had to cancel due to an illness, so I’m not a complete beginner when it comes to Chinese. As a student of Cross-Cultural Communication, it can’t hurt to learn about different cultures, like the Middle East or America’s South.

As a former volunteer in Africa and South America, I know that there are cross-cultural aspects of humanitarianism. My hometown just opened a new centre for refugees, for example.

The courses on writing and film are personal interest ones, and I won’t be starting the self-paced ones until late summer at the earliest.

I think MOOCs are an excellent way of continuing your education and gaining further insight into topics that interest you. While some degree programmes at university offer Electives – sometimes even outside your faculty – others don’t, so MOOCs are a great opportunity for all the students who’d like to give a different subject a try or dip their toes into something that might come in handy in the long run.

As far as my M.A. is concerned, I’m treating the courses above as Electives. Things I’m interested in and like to try. Even if I don’t complete them, I’ll still have access to the study material should I decide to look into them further at a later date. Maybe one of the courses will even give me an idea of what to look into further as part of my Master Thesis (as I currently have no idea where to start).

MOOCs are also an excellent way of attending courses at universities you might never have considered or would not have got in. Some of the Ivy League schools offering courses via MOOC providers are Stanford, Harvard, Yale and UC Berkeley, just to name a few.

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