Rising costs and strict admissions requirements make traditional higher education inaccessible for many students. In fact, the cost of attending a public four-year university has increased by 3.1% (beyond the cost of inflation) in the last 10 years. The amount of student debt is also a rising concern as it recently topped $1.5 trillion.

Whether it’s a high school student who doesn’t have access to much federal student aid or an older adult who has already entered the workforce and can’t afford to quit his or her job, many people may feel like they don’t have a lot of choices: Make a huge investment in college and hope you aren’t one of the 25% of college graduates who are underemployed, or limit your potentialby not getting your degree. Thankfully, a third option is emerging in the form of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC for short).

While a certificate from a MOOC isn’t the same as a college degree, MOOCs are providing access to world-class education to anyone with an internet connection, which opens up a world of possibilities. For instance, a high school student can take a MOOC that allows them to determine which career path is right for them (before wasting time and money on a degree that they can’t or don’t want to use). Additionally, those who can’t afford to quit their job to go back to school to further or change their career path can take MOOCs in their free time.

The Basics of MOOCs

To better understand what a MOOC is, take a deeper look into the meaning behind the acronym:

What sets MOOCs apart from other distance learning options

Online colleges have been around for quite a while, and they are widely understood and utilized. However, MOOCs have only been around since 2012 (many consider the aforementioned course taught by Dr. Thrun to be the first real MOOC), and many people either don’t know what they are or assume they are similar to online college classes.

Before MOOCs came on the scene, there were two other basic types of distance learning: OpenCourseWare (OCW) and online college classes – both are at opposite ends of the spectrum. OCW is basically just a publication of an institution’s course material online. The material can be used by anyone and even edited (as long as proper attribution is made). Many consider OCW to be the predecessor to MOOCs as they share the same goal of making quality education accessible to everyone.

Conversely, online colleges provide a structured university class online. The students must be enrolled in the university and are paying tuition and receiving grades as they would if they physically attended the class.

MOOCs are a kind of middle ground between the two extremes. Here are some of the main differences:

The basic features of most quality MOOCs

Most MOOCs offered by quality platforms share the common components:

Resources for continued learning:

Why not try out even one of the suggestions below and begin your learning and continuous (e)learning journey today.

Online Course Providers, Reading and Listening Platforms

  1. Coursera – Choose from hundreds of online courses on everything from negotiation tactics to analyzing big data. Classes are free, as long as you don’t need a certificate of completion.
  • Udemy – is an online learning and teaching marketplace with over 100000 courses and 24 million students. Learn programming, marketing, data science and much more.  

Udemy for Business – is now available for organizations to bring digital and easily accessible learning to their peoples’ fingertips.

  • EdX – Is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider. It hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide student body, including some courses at no charge.
  • Degreed – This lifelong learning platform lets you track and curate learning materials from thousands of platforms, like Coursera, Audible and DuoLingo. You select your learning goals, and Degreed suggests content to steer you in the right direction.
  • MIT Open CourseWare  – A catalogue of free courses and learning resources from MIT’s archive.
  • Ted Ideas – Ted-like essays on creativity, leadership, innovation and global issues.
  • Podcasts can be a great way to learn about a new topic, keep up with current affairs or your industry trends.  Read here a review of Best Educational podcasts in 2020.

Overview of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)

The Future of Learning Infographic