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Expanding Your Education Through MOOCs

In a previous post, we explained what MOOCs are and what makes them unique compared to other forms of higher education. In this post, we’re going to talk about how you can actually use MOOCs to expand your education and training. Whether you are interested in simply gaining new knowledge, learning a new skill or further developing your professional abilities, MOOCs offer an accessible (open online courses) and affordable (usually free) way to accomplish this.

Currently, the top players in the MOOCasphere are Coursera, Udacity and edX. These MOOC providers have roots in some of today’s top colleges and universities (e.g. MIT, Harvard, Stanford) and can provide access to courses and/or professors from these schools (and others) without forcing you to become a student there first.

According to a New York Times article back in November 2012, common MOOC subjects include mathematics, computer science and business. However, courses can address everything from physics and electronics to medicine and the humanities—it all depends on which MOOC provider you use. Course offerings are most extensive at Coursera, which is currently the largest MOOC provider.

Dr. Skip Maffei, a business faculty member at Northcentral University sees MOOCS as a great opportunity for today’s students, especially non-traditional students who are experiencing increased educational opportunities through the Web.

“In the past 15 years or so, students mostly had the option of taking in-class courses,” notes Maffei. “However, today’s student has a range of options, including in-class courses, fully online, or a hybrid mix of in-class and online courses.”

MOOCs of course, fall into the “fully online” category, and offer an array of benefits for today’s non-traditional student. “The benefits include flexibility and a learning environment that can be adapted to students’ individual needs for a balance between work, family and academics,” continues Maffei. “Many students appear to have really grasped the opportunity and have made the academic experience more rewarding by embracing the options presented to them.”

Despite the ease of use, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you decide to enroll in a MOOC. First, if you are the type of student interested in MOOCs for potential credit, you will need to work very closely with your school to find out whether or not you can get transfer credit for your efforts. Second, if there is a way to get any semblance of credit (certificate, take proctored exam) you will probably have to pay for it. Nonetheless, MOOCs have certainly expanded the possibilities of online education, and everyone seems to have their own idea of what the MOOCasphere will look like in the future.

NCU education faculty member Dr. Renee Aitken, for example, believes MOOCs will become more widespread in higher education with students taking MOOCs for credit. “Currently, the decision to turn experience into credit (when available), or not, is decided by the learner,” says Aitken. “In the future, however, I see students bringing credits from a variety of courses and institutions to their degree granting institution and enriching not only their own understanding of the field but sharing those ideas with the faculty and their peers.”

Whether MOOCs continue to cater to students interested in higher education, become a standard source of college credits, provide a supplement to secondary education, or any of the other dozens of potential possibilities, for now at least, they are here for the taking in all their massive, open, online glory.

Happy MOOCing!

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