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A relatively new word to the world of education is nearly changing the very nature of exclusive high quality education and make it available for everyone. It is the rising power of MOOCs, which stands for Massive Open Online Course.

The whole thing started back in 2008, but did not really emerge as a popular mode of learning until 2012. Learn more about the history of MOOC.

The initiative might have started as a race between top universities to show off their abilities to present quality education online as a marketing tool to attract more students to their campuses; it might have been the result of the increasing spread of the internet network around the world at higher speeds and the affordances it has provided that it was technically possible to start a project like that; or it might have been the result of just some good intention to make quality education available to anybody all around the globe. Whether the motive behind MOOCs is one of aforementioned or all of them at different levels, the great news is that it is actually available for everyone mostly at a very high quality both technically and educationally.

The main features MOOCs provide learners are:

  • Video Lectures: They range from simple recordings of lectures given to interactive presentation of ideas that makes the most of the medium.
  • Other Required Materials: Readings, links, Bibliography, etc. to help learners with essential required knowledge or for additional research purposes.
  • Forum: One of the most important features of MOOCs is the ability to interact with all the students who signed in the MOOC to ask for help, discuss concepts taught, or even work together in virtual online groups.
  • Quizzes: These may not include the full power of standalone quiz making software, but they are good enough for now.
  • Peer Review Assignments: This is a very important assessment technique that is possible in MOOCs. Students get to review each other’s works that help them learn a lot from each other, and solves the problem of the huge load of assignments that no educational team in the world is capable of handling as the number of students enrolled in a given MOOC can get up to 200,000 students or more.
  • Certification: There are usually two options to take a MOOC: Honor Code (free) which offers a free statement of accomplishment in most cases, Verified Certification (usually from $50-100) which offers a verifiable certificate that increases the validity of the certificate to be used to improve one’s career.
  • Self-Paced Vs. Scheduled Courses: most MOOCs are self-paced, but not on Coursera and Edx. While some of their courses are self-paced, most of them are scheduled with a start time and an end time. In addition to that, there are usually deadlines to individual quizzes and assignments.
  • Other features are also available like office hours, social media links and other features that make MOOCs highly communicative and collaborative tools for learners.

Since 2012, there has been a lot of MOOC providers online, of which I will mention the ones that stand out as the best out there:

  • Coursera (Screencapture): Perhaps, the most popular MOOC provider from top universities like Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Yale and others. Coursera offers specialization certificates after completing a certain group of courses (Verified) and a capstone project at the end, which might add even more validity to their certificates. Their topics cover a full range of knowledge from engineering to medicine to humanities, and searching for different types of courses is very user-friendly.
Coursera Screenshot

Coursera Screenshot

  • Edx (Screencapture): Another very popular MOOC provider from top universities like Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Berkeley and others. Edx offers Xseries certificates as an equivalent of Coursera Specialization certificates. I works just the same after completing a certain group of courses (Verified). You will have to pay an extra fee (about $50-100) to get the Xseries certificate, but it’s worth it. Edx’s topics as well cover a full range of knowledge from engineering to medicine to humanities, and searching for different types of courses is very user-friendly.

 

Edx Screenshot

Edx Screenshot

  • Udacity (Screencapture): Udacity is ‘Project-based online courses and curricula to master skills that count.’ That is their slogan on their homepage. The difference with Udacity is that it is not free, and you get to pay a monthly subscription to take courses on their platform. Most of their courses are technical, and one has to say that they are very useful. You can take their one-week trial and check their quality.

 

Udacity Screenshot

Udacity Screenshot

  • Udemy (Screencapture): Udemy is a little different in the sense that it is open to public not only as learners, but also as course providers. Anybody can prepare a course and host it there if it passes the specifications required by Udemy platform. As for their courses, the range is quite big, courses prices range from ($0 -+500), but to be honest, one has to be careful which courses to choose because there are usually no big names like Harvard, MIT or Stanford in Udemy.

 

Udemy Screenshot

Udemy Screenshot

Of course the list goes much bigger, but I listed the ones that I think you should check out first. For more information about course providers and the courses they offer visit CourseTalk, where you can learn about the number of courses each provider has, ratings and reviews. You can also search by subject or school, or simply jump to the starting soon courses to pick one if you like.

I believe we still need some time to trust more in MOOCs and take them really seriously both as learners and employers or teachers. Some come up with the idea that cheating is extremely easy in MOOCs, plagiarizing, taking open book exams when it should not be an open book exam, and many other claims like that. If we look at it from the perspective of potentiality, yes definitely, all these crooked methods are quite possible. However, one may think that the number of cheaters is huge, but on the contrary, it takes a lot of commitment to take a course online without being forced to do so, and for the time being, without a big promise in terms of accreditation. Therefore, most of the students who finish online courses prove to be committed people with specific goals and the determination needed to achieve these goals. I am not trying to say that either kind of students is better than the other; all I am trying to say that in most cases online students are trustworthy, too.

We have the tendency to doubt new things and bet on their eventual failure. While some ideas do fail because of the lack of trust from the public, I strongly believe that MOOCs will prove to be a key player in the world of education in the very few years to come.

Please don’t take my word for it; go see for yourself and explore a world of knowledge within anybody’s reach.

March 05, 2015

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