The latest trend in college course catalogs is the inclusion of massive open online courses, aka MOOCs—arguably the most revolutionary facet of higher education today. Building on the foundations of existing online courses, these classes are open to anyone, anywhere, with enrollments in the thousands, at some of the best colleges and universities in the country—all for free. Organizations like Coursera and edX have rapidly changed the face of online courses as they once were, while many colleges and universities offer MOOCS regularly alongside more traditional on-campus options. But are students graduating with the best education they can get via online learning? Is online education what small business owners and entrepreneurs want and need? Here are answers to some of your biggest questions about MOOCs and all the ways they could benefit your education.
All types of students benefit
These online courses are attractive to students who previously would have been identified as “nontraditional”— i.e., students who don’t fall into the 18–22-year age range and who do not live on or near campus. Students with children and full-time jobs find MOOCS to be the more convenient option to fulfilling online degrees and programs. The ability to take courses online from the comfort of their own homes has opened up the possibility of getting an education for many people who otherwise might not find the time. Additionally, these tuition-free courses are finding favor with students whose families struggle to afford a traditional college experience.
Assessing the credibility of online learning
Many of the bigger, more elite colleges and universities have been doling out free e-courses to test their effectiveness and to see how they compare to a more traditional setting for education, according to USA Today. Most do not want to roll out an online degree program if they can’t be sure they will send the most qualified graduates into the business world. Likewise, students want to obtain degrees that employers will recognize and properly prepare them for successful careers. This is where accreditation becomes important. The US Department of Education publishes an annual list of organizations that it recognizes as approved accreditation agencies. Called the "Current List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies and the Criteria for Recognition," the publication also includes suggested criteria by which each participating university is measured. Look for MOOCs that are offered by accredited schools only—this tells you it's a credible and high-quality course that's worth your time and energy.
Skill building for the real world
Students who are dedicated to online learning tend to be independent learners and excellent time managers. Those skills translate into being able to take instruction and produce results without a lot of hand-holding. Students who take MOOCS are usually doing so because a traditional class schedule wouldn't fit into their already busy lives. By enrolling in online courses, students are responsible for finding and scheduling the time to learn the material and produce high-quality projects and assignments by their due dates.
It takes a certain level of technological know-how to navigate the various online programs and tools that are out there. Access to a reliable computer or mobile device is mandatory as well. Students have to be ready to pick up a new set of technology skills depending on the type of course they are enrolled in for credit. This flexibility is increasingly sought after by businesses that use social media and other online marketing tools in order to grow closer connections to its customers and partners.
Potentially receive academic credits for degree completion
Not every MOOC will earn you credit toward a future degree, unfortunately. However, you may be able to receive college credit for successfully completing a MOOC if it satisfies a school's requirements. Be sure to inquire with your college(s) of interest about their credit policies to see if it's a possibility. If more schools get on board with awarding credits for MOOCs, it could lower tuition across the board for post-secondary education and open up the opportunity to earn a degree to many more high school graduates than before. High school students could earn more college credits while being dually enrolled in high school and college. With students beginning college courses earlier and at a more affordable price, there could be an influx of young professionals into the small business/entrepreneurial world.
Levels of engagement in MOOCs
Some academic professionals have concerns about the results of more students taking MOOCs and other online courses. Some have issues with the limitations of online learning, as opposed to the full discussion and idea generation from a traditional classroom setting. Where is the level of engagement? Can students in a MOOC get the same sense of classroom community and active participation in a class? Is it more difficult to connect with the material and complete the course without this engagement? When you're looking for MOOCs, be sure to look for courses that offer engaging content as well as opportunities for interaction. "Highly engaging MOOCs see participants forming online cohorts and communities of practice," writes Amy Rouse for The EvoLLLution. "Using integrated social networks and chat, learners can interact with each other and the instructor or facilitator for a richer experience." The best MOOCs offer opportunities to work with others through homework assignments, final reviews with the instructor, and more.
While online learning avenues are always being explored and analyzed, most offer positive outcomes for universities, students, and future employers. As the business world becomes increasingly global via technology, it’s only natural that the demand for graduates who are ready and willing to dive into the newest and greatest technological advances would grow as well. MOOCs are a great (and free!) way to prepare for that future.
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