What are MOOCs?

MOOC is the acronym for Massive Online Open Course. In other words

  • freely accessible courses, that’s right there is no charge to take the course 🙂
  • on almost anything you might be interested in 🙂
  • run by Universities from all over the world, some of them very prestigious 🙂
  • usually set at a level for someone new to the subject 🙂
  • they repeat the courses from time to time, so you can repeat or catch up if you didn’t finish first time round  🙂
  • you just need a broadband connection and off you go 🙂

I discovered these a few years back when I was trying to become a bit better informed about current thinking on climate change. There are various websites where you can access the courses. I’ve used Coursera and edX. Both are excellent.

Over four or so years, I’ve completed quite a few courses. Use the MOOC tab above to see some of the courses I’ve done and  in some case see the  essays and  projects that I’ve handed in for course-work. Oh yeah, it’s serious you know! OK, you don’t need to do the course-work. You can flit in and out of the course content as you please. Oh come on….

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How do you join in a MOOC?

Well, you register with the site.

Find a course you’re interested in. Sometimes there will be an introductory video to view just to get a sense of what’s involved. Mostly you’ll also see an outline of what’s in the course. Sometimes you have to sign up for the course to look at the course content, but if you sign up and then decide it’s not for you, no worries.

Here’s the introduction to Philosophy and the Sciences from Edinburgh University.

Once you’ve signed, you’ll get an email telling you when the course is about to begin. I’ve noticed that Coursera also send you an encouraging little nudge if you’ve signed up but not shown up!

Then what happens?

Each week, there are a set of videos to watch. Usually takes a couple of hours to do that, all at once or spread over as long as you like. Here’s one from a MOOC about the Economics of Sustainable Development run by Prof Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia Univeristy who is also Special Advisor to Ban-ki-moon, the UN General Secretary.

There’s usually a bit of extra reading you can do, if you want, in the form of weblinks to go to and  sometimes as downloadable PDFs. Some courses have a course book,  sometimes it’s available to dowload for free. Or you can buy it. So over the whole course you build up a reading list on the subject.

Each week there is also a quiz based on what was in that week’s videos and a date by which you have to do the quiz, usually a couple of weeks ahead. You can see what you’ve got correct and what you’ve got wrong once you’ve tried the quiz  and since you always have multiple attempts to redo it, you can go back and try for a better score.  It’s useful to do the quiz to find out how much you’ve taken in of the material. Usually the mark you get in the quiz counts towards passing the course.

At the end of the course, there is sometimes a course essay or project. So by essay they mean about 750 words. Really that’s not a lot! There’s already nearly 700 words just in this post. Or it might be more of a project where you do a bit of reasearch, use photos to make a collage, or make a video from photos…. I’ve got to be a dab hand with IMovie software!

It’s fun… OK it’s fun when you’ve got hold of an idea and actually started. But hey….

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If you’re thinking :

Oh no!! Essays? quizes? marks? It sounds like being back at school.

Well I guess it is being back at school. But you are an adult, aren’t you? It’s you’re own choice to be there and go back for the next week’s videos. If you don’t turn up, noone is going to get the school secretary to phone your parents!

But how else could you find yourself being taught about International Development by the UN’s Special Advisor on Sustainable Development? Or be led through the basics of dark energy and dark matter by an Edinburgh astronomy professor? I could go on…. the subjects you’re interested in are waiting to be explored.

It’s up to you. And remember….

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