MOOCs, or massive open online courses, have only been around since the mid-2000s, but they’ve already changed the face of higher education in ways that are difficult to imagine. With their low cost and high accessibility, MOOCs offer an alternative to traditional college classes that’s proving to be more popular every year. This introduction to MOOCs will answer your questions about what they are and why you should take one to find out whether this alternative form of education may be right for you.

A Short History

MOOCs were first introduced in 2008 when Stanford’s Dr. Sebastian Thrun announced his intention to offer an Artificial Intelligence course for free on the internet. It was at that time called a massive open online course (or, colloquially, a MOOC). By 2012 MOOC enrollment numbers had ballooned from 50,000 to 160,000. In 2013 over 6 million students around the world participated in MOOC courses from universities like MIT and Harvard.

What are MOOCs Good For?

Massive Open Online Courses are a great way to get a free education from some of the best schools in the world—schools that may be several time zones away from where you live. While MOOCs certainly have limitations, it’s safe to say that they’re an excellent option for anyone interested in getting an inexpensive education. If you’re considering taking one, read on!

How Do I Choose a Course?

There are a few sites out there that can help you figure out what course is right for you. Coursera maintains a course directory; even better, they have an algorithm that rates courses based on factors like your learning pace and academic history, so you get more tailored recommendations. EdX also has an extensive directory of courses to choose from. All told, there are over 800 MOOCs to choose from at last count!

What if I Hate It?

So you’ve signed up for a massive open online course (MOOC) in a subject you have zero experience with. Maybe it’s something as ambitious as artificial intelligence or network programming, or perhaps it’s more esoteric like 19th century Hungarian poetry. And after your first lecture, you feel like throwing in the towel because it doesn’t make sense and there are way too many people who seem much smarter than you in your cohort.

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How Can I Improve My Grades?

When students are worried about their grades, it can be easy to over-commit and overload your schedule. While it may seem like a good idea to take on more classes, you’ll probably just end up getting poorer grades than if you took fewer classes or focused more of your attention on those particular classes. To improve your grade point average (GPA), pay close attention to which courses are earning lower grades and rethink how much time you’re spending on each course overall—particularly during exam periods.

Can I get Credit for These Courses?

Anyone can take a MOOC, including you. But, because these courses are not accredited, it’s difficult to prove that you have taken one for school credit. If your school is willing to accept a certification of completion or sign-off from an instructor as proof that you have completed a course, then there’s a good chance you will be able to earn credit for taking one of these courses.

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Is There Anyone in the Classroom with Me?

MOOCs are massive open online courses, a concept that is changing higher education. These free, online classes are designed to be accessible to students around the world; most MOOCs have no prerequisites and accept anyone who signs up. While most MOOC students work toward their degrees in more traditional settings, more than a million students took at least one MOOC in 2012 alone.

How do I Learn if There’s No Lecture

The best part about MOOCs is that you learn at your own pace. If a particular lesson doesn’t make sense to you, you can revisit it later or skip it entirely. This style of learning means there’s no excuse for not studying, even if life gets in the way.

If it’s Free, what’s the Catch?

MOOCs are completely free, but not for everyone. Many universities offer MOOCs through edX , a nonprofit that has been partnering with universities across America to offer a range of high-quality courses to interested students. Just because they’re free doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable—one study found that students who completed an introductory statistics course on edX scored higher on their end-of-semester exam than students who took a traditional college statistics class.

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By Neha

Neha is a scholarship enthusiast and has personally received several scholarships throughout her academic career. Neha is dedicated to help students to apply for the best scholarships available to them.

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