Eluceo helps students of all ages attain their full potential through education and one way they can achieve this is through the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS). Join me in assessing the world of MOOCs through my first-hand personal experience.

What are MOOCS?

MOOCs are a recent phenomenon whereby students are offered courses by universities - courses that they currently teach - via the internet. These courses are designed to impart knowledge to a wide-scale audience from different backgrounds, and are open in terms of the ability to register, cost and content. Course materials include videos, readings, and problem sets, as well as forums which are designed to help build a community for students and professors. 

My first MOOC experience

As a stakeholder, as such, I’ve an interest in this relatively recently phenomenon and have just finished my first course - An Introduction to Marketing offered by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania through the Coursera platform. I chose this because I thought it would complement my current endeavours and introduce me to a topic I know absolutely nothing about. Furthermore, I wanted a respectable university; UPenn is an Ivy League institution with the Wharton School’s MBA programme ranked best in the world by the Financial Times from 2000-2009 and again in 2011. 

The course was divided into 9 weeks of lectures, with approximately 2 hours of videos per week and a number of supplementary readings (I failed to get round to these). Going through the lectures actually took approximately 6 hours per week, while there were also 3 quizzes and an exam. I enjoyed the lectures - I thought they were well structured, interesting in their use of real-life case studies, and offered a broad basis for marketing. 

As marketing is a practical subject, I did find having my own company to think about useful when attempting the course. It was a two-way thing; I could understand the marketing concepts in terms of my own vision while further the goals of my company through the marketing ideas I learnt. Thinking about your product wouldn’t be possible as an undergraduate, and many MOOCs provide classes whereby you need to complete a real-world project in order to pass. 

I opted for the “signature track” which offers you a certificate at the end of the programme. It cost $49 for a certificate, useful if employers or universities want evidence, however you could choose to study the course for free without the goal of a certificate. Furthermore, I’m still unsure as to the precise value of the certificate. I guess this will be apparent in time; MOOCs are in their infancy, and universities and MOOC platforms need to work together to hone their courses and ability/difficulty levels. 

I don’t know how other people scored - through the forums I can see that some people achieve high results in the 90s, while others achieved in the 50s and 60s. I’m rather skeptical though of the results I achieved. I have absolutely no knowledge of marketing, or even business, and as much as it was a beginners’ course, one taught to first year undergraduate students, I thought it would be far tougher and there would be an element of struggling. Instead, without even reading through my notes before attempting a quiz or the exam, I achieved a ridiculous 97%, only failing to answer 2 questions of all those provided incorrectly. As an employer, if someone were to come to me with that piece of paper I now wouldn’t be all that impressed; impressed, perhaps, by the initiative, but less so by the grade. 

I’m not a forum kinda girl, not quite that geeky, but the forum did seem to provide a platform for students taking the course. There were plenty of questions on the problems set, elements of the lectures, advice on further books to read, etc. The forum also provided a way to interact with those undertaking the course in one’s local area. Students had set up meetups and the like so they could discuss the course face-to-face and meet fellow students. If MOOCs ever became a substitute for university, this would be a good way for students to interact and develop friendships. 

Last week I started a second course, again through Coursera, called Social and Economic Networks: Model and Analysis, provided by Stanford University. One week in and my experience has been rather different. I chose to attempt this course for pleasure, rather than any ultimate aim or a certificate at the end, but I found that, because it was run by only one professor, rather than a series of professors, it was easier to read his book - from which the lecture series was based (or perhaps vice versa) - rather than sit and listen to him gabbling on in front of my computer. 

This suggests to me that MOOC courses are valuable for students who do want to undertake a course for an ulterior motive (albeit a positive one). Regardless of whether you receive a certificate, saying that you undertook a course from a certain professor at a certain university has more weight to it than saying you read a book in the bath. It also suggests that courses that work well are less so the abstract ones, and more so those that can be undertaken in line with current goals and aspirations mainly in the world of work. 

Are MOOCs really going to replace university?

So I guess my conclusion is that I’m unsure whether this format can really replace university. Perhaps it just needs time. There are some that propose that MOOCs are the future; that we will all learn in our own time through a series of courses and platforms, build up a portfolio, and once we’ve achieved a certain standard we gain a degree. I can’t see this happening quite so soon, I don’t think the idea and courses have quite enough credibility, and universities and platforms need to work together to create an equivalent degree-like structure.

In the mean time, as technology and information develops at an exponential rate, MOOCs seem to be a valuable way for employers to help their employees develop their careers and knowledge base. It is cheap and easy to administer, and is a great way to top-up current skills. 

As for the marks, perhaps the exams aren’t quite so useful, but I did feel I Iearnt a lot, much of complementing my current endeavours, and this is enough for me to look forward to future courses.