Learning in a MOOC
People take MOOCs for many different reasons. As a student, you may want to take a MOOC to ‘test the waters’ and gauge your own interest in a course you’re thinking of registering for. Alternatively, you may feel like your degree programme is ‘missing’ a crucial subject that would stand you in good stead in the world of work – and that this course is being offered through a MOOC.
Professionals also take MOOCs to sharpen or update their skills in their own discipline or to learn about new disciplines or developments that they are interested in.
There are hundreds of courses on offer – you could start by visiting www.class-central.com which is a website which collects lists of what is available and how to access them (like a MOOC directory).
MOOCs are designed for self-motivated students, so in a sense you are the architect of your own experience. Unlike being enrolled as a registered student in an online or campus-based courses, MOOCs have no entry requirements nor do they cost the student anything in monetary terms. This gives you an opportunity to browse around and look at a few courses so you'll find many students will drop out or not even show up. Remember though that being a 'drop-out' in a MOOC does not have the same consequences or implications to that of a formal course. This more flexible approach to learning can be challenging for many students to keep on track, but tools and suggested pathways in MOOCs can help you decide on the level of engagement and on how you can get what you need out of the learning opportunity. Some MOOCs adopt a tiered approach, where there are different levels of participation (high, medium and low) – which can be called ‘advanced track’; or ‘signature track’. However, even if the MOOC is not structured this way, you can choose how to engage with the course depending on your goals.
High: access the material (video, audio or text), read all the additional readings, complete all the exercises and assignments, stick to timelines, engage in the discussion forum and other forms of social media.
Medium: access the core material (may be video) and complete the assignments and stick to timelines
Low: access some of the material that interest you
While there are reminders to move you through the course, there is no obligation to complete the assignments if you do not wish to obtain a verified certificate of attainment. Due to the numbers of enrolled students (hence the term "Massive"), there is little direct teacher presence in a MOOC and you can't expect to get individual feedback. However, MOOCs offer opportunities for engaging in discussions with other students, many of whom will be experts while the course educators and teaching team often keep a roving eye on the course and students as they progress through the MOOC. You'll find assessments can help keep you on track; these include quizzes, writing assignments and peer review exercises where you get peer feedback and give feedback to others in return.
Each MOOC is different, and the number of hours per week you can expect to spend is usually indicated in the course description. They vary between 2 and 8 hours per week. However, this will also depend on your chosen level of engagement (see the question above).
It depends entirely on your interest – we suggest you visit the FutureLearn, Coursera, Canvas and EdX websites or www.class-central.com (which is like a MOOC directory) and browse the courses they have on offer.
For UCT postgraduates and postdocs, It is also possible to sign up for a study group around specific MOOCs related to postgraduate study skills – see the seminar and workshop series posted on the Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Hub.
MOOCs are not regular credit-bearing, formal degree courses. However for some MOOCs, students will be eligible for Certificates of Participation or Attainment, which they can use to augment their CVs to demonstrate participation and competence in a topic. Depending on the course and the provider, there may be a fee for a certificate. Many people around the world are using MOOCs for lifelong learning opportunities, and the use of MOOC certificates on CVs and online profiles has become increasingly common.
Details about which courses are on offer and when they are running is posted on the UCT MOOCs: Free Online Courses page.