Is MOOC right for you?

As you surely know, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are the big trend in online education. The New Media Consortium Horizon Report 2013 views MOOCs as the technology trend of the year. The MOOC concept is spreading rapidly from what was initially developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Now institutions like Coursera, Udacity and edX have taken over the conversation, offering a wide variety of courses open to learners around the world. Meanwhile, leading universities like Stanford, as well the Open University (OU) in the U.K. are jumping on the bandwagon with their own MOOCs.

For all of the hype and excitement about MOOCs, the dropout rate is about 90% . Only a fraction of people get anywhere near finishing the course, let alone passing it. These classes are free to sign up for, which also makes them very easy to drop out of. The majority of people don’t even make it through the first lecture.

Till now, I have finished more than 15 MOOC courses from Udacity, Coursera, edX and many others. Most of them are computer science/programming related. Pulling from my own experiences and advice from veterans, here are some tips on how to become one of the few who actually finishes an online course.

Before Starting a MOOC:

  1. Choosing a course:
    Understand that your own goals is key. Ask yourself why you want to participate in a MOOC. Out of curiosity, because the topic interests you or because you want to know new people? Ask yourself how you want to make use of the acquired knowledge and skills. Can the MOOC support you with your study or your job or do you plan on your own project?That is all reasonable, but you should consider that MOOCs normally last at least a couple weeks, sometimes up to a quarter of a year, and are quite time-consuming. To survive and thrive in a MOOC you should be willing and able to invest, from my experience, at least an hour a day for reading course material, for communication and collaboration with others, writing your own blog, etc.
    I don’t want to stop you from participating in a MOOC. On the contrary I highly recommend trying at least one MOOC. However, reasonably assess your own motivation and your time before making a decision.
  2. Know the Instructors

    It’s worth at least watching the introductory video/tutorial that the platform offers, or the first few videos of a course to get a sense of it. Just like many college students will drop in on a variety of classes in their first week before they make a final decision, it’s worth trying a number of courses out.I also check out the instructor’s personal webpages at the very first to get a feel of his/her teaching style.If you dislike the professor or the material goes way over your head, you aren’t likely to stick with it. 

  3. Dont push the Pre-requisites
    If a course says that you need to know linear algebra in order to take it, believe it. And don’t think that you’ll pick it up along the way, unless the course explicitly says that it will teach the needed material.
    It’s difficult enough to stick with one of these courses, so having to learn background material in addition means you’re more likely to get behind, get frustrated, and drop out. When in doubt, stick with the intro course. Better to be a bit bored or skip a few early lessons than be in over your head after two weeks.

During a MOOC:

  1. Start early

    The early bird gets the worm! familiarize yourself with the layout of the course website and materials. The site normally opens a couple of weeks before the actual course starts, so you can actually orient yourself in advance. Explore what communication channels are used (forums, Twitter, a wiki). Sometimes you’ll need to register or set up new accounts such as on blogging platform. You might also consider whether you want to earn a badge or achieve some course credits if the university offers that option. 

  2. Set a schedule, and stick to it
    One of the biggest benefits of online courses is that you can take them any time and anywhere you want. It’s also the biggest reason people drop out.The majority of the people who take these courses have jobs or other obligations and probably just want to go to bed when they get home, rather than learn about computer programming.The best way to ensure success is to spread the work out, do at least a bit every night or a couple times a week, rather than leaving everything for the weekend. The odds of dropping out are much higher when work is crammed into fewer days.The key is to be honest about how much time you have and are willing to put into the course and factor it into your decision.
    Even for entirely self-paced options, large gaps between lectures or work make it much less likely that you’ll ever complete the course.
  3. Do not be shy- connect to your fellow learners
    MOOC is not about competition, but collaboration. So don’t assume other participants are smarter and have more to say. You might want to start as a so-called ‘lurker’, reading what others have to say. It is absolutely okay to be passive and just go through the course material on your own.But honestly, it is a lot more fun to participate actively. Ask questions, comment on other contributions and start blogging your reflections on what you are reading and learning . Don’t underestimate the value of what you have to say. Agree or disagree with others or start a discussion that might help you get a new perspective or to confirm your train of thought. 
  4. Hang on
    The initial hype is usually followed by a depression. It’s time to keep up now and endure. There is one advantage to this period — communication is not as fast-paced as before, giving you a rest. But keep in mind that no tutor or teacher is checking on you, so it’s up to you to keep your motivation up. The more you do, the more successful you will be in the MOOC. Hence, you might want to remind yourself  what your initial aims were and focus on what you are doing.

After finishing up a MOOC:

  1. Continue networking
    Try to keep in contact with some of the people you got to know better during the MOOC. Nowadays it’s important to network, and you’ll never know what might develop out of this contacts. You can follow them on twitter/github/LinkedIn in order to stay up-to-date on their recent work.
    And, of course, you should find a way to apply your new knowledge, before it expires. ;-)
  2. Time to wrap up Reflect on the course. What have you learned? What could you have done differently? Did you achieve your set goals such as attaining a badge or developing a project? Think about what the organizers could improve and povide feedback in the course survey.

    When you’re done with that, congratulate yourself on your hard work and start thinking about your next MOOC.

Happy MOOCing !!

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Published by

gradgospels

I am a Software Engineer by profession. I'm ever curious to find the latest technology in the field and put it to good use. Quite a bit of my free time goes to learn different tools and technology.I enjoy development for Linux, building/leading teams, and contributing to different open source projects. Even though I have a very wide range of interests when it comes to build software, my current focus is on Frontend development. I am thrilled to work with HTML,CSS,JS, JQuery and Ajax like concepts. I also love to read, write, travel and cook.

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