During the past year I had a great time participating in several Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, offered by Coursera and Udacity. From that experience, combined with thoughts of other students and instructors, I’d like to offer several tips on how to have a rewarding experience as MOOC student.
1. Shop around.
Not all courses are created equal, even if they are from the same university and offered through the same platform! Similar to courses in traditional university setting, MOOCs vary tremendously in teaching styles, amount of work assigned, type of feedback provided, and time instructor dedicates to the course and interaction with students. So shop around. Sample a course before committing. Listen to the first couple lectures, try out an assignment, and visit the discussion forums to get a feel for the course, the instructor and the platform.
If you find yourself unhappy with a course, by all means, drop it. There are no penalties. And with more and more MOOCs coming online every month, it’s likely that better alternatives will become available soon if they are not there already. On the other hand, if you try a single course and do not like it, don’t form your opinion of all MOOCs based on just this single experience – the courses vary quite a bit.
If a MOOC you are considering has been offered before – you can try searching for reviews and articles about it. But keep in mind that instructors often significantly change their courses from session to session to improve them.
Finally, on Coursera, if you are interested in a course but unable to take it when it’s offered, register for it anyway. This will give you access to the course materials, so you can peek in and decide whether it’s a good fit if it is offered again in the future.
2. Expect and forgive bumps in the road.
Teaching MOOCs is not the same as teaching in a regular classroom – it requires a different set of tools and techniques. Instructors are learning and experimenting with these as they go. In addition, MOOC platforms are constantly being upgraded to expand capabilities, even as the courses are being run. So there are bound to be some bumps in the road. Expect and forgive them.
It can take a tremendous amount of work – hundreds of hours – to create an online course! In many cases, instructors are doing this in addition to their regular workload and without being paid extra. Please show respect and appreciation for their efforts. If something needs improvement, post constructive feedback on class forums.
3. Engage with your peers.
Participate in class forums, hangouts, local meetups, and any other groups that form around your MOOC. Connecting with others who share your interests and goals will greatly enrich everybody’s experience. Students in MOOCs represent all ages, backgrounds and corners of the world: from teens in Africa to professors in the United States. You might make an interesting connection. You might get a better understanding of the material by helping another student with it. You might learn something new from your peers. You might get an interesting opportunity by establishing your passion and skill for the material in class forums…
4. Don’t worry about the grades but expect to work hard.
Commit the time necessary to do the assignments. We learn by doing, not by listening to lectures. What you get out from the course will be proportional to the effort invested. But don’t worry about the grades. In the current state of MOOCs the real value is in knowledge acquired, artifacts produced, and connections made.
Happy learning, doing, and connecting!