Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are incredibly popular, and it is easy to understand why. Courses on platforms like Coursera and edX are fast and require essentially no commitment; students can sign up for courses and drop in and out of them as they please, soaking up whatever knowledge and skill is of interest to them. MOOCs seem to be an effective solution for delivering education to students who lack the time or funding to enroll in more formal courses.
However, MOOCs have a few weaknesses. For one, because there is no deep investment, the vast majority of students do not bother to finish their courses, meaning that most students fail to gain any valuable knowledge or skill from MOOCs. As notably, most MOOCs only cover introductory material. Because MOOCs are trying to appeal to the general public, they must assume that students have little or no background in the subject material. Thus, courses tend to begin with covering the most fundamental concepts in the field, and they are unlikely to progress into advanced concepts.
Fortunately, MOOCs are not the only fast, convenient way to learn. Whether you have recently completed a MOOC and are looking to take the next steps to further your education, or whether you have become disenchanted with MOOCs and are looking for better options, here are a few ways to advance your education beyond the free online course.
Arguably the best education option for busy professionals looking to enhance their knowledge and skill, short courses are learning programs that are unassociated with degree programs. Thus, students can enroll in a course that lasts a number of weeks or months without committing to years of study, providing them with more flexibility developing personally and professionally. Plus, as a variation of online education, the short course is asynchronous, meaning that students can engage with course materials like lectures and readings when they have time in their own schedules.
Good, quality online short courses are taught by leading experts who are affiliated with some of the world’s top universities. As such, these short courses do charge students nominal tuition to enroll and attend. Still, because short courses are more exclusive than MOOCs, they tend to go deeper into course material, addressing niche topics that provide students with a more detailed and profound understanding of the subject. For a professional eager to gain a competitive advantage in their field with new understanding and expertise, the short course could be the best education solution.
MOOCs might offer breadth, but they tend to lack depth. Fortunately, students whose interest is piqued by a MOOC can usually expand their knowledge and understanding of a particular subject through one or more books. Depending on the field, books typically come in a variety of levels, from easy-to-read introductions to a certain topic to expert analysis filled with technical jargon. Plus, books allow readers to learn at their own pace, with no project deadlines or exams to further infringe on a professional’s limited time.
Of course, there are multiple downsides to learning exclusively through books. Because books require readers’ undivided attention, many struggle to focus on a book long and hard enough to gain knowledge or skill. Audiobooks might give poor readers better access to these materials, but all readers will still lack any one-on-one instruction that can facilitate learning. Generally, books are only effective for professionals who feel comfortable and confident guiding their own educations — and the same goes for documentaries, podcasts, journals, and other educational media outside the classroom.
Most professionals are interested in gaining knowledge and skill that will enhance their performance in their field to catapult them further up their career ladder. To that end, professionals might prioritize attending one or more conventions and conferences related to their industry per year. At industry cons, attendees are invited to attend lectures, seminars, Q&As, exhibitions, and more, which tend to provide deep and meaningful access to insider information. Plus, cons tend to involve more than a few social functions, which allow professionals to network and perhaps develop mentor-mentee relationships with industry experts.
For many, the opportunities MOOCs provide in teaching interesting and useful subjects for no cost are too good to pass up. However, you should recognize the shortfalls of MOOCs and move toward deeper and more valuable education services, tools and resources when you truly need to enhance your knowledge and skill.