Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): the greatest application for internet use.

There is a resource that not many people seem to be aware of, the availability of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs (pronounced “mooks”) for anyone who has access to the internet.

Universities from around the world contribute amazing resources to this special endeavour, offering free instruction on a huge number of subjects, from sciences to languages, from philosophy to history to psychology, programming, marketing and more. These world class professors and a virtual army of administrative assistants have put together amazing collections of knowledge, all available at your fingertips, if you only know where to look.

There are a number of MOOC platforms, each with their own unique interface.

My favourite is Coursera.org which can be accessed here. I like this organization not only for the amazing range of subjects and the quality of the educational institutions contributing material, but also for their discussion format. One of the greatest benefits of participating in a Coursera program is intermingling with students from all over the planet. Obviously, since most of the courses are offered only in English, many of the students participating will be English as a Second Language, but the interactions I have had are stunning and mind expanding. And literally tens of thousands of people sign up for each and every offering. Don’t feel overwhelmed at that prospect. Only a tiny minority of participants actually engage directly in the discussion forums, but I would encourage you to not be shy. Introduce yourself and respond to comments posted by other participants.

Another platform that is very popular is Edx.org which you can access here. Again, top quality universities, world class professors. The only thing about the Edx I have a grumble over is their discussion format which offers a more limited exchange with other students as the course progresses. You can still intermingle, but it is just a bit more limited in scope.

You can find many more platforms if you just google the term “MOOC”.

The lectures are all recorded with accompanying transcripts. Many courses will offer tests to challenge you on the material. Assignments are peer reviewed, meaning students who have completed their own written assignments are asked to review and mark the assignments submitted by other students. It makes the grading of assignments rather speculative, but if you don’t mind a bit of constructive (albeit amateurish at times) criticism, it can be a good or at least interesting experience. Doing the grading yourself offers its own unique experience and can highlight the challenge of grading the work of others, especially if written by someone who is not a native English speaker. You understand quickly that encouraging someone who is eager to learn is preferred to you simply ‘being right’ and a harsh marker.

Most of these platforms try to monetize their involvement by offering certificates on the subjects. The price for most subjects is about $50 or so, but the credits are typically non-transferable to real-time universities and most work situations do not recognize the educational certification offered by a MOOC. Before you invest in the certificate, it would be best to find out at your place of employment if that certification would be useful to you. If you can afford it, however, then I would encourage you to pay. The universities are making a significant investment, both in terms of the professor’s time and all the resources put together for each course. I feel guilty for having benefited from so many of these courses without paying a single nickel, but I was always so grateful that I did not have to choose between learning or eating.

Otherwise, there is no cost to sign up for any course. All that it costs you is your time and commitment to make the most of the course by watching the lectures and completing the assignments on time.

It is not even necessary to complete the assignments if you don’t need a grade. I used to stress myself out about those assignments until I realized that I was only interested in the knowledge I was acquiring by taking the course in the first place. I did not need any ego gratification of doing well on a test or possessing a certificate for its own sake, but then I wasn’t trying to improve my work resume or train for a different job. You may find you want some form of certification.

Some courses are offered on a learn-at-your-own-pace basis, but many more have a definite start date and completion date. Most if not all of the courses will offer special access to supporting documentation so you need not worry about buying text books or paying any special fees for access to websites.

What I have received from this experience is a world of information on science, evolution, cosmology, biology, philosophy, psychology, creative writing, history, political science, and so much more.

I feel I have grown as a human being through the process of acquiring all of this knowledge, and though all the discussion comment exchanges I have had with students as far afield as Australia, Africa, the Middle East, and even Russia and China. I certainly have a greater appreciation for events as they happen around the world.

To any who are just discovering this resource for the first time, I say good luck and good learning. To those who know exactly what I am talking about, just wink at the screen knowingly and smile. Then check the list of new course offerings on each platform.

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