Somehow my actions made perfect sense – I wanted to impress my wife (then my fiancée), who is doing her PhD in Neuroscience and so I headed straight to Coursera. My goal was to find a course to help me understand her lingo, maintain a knowledgeable discussion with her and show that I care.
I searched ‘genetics’ and one of the search results was a course titled, ‘Introduction to Genetics and Evolution’ from Duke University. It was described as an introductory course at a college-level and that was all that I needed. There were no tedious application forms and certainly no fees to pay! All I had to do was click ‘Enrol’ and that was it. And with that action I had simply entered the world of MOOC.
For my part, I had to watch the lecture videos, attempt the quizzes, get them right and voilà – I would come out in flying colours. The videos lectures by Dr Noor were great (they still are) and the first week was a breeze. I learned a lot about the birds and the bees…of Evolution. I boasted about the course to my friends and persuaded them to head to Coursera. The second week was a bit of a uphill climb which I blamed on the time consumed by my PhD research and by the third week I had quietly given up and clicked ‘Leave Course’ without any guilt. This was a few years ago and ever since then I have enrolled and left mid-way a couple of courses.
This time around I have picked out a course with a marked determination to complete it.
Let’s take it from the top
What is a MOOC you ask? Well, MOOC is Massive Open Online Courses; they are free to access courses and your learning is assessed through quizzes or peer-assessments. So anyone with an internet connection and the willingness to get digitally schooled can access a wide variety of courses. Some of the course providers are Coursera, Udacity, NPTEL and edX to list a few
Most of the providers give you the option to earn a verified certificate, that is, every assessment you take is verified, usually using a webcam, and after completion of the course and paying a small fee, you receive a course completion certificate. The courses may run for a particular period during a year and the materials may be accessible only during that session or there are self-paced courses which are open to access throughout the year.
OCW Vs Distance Learning Vs MOOC
After the growth spurt in 2012, MOOCs have a seen tremendous rise in popularity. So how do they stack up against the more traditional Distance Learning and the OpenCourseWare (OCW)? The following table lists out what I feel are the main differences between the three.
Two features that are quite often debated are the issues of copyright and course credits; the fact that OpenCourseWares are actually ‘open’, that is, free to access, free to use, reuse and distribute, puts them in a league of their own. It can also be argued that OCWs do not offer any support to students or assessment of student’s progress but this is one area that could soon find a change.
MOOC inability to offer course credits, stems from the fact that credits are calculated differently in different parts of the world. But that may be set to change; an article as reported by the Times Higher Education states that 6 universities from around the world are going to pilot a ‘global credit transfer system’ for students taking their university’s MOOC.
A likeable feature of the MOOC is the offering of a verified certificate upon successful completion of a course. This provides a quantifiable way to portray one’s knowledge and achievement but completion rate for MOOCs are very low, usually 7%. Attrition happens in the first couple of weeks or classes, so it is important to grab the student’s attention and get them involved early.
And unfortunately cheating does occur, this is done by opening duplicate accounts; while one is used to attempt quizzes and gather all the right answers, the other is used to feed in the right answers and gain a verified certificate. But this is just a meager percentage of the people set out to do this and should not discourage others from the value that a MOOC offers. At this point I would like to highlight India’s offering to OCW and MOOC, the NPTEL and NOC respectively. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) is a OCW programme, run by the 7 premier Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the NPTEL Online Certification (NOC) is the MOOC part of it. Here the course taker wanting a certificate must attend in-person a proctored exam. Though anyone from around the world is free to access the NOC materials, but to gain a certificate you will need to head to one of the few cities in India where the exams are held. It’s worth it!
MOOC on your CV
The benefits of having a MOOC verified certificate are many. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Coursera, University of Washington and the University of Pennsylvania, there are tangible benefits, such as, gaining a new job or a promotion and the intangible benefits of improving the skills for a current job.
Employers are warming up to seeing MOOCs listed on a CV and the one segment reaping more benefit than the rest are those in Information Technology. Employers not only find candidates with verified certificates from prestigious universities but also see a tangible outcome such as an App or software created as part of the MOOC. Udacity have gone to the extent of a guaranteed job within 6 months of graduating from their Nanodegree Plus programs or your money back!
MOOCs also provide an opportunity to network. With thousands of people signing up for a course, you are bound to network with people from different cultures having varying degree of qualifications.
Employers are also using the OCW and MOOC model as a way for their employees to up-skill. Here at General Electric (GE), we have the GE Technical University (GETU) where employees can not only access courses from providers such as Coursera and Khan Academy but apart from that, GE’s very own SMEs provide video lectures on subject topics that are quite narrow and relevant to the business and not usually found on other MOOC providers. GETU also provides certificates.
So what does a MOOC on your CV tells about you? It shows that you are constantly updating your skills, that you have the will and are efficient in managing time (online learning is no easy task) and that you are resourceful in seeking new avenues to grow.
So now I’ve enrolled myself into a course entitled ‘Oil & Gas Industry Operations and Market’ from Coursera which I see is more relevant to my current job and hope to see it through to completion.