Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): What are they?

Free online education? Who could pass that up?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a growing phenomenon in higher education. News outlets, blogs, and educational studies are all raising the question of whether MOOCs will change the face of higher education. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry, an explanation is forthcoming.

What is a MOOC?

MOOCs are online courses offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the country. As a MOOC student, you watch lectures on your computer on a variety of topics, and the professors set up assignments and online assessments. Schools like Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and MIT are all participating in online portals that offer these free courses.

What’s the difference?

Online courses are not new. What makes MOOCs different? Well, to start, they are free. Furthermore, they do lack a connection with the professor. When 160,000 students took a MOOC on artificial intelligence last year, the professor didn’t interact with all of them or grade all their tests. But those professors were able to reach large numbers of students and open a Stanford classroom to people all over the world. MOOCs are a wonderful way for international students in particular to gain knowledge in various subjects. Topics for these courses range from history to computer science to english.

Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology calls them “casual” courses. You choose how much you’re involved. You can simply watch the lectures. Or you can take advantage of the online forums and assessments.

The Good and the Bad

With any education options, there’s some good and bad to consider. MOOCs are no exception.

Pros

  • Access to great minds and great teaching. Schools like Duke, Penn, and other highly ranked institutions spend a lot of time and effort recruiting great minds and great teachers for their students. MOOCs give you the opportunity to get information from these experts in their fields.
  • Immense geographic flexibility. As I said before, MOOCs are a great option for international students. You can access the courses from anywhere you have a strong Internet connection.
  • Time flexibility. There are no set times for classes. Class can be at 8am, 12pm, 7pm, or even 3 in the morning. It all depends on the time you decide to download the lectures and when you decide to post on forums.
  • Work load flexibility. You decide how much you commit to this course and how much work you have to do. If you only want to watch the lectures, there’s no penalty.

Cons

  • No credit and no degree. Yes, you get access to courses at Duke, Penn, and Princeton but MOOCs don’t offer you course credit or any sort of path to a degree.
  • Requires your immense self-discipline. You are your own boss when it comes to taking a MOOC. There’s no professor threatening failure if you don’t show up to lectures. There are technically no due dates or finals, so it’s up to you to stay on top of the work. This requires more self-discipline than traditional courses.
  • Technological woes. Your entire MOOC education depends on your Internet connection (and your access to programs like Flash and Quicktime). Make sure you have a backup plan: a second computer, library computers, or something like that. It’s also handy to have the numbers for your Internet providers close by in case you need to quickly get something fixed.
  • Lack of campus. One of the downsides of online education in general is the lack of a traditional campus. Without the campus, you don’t have the resources colleges have to offer, like libraries, scholarly databases, and places to study. You’ll have to create your own space to study in order to make sure you’re as productive as possible.

I’ve been on the fence about MOOCs for awhile. But I think I’ve generally concluded that they can be wonderful for personal enrichment or even professional development. I may take a course or two myself. But I don’t think MOOCs are anywhere near the point of replacing an actual degree like some news outlets claim.

Resources for MOOCs:

Photo Credit: jgoge in Flickr Commons

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Top 10 Technology Tools for Job Seekers

keyboardI know what you must be thinking (or at least I’m going to pretend like I know): this blog is supposed to be about education! Why is she writing about technology and job hunting?

There are many different kinds of education, just like there’s many different ways to learn. Finding, applying for, and obtaining a job can be a significant learning experience. And in this job market, there’s a steep curve.

This process is one that interests me, and I am actually pretty good at getting hired in traditional jobs. Self-employment is a different, and in some ways more challenging, learning experience.

Anyhow, as someone looking for a job, you want to make sure you do things in a cost-effective and overall efficient way. Today, job seekers have lots of shiny tools to help in the process of finding that perfect job. Many of these tools exist on the Internet. But there are so many websites out there, it’s hard to determine the best tool at the right time. I’ve narrowed those resources down to the top 10 you might want to pay attention to.

  1. Monster.com –Monster is a huge database of jobs that allows you to look by keyword, location, or job type. It can be kind of overwhelming at times with all the job options, but there’s also an iPad app for it. The iPad Monster app is actually a bit more organized and easier to deal with (in my humble opinion). Monster also comes with a whole host of articles about resumes, cover letters, and job hunting in general. The articles may, for people in certain professions, be more useful than the job database.
  2. Idealist.org –Idealist is an “ideal” job database for people looking to work in the non-profit sector or have a job helping people. I personally have used Idealist a lot looking for jobs in the education field. I would find job ads for non-profits all over the country and all over the world. Idealist also has a great list of fellowships that can be useful for college seniors or recent college grads looking for a gig to last one or two years before graduate school.
  3. Snag a Job.com –Snag a job is a website that I usually recommend for high school students looking for a job because they offer a search option for teens. It’s a site filled with mostly retail and part-time jobs. It’s well organized and easy to sort through.
  4. Linked In –LinkedIn is a social media platform similar to what Facebook is, except it’s for professional people looking for professional connections. LinkedIn is based off of the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The connections you build with colleagues, friends, former supervisors, and other professional connections can lead to new connections and new job opportunities. Linked In also has a job board where people can post job opportunities within their companies.
  5. Craigslist –I’ll be honest. I went back and forth and back and forth about putting Craigslist on this list. But I think for certain types of jobs, Craigslist does work. For instance, organizations like Sylvan Learning Center and other education related jobs only post their job openings on Craigslist. Craigslist can also be a good site for people looking for administrative assistant positions. It’s not right for every type of job, but it can be useful for some. Be wary of posts without company names and posts that request something from you other than a resume, cover letter, or writing sample. Anything that asks you to pay a fee or give some money is probably a scam. Internet safety, people!
  6. Google (Google Maps, Google Docs, and Gmail) –Google is now more than just a search engine. Heard that a company in your area is hiring? Check out Google Maps to see where it is and what is around it. Google Docs offers a way to keep track of the jobs to which you apply. It’s crucial while job hunting to keep track of the jobs you have applied to so that you don’t re-apply to the same job. Google Docs is an easy way to do that and it can be accessed on any computer and most tablets.
  7. Twitter–Believe it or not, Twitter can be useful for job hunting if you know how to use it. I use Twitter to post about various projects I am doing so that potential clients know what I am up to. I also “follow” various organizations that post job opportunities. Follow companies that you might like to work for, so you will be among the first to hear any job opportunities. This site offers a video on how to find jobs on Twitter.
  8. Microsoft Office or iWorks— I once helped a friend who was looking for a job and did not have a word processing program on his computer. He put together his resume in a text only document with no formatting or anything. It’s no wonder he wasn’t getting any call backs! His resume did not have a professional look. Now, you do not need fancy paper or perfume (see Legally Blonde) or fancy colors. But formatting is usually necessary to set you apart as a serious, competitive applicant.
  9. Search Engines — Sometimes job databases like Career Builder and Monster are not enough. If you know of a company or a kind of company that you would like to work for, Google (or Bing or Yahoo) them. Check their website directly to see if they are hiring. This kind of search is oftentimes more effective than using a site like Monster or Career Builder.
  10. Blogs — In today’s economy, people all over the country are switching professions and stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to find a job. Blogs can help in a number of ways. It can help expose job seekers to different professions and different perspectives. I read all kinds of blogs about writing because it gives me new ideas for what I can do. Search WordPress.com and Blogger.com to find blogs that may interest you. Hopefully this one is one of them!

What other technology tools do you use in job hunts? This question is for everyone–employed and unemployed. 

(Photo Credit: espensorvik on Flickr Commons)