The MOOC (massive online open course) has suddenly become one of the hottest trends in the training world. We’ve already talked about what MOOCs are and how they work. In this post, we’re going to look at some of the pros and cons of this approach compared to more traditional classroom training.
Advantages of MOOCs
1. Innovative startups, top colleges and other reputable institutions have made a huge range of top-quality education available through MOOCs, and it’s growing all the time. Whether you want to learn about computer coding, entrepreneurship, neuroscience or pretty much anything else, there’s likely to be a MOOC for it.
2. What’s more, many of these courses are completely free in order to broadly avail education. That’s where the “open” part of the acronym comes in. Compared with other educational alternatives like college courses or corporate training that can cost thousands of dollars, that’s a significant advantage, both for individuals and organizations.
3. A third key feature is flexibility. Training usually requires taking time off work — either a few days to attend corporate training or a much longer period if you’re going back to college. MOOCs, on the other hand, can fit into your life however works best for you. New course material is generally posted on a particular day every week, but you can access it and do the work whenever you have the most time.
4. And finally, you don’t need any special qualifications to register for a MOOC. Because there’s no limit on numbers, it’s not a selective process. Typically you just have to sign up with a few basic details and you’re ready to get started.
Disadvantages of MOOCs
1. One downside of MOOCs is that they usually aren’t accredited, which of course makes them less valuable for your career. Putting the completion of online courses on your resume won’t hurt, but it doesn’t hold the same cachet for employers as being able to show accredited qualifications.
2. Furthermore, the MOOC versions of college courses are often simplified and may not match the level of the real thing. The course providers’ attempts to reach a wide audience and make education accessible can leave some students feeling that the course was too basic.
3. A caveat that’s gotten a lot of attention as the MOOC trend has progressed is the sometimes massive tendency towards course abandonment. The same unstructured flexibility that can be an advantage, liberates students to degrees that they often let other personal or professional concerns take priority and progress with a course slows or stops.
4. Another frequently cited downside of MOOCs is the lack of interaction with your professor. With thousands of people often enrolled on a single course, it’s impossible for the professors to give students the kind of support that they do in a traditional college course. Messages and questions posted to online forums are usually addressed by fellow students, and grading is often automatic or done by peers, without personalized feedback from the professor. The communal aspect of MOOCs can appeal, and even be augmented in person through supplemental efforts like course-oriented “meetups” (one MOOC provider, Coursera, goes so far as to allocate physical space, called “hubs”, for individuals to access and use their courses) but the lack of teacher access can be limiting for those who want to more ambitiously probe a topic within the context of a course.
The Bottom Line
MOOCs are an easy way to access an abundant choice of good quality education cheaply and on your own schedule. The limited personal interaction and lack of structure, depth and accreditation typical of MOOCs means they may not be a form of career development that’s suitable for everyone – but if you take the initiative and put in the time and effort on your own, they can be an valuable activity within your overall career progress endeavors.