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What Are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)?

MOOCsUniversities around the world offer courses known as MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – and huge numbers of people have taken and continue to take these courses. MOOCs were established in 2008 and the founding academics were all part of the free school movement, which means there are usually no fees associated with a MOOC course.

What is a MOOC?

MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses are short online courses that are available for anyone who wishes to participate and they do not usually requite any tuition fee payment. Often these courses comprise of recorded lectures with tasks and assignments for the students to do. You won't necessarily get any feedback from the assignments, this is what you are paying for when you pay for tuition fees, but often you will find that the MOOCs course will have a social media or interactive element where you can chat about your studies with other students on the course.


What universities offer MOOCs?

Pretty much any university that offers online distance learning will be part of the MOOCs system. These short courses give the universities the opportunity to show potential students what learning with them would be like, and students can also get a feel for a subject area or the style of a particular academic. The MOOCs system started in the United States, so the first universities to participate were American ones with Stanford University being one of the first. However, universities worldwide, like the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands offer MOOC courses. Both the university and academic that is offering the course need to be familiar with the unique format for teaching to students online, as it is different to an on-campus class. This means that those academics familiar with this process are more likely to invent and conduct MOOC courses. Often the lecturer running the course will have spent a significant amount of time creating the course – the average is around 100 hours of preparation – so this font of knowledge is an amazing benefit to students who do not pay for the course.

Are MOOCs free from tuition fees?

MOOCs are free from tuition fees, however if you want a certificate of completion you might find that you need to pay a small fee of around $30 to $90. This pays for identification of you and the process of providing that information to others, such as a university admissions department if they require it.

What topics do MOOCs cover?

Pretty much any topic that can be taught online is available to be learnt as part of a MOOC. In the early stages of MOOCs there was a concentration of technical courses such as those covering AI or coding, but now there are MOOC courses on a wide variety of topics. There are lots of courses aimed at those in business or wanting to learn another language for a particular work environment. There are also lots of science and management courses available.

Can a MOOC prepare you for postgraduate study?

Whilst studying a MOOC is not going to improve your grades or your work experience, they will help if you are returning to postgraduate education after a significant time away from studying. It can be beneficial for those intending to apply or postgraduate courses to experience the style of a lecturer or institution, plus if you are thinking about a new subject area, undertaking a short course might help you decide if it is the right field of study for you. The certification system has come under some criticism that it is open to fraud and this has made it difficult for those in postgraduate admissions to use MOOCs as part of the assessment for students applying to postgraduate courses. However, if you have learnt something useful and relevant to the postgraduate course you are applying to from participating in a MOOC, demonstrate how you used this new information and it might help your application.

MOOC completion rates

Although plenty of people sample one or all of the videos available as part of a MOOC, only a small portion of participants actually complete the course and the assignments, and this is particularly true of postgraduates.

MOOCs complettion


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