You’ve read about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), but what are they really and will they help you progress your career?

MOOCs do what they say on the tin…

They are online courses, open to everyone and you access them via the web. They are part of what is known as e-learning. 

The aim of MOOCs is to open up access and learning to higher education (university undergraduate level) to as many people as possible. MOOCs are often units or modules of an undergraduate degree but not an actual full 3 year degree.

There are many different degree level subjects you can study in business or humanities through to sciences and IT.

However they can also be standalone courses in their own right e.g. First Aid, Introduction to Corporate Finance, The Secret Power of Brands etc. Most MOOCs are offered to you for free though you may have to pay a fee for exam certificates, or course completion certificates. 

MOOCs are offered on the whole by consortiums of several education institutions working together in partnership.

20 UK universities along with the Open University offer MOOCs via Future Learn, the main UK online portal.

Other UK universities have partnered with US universities via their online portals to offer MOOCs; Edinburgh and London universities have both partnered with Coursera, a top US online portal offering over 2,000 different MOOCs from 134 different partners across the world.

The other two main online portals are EdX and Udacity (also American), though new smaller ones are being added all the time. 

As they are online free access courses, you can live anywhere in the world and apply to any university in any country to study one. Some of the main portals have also just developed Apps so you can access your MOOC on a tablet or smartphone.

Searching for the best ones can be slightly challenging as they all promote themselves as the top one. The MOOC list is probably the best place to start as it appears to be impartial and not linked to any one of the online portals. 

On average you will study for three to five hours a week, which is flexible to fit around your work and social life.

The individual courses usually last five to ten weeks and focus heavily on video tutorials. As they are online you can discuss courses with other students via online forums, discussion boards and receive peer reviews of your work.

You don’t have to finish the courses (in fact recent stats show that only 10% of students who start a MOOC actually complete one). 

What do I need to get on to an MOOC?

The great news is that MOOCs don’t usually require any entry requirements (though you will need a certain level of computer skills to join in online chats and access the course content) but unfortunately they are not usually accredited as part of a degree.

Instead they will give you a taster of what you will learn at degree level and give you a standalone certificate on completion.  

What this does mean is that students don’t usually use MOOCs as a career progression opportunity but instead focus on learning new skills as a hobby or if they are an existing graduate, refreshing their knowledge. 

MOOCs are still in their early years of development and with venture capitalists looking to work with these universities you could see, in a few years, MOOCs become accredited and linked to degree courses with fees attached.

These MOOCs would then become a viable career progression route for an undergraduate degree with potentially cheaper fees than the standard UK university classroom model. 

Further information

For more tips and advice about online courses and alternatives to university, please see:

This post was originally published in November 2015, and has been updated to reflect any changes to the information accordingly.