MOOCs: what are they and why are they so popular?


When young graduates start looking for a job, they often find that college has not properly prepared them for the job market. Due to a lack of the skills required to find a job in their industry, some are turning to massive online open courses (MOOCs) to fill in the gaps.

MOOCs are most popular with younger generations. Almost two thirds of MOOC students are under 35 years of age. However, people of all ages take part in the courses.

What are MOOCs?

So what is a MOOC? It’s an online course that anyone can take. MOOCs often enroll many students from all over the world.

Because MOOC courses are online, students can take courses offered by universities and countries in another part of the world. Those who otherwise would not be able to attend prestigious universities can learn from Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

Participants use MOOCs to learn skills that will help them advance their careers, change careers, or have more fun in life. For example, a computer programmer could use a MOOC to learn a new programming language. If you can demonstrate a skill, your employer may not care whether you learned it through a MOOC or more traditional education.

The biggest advantage of a MOOC is that most of them are completely free. Many MOOCs are also self-paced, which makes them flexible options for busy professionals. MOOC courses are best for self-motivated individuals who are making progress without anyone holding them accountable.

Most MOOCs provide a course duration estimate based on a suggested weekly time commitment. MOOCs usually last between one and 16 weeks.

One disadvantage of MOOC courses: in most cases you will not receive a certificate of completion. You won’t get a certificate to show your employer or a degree to post on your wall. Some MOOC providers offer completion certificates for a fee.

Why are MOOCs so popular?

Free MOOCs attract students who either cannot afford or are not interested in higher education. Other participants are people who want to learn more about a hobby or an interesting topic.

MOOCs are also popular with computer professionals – even college graduates – as they provide a convenient way to learn new languages ​​and skills. These professionals can then include these skills on their resume.

The popularity of MOOCs increased during the pandemic. Perhaps new students could not attend classroom schools and were looking for an alternative. Or maybe people who have lost their jobs have turned to MOOCs to learn new skills and improve their employability.

What are some of the most popular MOOC courses?

The most popular MOOC courses are often created by universities. Free courses from renowned universities such as Harvard and Princeton attract many students.

Here are five of the most popular MOOC courses.

Machine learning

Stanford University



Over four million people have enrolled in Stanford University’s machine learning course offered through Coursera. Machine learning is driving web search, speech recognition, and self-driving cars. The students are introduced to machine learning techniques, data mining and statistical pattern recognition.

CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science

Harvard University


More than three million people have signed up for CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science offered through edX. This 12-week course from Harvard University teaches the art of programming and does not require any programming experience. The students learn to efficiently solve problems with algorithms.

Programming for everyone (getting started with Python)

University of Michigan


Image: Documents / Getty

The University of Michigan offers programming for everyone via Coursera (introduction to Python). The course teaches the basics of Python programming. This course is aimed at students with intermediate programming experience.

Analyze and visualize data with Excel



Analyzing and visualizing data with Excel takes about six weeks. This self-paced data science course offered by Microsoft via edX offers an introduction to tools for data analysis in Excel. Participants should understand how to use pivot tables and slicers before taking this course.

Algorithms, Part I.

Princeton University



Princeton University offers algorithms, part 1 about Coursera. This free course covers algorithms and data structures, including scientific performance analysis of Java implementations. The students get to know search and sorting algorithms and elementary data structures.

Should I register for a MOOC?

If you want to advance your career without returning to college, a MOOC can help. Taking MOOCs shows a commitment to self-improvement. You can provide your employer with a list of the MOOCs that you have taken the next time you are promoted. Your additional training could give you an advantage.

The skills you learn through MOOCs can help you improve your job performance. For example, a negotiation skills course can be useful if you work in sales, which leads to higher commissions. Additionally, attending MOOCs can improve your job prospects by giving you more skills to add to your resume.

Perhaps you can even change your career completely by taking MOOCs. This is especially true if you’re looking to embark on a career in technology, where skills are often more important than studying.

Are all MOOC courses free?

Although MOOCs are “open” by definition, some MOOC providers now charge fees for some of their courses. On Udemy, the list price typically ranges from $ 69.99 to $ 139.99 per course. The website does sales frequently, which brings prices down to around $ 14.99 to $ 25.99.

Many free online courses are still available through MOOC providers such as Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, and Udacity. For example, Coursera offers free courses from Yale University on Wellbeing and Financial Markets and a course on Successful Negotiation Strategies and Skills from the University of Michigan.

Are MOOC courses worthwhile?

Since most MOOC courses are free, the only question is whether they are worth your time. Is it worth taking the 21-hour Chinese course for beginners at Beijing University for you? If you are planning a trip to China this could be the case. Similarly, if you are in marketing, a content marketing strategy course might be useful.

For MOOC courses that are not free, you also need to consider costs. Only you can decide how much a particular skill is worth to you. Think about how learning this skill affects your job and strengthens your resume. If a skill helps you get a better job, the class may be worth the cost.

Are employers interested in MOOCs?

A recent study asked employers how MOOC degrees compare to traditional post-secondary degrees. They also asked if MOOC credentials on a freelancer’s profile affect their decision to hire the freelancer.

The researchers found that employers preferred a Bachelor of Arts, Associate of Arts, or even a certificate from a community college to a MOOC certificate. However, for candidates with no other educational experience, respondents preferred candidates with MOOC degrees over those without MOOC degrees.


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