The way people learn is changing. Massive open online courses – or MOOCs – are becoming more popular as each year goes by, and although many academics might loudly state their concerns that they are affecting education for the worse, it looks like they are here to stay. But what exactly are they? And is it worth investigating as a genuine alternative to a more traditional education? Our guide to MOOCs will give you all the details you need…

What Are Massive Open Online Courses?

The idea behind MOOCs is to open up a world of education to anyone who is interested in any given subject. They are generally free, open to anyone who wants to take them, and can often see hundreds – or perhaps even thousands – of students enrolling on a single course. Free online learning has been around for many years; MIT’s Opencourseware and Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative are just two examples of top flight universities opening up their lectures, syllabus and notes to anyone with a desire to learn. However, these course tend to be centered on one particular area of a subject, and don’t offer the benefits of traditional learning, where you get access to a community of fellow learners, answers to important questions, and guidance from tutors.\n

How Are MOOCs Any Different?

MOOCs are certainly a bit of an experiment at the moment, and have really taken off in developing countries or rural areas where people just don’t have access to traditional schooling options. The great thing about these kind of courses is that they can teach you about an entire subject, rather than a specific area. They are community-based, so offer a certain degree of peer-led assistance, and you may also get a course that is led by a professor, who will answer your questions and guide you through a curriculum.

Do Employers Recognize These Qualifications?

MOOCs are a very new idea, so not many employers or schools will recognize them as a valid method of entry onto a traditional course or formal employment. However, given their popularity, this may well change in the future.

Why Are Academics Concerned?

Some scholars are worried that the huge increase in popularity of MOOCs could eventually effect traditional learning, and see more coaches or guides employed to run courses rather than professors and academics. There is also an issue that these kind of courses don’t give the student a well-balanced undergraduate syllabus, particularly where the arts are concerned. Also, there is a cost attached to running these massively open online courses, and at some stage it is likely that students will have to pay for them. Currently, free MOOCs are run at a complete loss by universities, private business and educational establishments.

Where Can I Find A Course?

There are many organizations where you can find a MOOC. Here are three of the best:


Coursera have hundreds of courses touching all kinds of subject matter at any one time. Many top colleges from the United States and around the world contribute towards Coursera, and many offer certification on completion.


If you have ever fancied learning from MIT or the University of California Berkely, then head over to edX. You can get starter courses in a huge range of subjects, from Computer Science to Artificial Intelligence. Certificates are available once you have completed your studies.


If you are interested in computing or robotics, Udacity could be a good place to look. There are many courses available here, and if you excel in your studies, you could earn yourself some interest from one of the 20 partner businesses that help fund the course, which includes the likes of Google, Facebook and the Bank of America.