What is a MOOC and How Can It Benefit My Life After College?

The world is now almost fully online, and this has led to important changes in how we live our lives. People now shop online, bank online, and even work online. Because of this, the face of education has changed as well, with many schools, colleges, and universities now offering degree programs, certificates, and diplomas, online. Some of those programs are 100% online, others combine it with on campus studies.

Meanwhile, there has recently been another development. One of the things that the internet has brought about is that things have gotten cheaper. Additionally, marketing has changed completely, with advertising professionals now knowing that one way to attract new people, is to offer things for free. As a result, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been developed. And, over the past three years since they have been offered, millions of people have taken part in one. But what is a MOOC and how can it benefit your life after college?

The Development of MOOCs

MOOCs were originally offered by EdX and Coursera, although there are now many other platforms as well. Basically, they brought together any free classes offered by the world’s leading universities, offering them for free. When this first started, it was seen as a true revolution in providing access to higher education. People thought that, finally, the more disadvantaged and underserved populations would be able to have access to online education.

Unfortunately, this turned out not to be true. Various studies have now been conducted with regards to participation in MOOCs, particularly since the “Year of the MOOCs”, which was 2012, and it turned out to be a slight disappointment. While research has shown that the courses are certainly popular, expectations on them opening up the world to education to everybody have not been realized. What research found instead was that:

  • 80% of MOOC participants have completed a bachelor’s degree already.
  • 60% of MOOC participants are already employed full time.
  • 60% of MOOC participants came from first world countries, rather than developing countries.

Essentially, what these statistics show is that MOOCs seem to be serving those who are already advantaged. There was a second concern as well, which was that the majority of people who start an MOOC do not go on to complete it. As such, people who don’t really need free access to education still get it, but they don’t use it properly.

So are MOOCs really only beneficial for those who are already educated and employed, and who are looking for a diversion? Or do they have benefits for everybody? Some say that the skeptics have been allowed to proclaim their pessimism without looking at all the facts. Because the same statistics has also shown some really positive benefits, including the fact that:

  • 72% of those taking part in MOOCs have reported that their career improved as a result.
  • 61% of those taking part in MOOCs have reported that their education improved as a result.

Perhaps the most interesting, and positive, element that came out of the research, is that those who most frequently reported that they felt their careers and education improved as a result of MOOCs, were those who came from developing countries. And among them, the greatest benefits were experienced by those with lower levels of education, and a lower socioeconomic status. As such, it could be said that MOOCs are actually a success, giving real benefits to people, particularly if they take the time and effort required to actually complete their course.

Who Takes Part in MOOCs?

One study in 2014 focused on data gathered from interviews with some 780,000 different people who took part in MOOCs. They represented 212 different countries and territories. All participants had fully completed an MOOC by September 1, 2014, and the data was collected in December 2014.

52,000 people responded to the survey, and this showed that:

  • 58% of respondents were full time employed.
  • 58% of respondents were male.
  • 22% were students (full time or part time) at traditional, campus, educational settings.
  • 83% already held a bachelor’s degree.
  • 34% of respondents were from this country.
  • 39% were from developed countries outside of the US.
  • 26% were from developing countries.
  • The average age of respondents was 41, with the 25th percentile being 31, and the 75th percentile being 55.

The data is slightly skewed, however, as only 52,000 people of the 780,000 who were asked to respond, actually did. Because of this, it is believed that the true level of prior education may be slightly lower, and that there is a more balanced representation of men and women. One of the reasons why so few responses were received, is believed to be because those who live in developing countries have more difficulties in filling out surveys. Additionally, it was found that those who completed an MOOC in the past were more likely to complete the survey. However, the researchers felt that they have addressed the bias in their results fairly, with a statistical significance of less than 0.01 being reported.

What definitely is true when looking at what is said by those who are pessimistic about MOOCs, is that the vast majority of people who start this type of course don’t actually finish it. In fact, only around 4% of people who take part in a single course on an MOOC platform then go on to complete the entire program. Only if they complete it in full, will they receive their credential as well.

All that being said, the fact that millions of people take part in MOOCs, means that it doesn’t matter that so few actually finish it. For instance, Coursera was first started in 2012, and over one million individuals completed MOOC courses between then and 2014. In April 2015, some 2.1 million courses had been completed.

MOOCs Help to Build Careers and Improve Education

What the studies have shown is that most people, 52% in fact, take part in MOOCs because they want to improve their career or find a new job. Of these, 87% report that they have improved their careers. Some of these improvements have included:

  • Finding a new job
  • Getting a raise
  • Starting a new business
  • Improving employability
  • Enhancing job skills

At the same time, 28% of those taking part in MOOCs have said that they did so to complete educational or academic goals. Statistics showed that:

  • 88% felt their education was improved.
  • 87% felt that they improved their overall knowledge.
  • 18% said they were able to use their MOOC as credits towards another degree program.

An MOOC, very simply put, is a course that is made available by universities and colleges for free. The idea is that they will enable people anywhere in the world to benefit from then. While it is certainly true that the greatest number of people who take part in these programs do not come from a disadvantaged background, some do. And, regardless of what your background is, you can get tremendous benefits to your life after college through greater skills, knowledge, experience, and employability.

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