Four Questions to Ask a MOOC

Barry Lenson

Questions to Ask a MOOCWhat is a MOOC? (Hint: It’s not a large animal with antlers that ambles across highways in Maine.)

A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course. In other words, a course that anyone can sign up for any time. Today, MOOCs are being offered by many universities, including Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wesleyan, and more. For an overview of more than 100 MOOCs, check out a list that was published on OpenCulture.com.

When you read that list, you will find some interesting notations in the fine print. You’ll discover that some of the MOOCs listed will give you a Certificate of Completion after you have finished your course. Others will give you a Certificate of Mastery.  Others will give you nothing. So the message seems to be that it is a good idea to ask some questions like these before you sign up, log on, and spend a lot of time studying . . .

  • “Can I earn any college credits from taking this course?” If not, will you earn a certificate or some other kind of document that shows that you completed the course?
  • “Can I get any credit at my regular college for taking my course?” Can you transfer credit hours, for example, place out of a course at your college, or enjoy some other benefit?
  • “What is the course format?” Are there lessons, units, assignments? Or does the MOOC consist of nothing more than videos of lectures given by a professor?  The content of MOOCs varies widely. There’s nothing wrong with watching interesting lectures, of course, but there is more to a good college course than that.
  • “Is there a way I can contact the college or the instructors if I have questions?” In most cases, MOOCs are off-the-shelf products that deliver their content in one direction online: from the course provider to the student. There is usually no opportunity for the student to contact the school with questions.

StraighterLine or MOOC?

In a sense, StraighterLine is a MOOC provider. (In fact, StraighterLine might have been the first MOOC.) However, StraighterLine is able to provide the right answers to the questions above.  After taking a course at StraighterLine, you can transfer the credits you earn to your regular college, for example. Courses are structured like regular college classes, with units, lessons, and assignments. And if you have questions, it is easy to get them answered.

But can a MOOC meet your educational needs? In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. The important thing is to ask the right questions before enrolling and investing a lot of time in the virtual classroom.

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