Online Education Guide: Career Advancement through MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are free online courses that come equipped with the homework activities, group work, quizzes and tests found in any traditional class. Covering a wide variety of subject matter, MOOCs also boast high-quality instruction and course design; many of these courses are taught by Ivy League professors. While the concept has been around since 2007, 2012 saw a year of enormous expansion for MOOCs and the concept continues to gain traction in the educational arena.

Most courses are administered through third-party hosting providers like Coursera, Udacity or edX. The only requirement is registration, and the level of course participation is left up to the student. Some MOOCs offer certificates upon completion of the course, but not all. Until the powers that be in higher education determine MOOCs’ place in the educational hierarchy, they remain a free source of knowledge that rivals costly education at prestigious universities.

Many people take MOOCs purely for personal edification. However, MOOCs may be an avenue to advanced career options; information that would be helpful for an industry certification exam; or transfer credits to a traditional degree program.


Career Exploration

It’s not too uncommon for working adults to seek new employers: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of the American workforce switched jobs in 2006. Record-breaking unemployment rates in recent years certainly played a part in much of these changes. But there are other contributing factors; for example, changing priorities in one’s 40s and 50s might lead to an urge to follow a long-held passion. Simply feeling unfulfilled with the same old career track can be reason enough to leap from the beaten path and try something new.

If you’re interested in switching careers, an industry-specific MOOC may expose you to the nuts and bolts of a new field. Perhaps you’ve been working as an accountant since your college days, but you’ve always secretly yearned to be a journalist. You might invest five weeks in U. Texas Knight Center for Journalism’s “Introduction to Data Journalism” MOOC; your only cost is the time spent studying, and the reward is it’s a real chance to learn enough about journalism to discover whether or not it’s your true calling.

Thinking about returning to school? A deeper look at MOOC course materials could give you a taste of the curriculum in a typical degree program. For instance, you may hold an undergraduate liberal arts degree that has served you perfectly well in your career in publishing, but you’re fascinated by information technology. Sampling MOOCs like the University of Washington’s “Computer Networks” 12-week course may give you a glimpse into the content an IT major typically studies. This MOOC’s syllabus includes topics like network security, network layering, DNS, content distribution and more. This may be your dream syllabus, or may not be what you expected at all. Exploration of free course materials may help you decide whether to invest in a new degree.

Certifications and Exams

Many specialized industries require professional certifications that signify advanced training and knowledge in the field. Many of these do not require any particular coursework; a certifying examination is all that’s required. A MOOC could be a valuable source of free knowledge for a professional preparing to take such a credentialing exam. Microsoft’s highly regarded IT Certifications are a great example: an IT professional could take the University of London’s “Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps” course prior to sitting for the Microsoft Web Applications certification exam. Cisco certifications are some of the most respected credentials for IT and networking careers. In addition to the short courses offered by Cisco, there is a growing number of MOOCs in computer science and networking that could help prepare you for the certification exams and an IT career.

MOOCs are also expanding to offer test prep courses for the most important standardized tests. Students preparing to apply to college for the first time could take advantage of U. Miami’s subject-specific SAT prep courses. SAT study prep is a thriving industry, but a free online course can be a useful addition to other prep, especially for students struggling with a particular subject. Khan Academy, a longtime player in online education, also offers a free general SAT prep course. Even MOOCs for graduate test prep, like Khan Academy’s GMAT course, are beginning to make inroads into established academics.

College Credit

In 2013, the American Council on Education approved five Udacity courses for college credit. Hopefully this trend will continue as more courses are reviewed. For now, Udacity offers courses in psychology, programming, statistics, algebra and mathematics that can be transferred for class credit in several university degree programs.

Similar to AP courses for high school students, MOOCs can provide a knowledge base that allows students to test out of prerequisite college courses. For example, the MBA program at the University of Colorado allows its candidates to test out of three of its basic courses for a minimal testing fee. MOOCs on the subject matter abound, and a graduate student who is able to test out of even one of these courses can save over $1,800 in tuition.

New Skill Sets

Some industries are using this technology to further educate its workers. For example, some K-12 educational administrators at the district level are requiring teachers to take a MOOC aimed at promoting digital information in the classroom. Other industries could conceivably take up this mantle and request its employees to further their knowledge via MOOCs.

The advantages of MOOCs are not limited to degree-seeking students or professionals who require specialized credentialing. MOOCs are available to anyone, which means you can take a course purely because you’re interested in the topic. Have you always loved poetry? Take a MOOC. Perhaps you’re already employed, but would like to advance your skills or knowledge base so that you’re more competitive at the office. A MOOC on public speaking or perspectives on management could help groom you for an appealing promotion to a leadership position.

Online learning is far more reputable today than it was in the years following its inception; and MOOCs, while new on the scene, have taken the academic world by storm. While their place in the future of education is a bit uncertain, the fact remains that a wealth of well-taught, well-designed courses covering a vast amount of topics are free for the taking. Study classic literature, take classes on coding, or immerse yourself in topics that will help you accelerate your career; the opportunities are endless, and a world of knowledge is waiting.

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