Why you should take a Massive Open Online Course

In a world moving at an incredible rate of speed, how is it possible to keep up with what is current, new or changing? We turn to blogs, websites, podcasts, TED talks and mainstream print media, but it still seems we are only getting part of the story. Russell Clarkson turned to a MOOC. (04:00)

In a world moving at an incredible rate of speed, how is it possible to keep up with what is current, new or changing? We turn to blogs, websites, podcasts, TED talks and mainstream print media, but it still seems we are only getting part of the story. I have always been a learning junkie, but the flood of information is overwhelming.

It was just over a year ago that I took my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). By now most people have heard of them, but many still hesitate to take the first step. To me it has become more than self-improvement, it has changed the way I view education and how knowledge can be delivered. The two biggest providers are Coursera and edX. I regularly move between the two platforms based on the knowledge I am seeking and the structure of the programs being presented.

MOOCs continue to evolve to meet the needs of a demanding global student body and I have seen the quality and scope grow even in the last 12 months. I recently took 2 online courses from Arizona State University that are offered on edX for college credit. These courses allow you to sign up at a very low cost to gain a certificate and at the point of successful completion, you can turn the certificate into College credit if you pay an additional sum. You are even given a year to make that decision.

I took these classes with my son and we became our own study group. We would talk about what we were learning and what it meant in a broader context of today’s world. When we were done, he had college credit and I had audited a course at no cost, but came out with new knowledge and a wonderful shared experience.

These courses are not talking head videos with simple testing after each module. They are a mix if instructor-led videos, traditional quizzes and tests, with peer-reviewed projects and study tools to support memory retention (think gamification for higher education). After years of PowerPoint based corporate training classes, I forgot how challenging real instruction, supported by high caliber educators can be.

Globally recognized instructors are delivering material that previously was only available to a small group of students in a University setting.
I’ve taken leadership training from Wharton, Hadoop training from the University of San Diego, Business Metrics from Duke (where my peer reviewers were from China and India), Fog Networks from Princeton and even a Poetry class that has caused me to better appreciate a branch of literature I had previously avoided. Available on all devices, I have reviewed lectures at home, at work and even waiting for a flight in an airport lounge.

The new reality of adult learning is upon us. Wandering through the available online course catalogs today is like the first time I began to browse Amazon’s book lists 20 years ago. I want to sample everything, but this time I don’t have to pay for it to see if I like it. If I start a course that is not what I expected, I can stop attending. If I get busy at work, I can drop the course and pick it up when it is offered again. Each course gives you a couple of weeks to determine if you want to pay for the certificate or just audit. Ultimately the learning process is in my control and I can adjust as necessary. I have found that when I commit to the course and pay for the certificate, my completion rate goes much higher and at the current price point, it is often the motivation I need to get the most out of the course.

A friend of mine who is a professor at NYU, once told me that I was 3 weeks away from knowing enough about any subject to be conversant. I think I have just cut some time off her estimate.

For the latest thinking on Strategy and Growth, follow me on Twitter; @rlclarkson

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