The Ultimate Guide to Online Courses

Professional and personal development are important to many people. Professional development allows you to stay current in your field, make connections with likeminded professionals, and satisfy any continuing learning requirements your job may have. Personal development allows you to grow as a person, learn new skills, and try new things.

In order to grow, professionally or personally, in the past, you had to sign up for college courses, pay a lot of money, and rush to class after work or on weekends. But that set-up as changed. Online courses, many of which are totally free, have revolutionized the way in which many people access professional and personal development. Thanks to the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs), people can attend free courses offered by Stanford, Harvard, and MIT in the luxury of their own home, taking the courses at their own pace at a time that is convenient.

MOOC Image

Image via flickr and

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is an online course that uses filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets to provide information to the user. Many MOOCs also include a discussion board or forum to allow students and teachers to interact. The content and structure of MOOCs are open, thereby allowing others to reuse and remix the information as needed. Recently, some close licensed MOOCs have emerged, so while their content is not reusable, it is still free for students.

How Did MOOCs Get Started?

In general, MOOCs are a natural evolution of the old school pen and paper correspondence course. Years ago, in attempts to reach a broader community, especially those students who lived in rural areas, colleges and universities began broadcast courses. These courses typically consisted of students watching a filmed version of the class lecture, and then mailing in coursework. Broadcast courses eventually lead to early e-learning courses, as more people gained Internet access. As e-learning courses developed, the need for MOOCs became more apparent.

According to MOOC News and Reviews, “MOOCs were first popularized when Stanford University decided to offer its ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ class free of charge via the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of students signed up, and universities everywhere immediately understood that MOOCs were going to shake things up.”

The New York Times deemed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC,” thanks in no small part to the start up of three well-funded course providers: Udemy, Coursera, and edX.

Why Are MOOCs Important?

MOOCs offer a way to learn something new without huge financial commitments. Maybe you’re considering a job change and think IT might be for you. Taking a few MOOCs can help you get a feel for content before starting on a larger course or career shift. Or maybe you want to discover what it’s like to take a course from Wharton School or Business or MIT. Or perhaps you’re not even sure if college is for you. A MOOC will help you get a feel for lectures, material difficulty, or participation requirements.

For teachers, many MOOCs offer cutting edge information about important topics in education like assessment, Common Core State Standards, gamification in the classroom, and introducing STEM and STEAM content – all without having to drive to professional development courses for long hours that you don’t really have.

Where to Find MOOCs

Nowadays there are many sites that offer open, online learning opportunities. Here is just a small selection of what’s out there. For a more complete list, including what courses are starting soon, check out Class-Central.

  • MIT OpenCourseWareMIT has one of the largest collections of open courseware out there, including offerings in fields such as anthropology, biology, chemistry, literature, and women’s and gender studies.
  • Harvard Extension SchoolHarvard shares some of its Ivy League educational resources for free on this site, which collects materials from a number of different courses ranging from computer science, to Arabic, to expository writing, to government, to speech, to statistics.
  • UC Berkeley XHead to UC Berkeley’s free online courses pages at edX to find a great collection of courses like “Scalable Machine Learning” and “The Science of Happiness.”
  • The Open UniversityThe Open University on iTunes U is an excellent place to look for free educational resources on just about any topic, from creative writing to cognitive psychology.
  • UMass BostonThis schools offers courses in subjects like biology, early education, performing arts, and special education.
  • UdacityStarted by a professor at Stanford, this site is a must-see resource for any current or future student, especially those interested in computer science. Currently, it offers courses in cryptography, web application engineering, computer program design, programming languages, and even programming robotic cars! Many of the courses are designed and certified by Google.
  • Udemy: This site offers a wide variety of education-related courses, like Google Earth for Educators, Apps for Librarians & Educators and Classics of American Literature: T. S. Eliot.

The Future of MOOCS

Online learning is growing. Though despite some early predictions about MOOCs, they haven’t completely taken over the educational landscape. MOOCs have their downfalls, too:

  1. Not personalized: Many MOOCs are prerecorded lectures or courses. There is no way to ask a question of the professor during the presentation. MOOCs don’t take individual learners needs into consideration. They are often designed for an average college student.
  2. No access to the professor: Some MOOCs have thousands of students join for each session. On top of their normal university course load, professors cannot personally reach out to each student.
  3. Grading: if a written component is required in MOOCs, it’s often left to peers to grade assignments. Because MOOCs are open to everyone, the people assessing your work could be less qualified than you’d like

The MOOCs of the future will need to take all of the following factors into consideration when designing the next wave of open learning environments.

In Short

Massive open online courses are fantastic, and in most cases, free resources for students and teachers. If you have a student who is excelling, consider offering her the chance to test out of your class and take a college course during her class time, instead. As a teacher, the best thing you can do for your career is to keep learning. MOOCs offer you the change to learn more about the world of education, if you’re ready to broaden your horizons, just about any course you can think of.


  1. Jenny

    July 6, 2015 at 6:28 am

    There are huge problems with MOOCS not really covered here. The NY Times reported that about 50% of MOOC students don’t look at any material and about 96% of MOOC students don’t complete the course.

    Before MOOCS can be taken seriously they need to be sorted and properly run.

    See this article for more:

  2. greatcityness

    August 27, 2015 at 6:26 am

    You may download udemy videos with Allavsoft.

    It also download videos from MySpace, Google Video, Yahoo Video, and other more that 750+ video websites.