Saturday, December 19, 2015

MOOCs: The Best Professional Development I Have Ever Had

When you don't have a clear vision of what you want to do, imitate the recognizable until you learn to recognize your voice. -- Anonymous
What if the world's best colleges and universities granted access to FREE world class education to everyone?

Free college education use to be the stuff of fiction, however, thanks to some very smart professors at a couple of ivy league universities lifelong learners and people looking to improve themselves can enjoy the most amazing courses without paying a dime. This new academic tech miracle exists and it is called a MOOC.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs are Massive because a single course can entertain thousands of participants at the same time.  They are free and therefore Open, and they are well designed courses now offered major colleges and universities on the internet.  There is currently a tremendous number of MOOCs ranging from How to Start a Profitable Farm to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Practices. Today, MOOCs even offer inexpensive certificates that students can purchase at the completion of a course.

"MOOC poster mathplourde" by Mathieu Plourde 

I took my first MOOC 4 years ago.  It was a course offered by Stanford University about classroom environment design.  At that time, I had been contracted by a local school district to design an online learning program for teachers and I used the MOOC to help me structure the program content I planned to include.  The video lectures were inspirational and the course capstone project was to create a product (physical or digital) that would significantly change the learning environments in a classroom.  

This course had more than 1,200 students from all over the world, many of whom had similar goals as me.  Students were encourage to either sign up for the course as a group or join an existing group.  I joined a group of 11 amazing teachers from 12 different countries and 4 different time zones in what would prove to be one of the best professional development experiences I have ever had.  

The MOOC learning experience supports that proven pedagogy and learning theories like self-directed and differentiated learning.  They provide a platform on which participants can choose to work collaboratively or alone, at their own pace, anywhere and anytime. For educators, MOOCs are a way to provide cost effective and timely professional development where teachers are able to watch and learn from successful educators in the field.
There are conflicting opinions about the effectiveness of MOOCs.  The loudest criticism is the low completion rates.  This criticism, however, derives from traditional definitions of formal learning environment and completion measurements as the only legitimate standard of success in a course.  For example, studies show that roughly 4% of participants actually complete the MOOCs. However, the MOOC does not work like the old school cafeteria line style of learning, where every student starts at the same point (typically on chapter 1) and receives the same portions of the content.  Instead, MOOCs function more like a supermarkets or grocery store where a participant might opt to enter a course with a goal and idea in mind, then consumes the entire MOOC or only parts of the course that are relevant to him or her, without penalty.

Since I first discovered MOOCs, I have taken over 25 different courses.  Some, I have completed in their entirety and some I have taken simply to understand specific information housed in specific chapter or modules of a course. The courses were all taught by vetted university professors with terminal degrees and usually maintained by post doctorate students or college teaching assistants. Every MOOC I have taken this far, has been packed with dynamic and relevant information. It has been a place where I have found a network of educators with similar values and an affordable tech tool to help me elevate my craft.

Note: If this is the first time you are reading about MOOCs, take a look at this list of current Massive Open Online Course offerings


  1. Hi Matinga,
    Thank you for an insightful Blog posting. You wrote, “This criticism, however, derives from traditional definitions of formal learning environment and completion measurements as the only legitimate standard of success in a course.” How is MOOC an innovative form of learning? Does MOOC offer instructions for a diverse population?


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    2. Shamanie, like any new trending tech tool, MOOCs have been highly criticized. Formal k-12 institutions in the US, even entities that have accepted online learning platforms have still to consider MOOCs as viable alternatives to extend learning. I believe that many High School teachers considering Project Based Learning or Mastery Learning environments could use MOOCs to engage students who have surpassed their content.
      I believe that MOOCs are much more accessible and innovative than the current online course offerings. They are FREE thus making amazingly engaging and informative content available for a more diverse population than say accredited programs like the one we are part of.

  2. Matinga,
    I had only learned of MOOC's for the first time in the past week. You have taken 25 of them? Wow! I am excited to learn from the variety of offerings here, really excited. Not now, but in the future when I am finished with the (tuition based) program I am already in. I appreciate your insight about "finishing" being a criteria for success. It reminds me of a comparison between using the internet to go directly to the information you need, navigating the links to that information to deepen understanding, and then using the information in a practical way CONTRASTED WITH reading a text book cover to cover, and then, years later, after graduation, sending out job applications. "Finishing" in that way is not what productive people always do these days... Thanks so much for sharing this.

  3. Paula, I am glad you are interested in MOOCS. MOOCs do not only cover traditional academic programs but offer a cornucopia of inspiring content. My 12 year old son loves cooking and last summer we took an amazing Scienc & Cooking MOOC offered by Harvard together...OMG! I love living in the 21st Century.

    Harvard Science & Cooking Course:


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