What’s a MOOC…and should your high-schooler consider enrolling in one?

September 12, 2017 | Posted in: High School

Odd acronym, awesome concept.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs are free online courses available for anyone to enroll in. They’re an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance a career and partake in quality educational experiences at scale.

David Cormier, an educational researcher and MOOC early adopter, defines a MOOC as more than just an online class, but as “a course that is built for a world where information is everywhere and where the social network obsessed is a click away in the digital world…a world where an internet connection gives [anyone] access to a staggering amount of information.”

A MOOC is a lot like an online course, with a professor or facilitator, course materials and students, but it takes the concept of online learning even further, with an emphasis on the open and an emphasis on collaboration. While a MOOC can literally be open to any learner who wants to take it, it’s open in the sense that the course’s work is public and accessible for all participants to “read and reflect upon,” says Cormier.

Cormier adds, “a MOOC is a way to connect and collaborate and it’s a way in engaging in the learning process that engages what it means to be a student.”

Quite simply put, a MOOC is a way of learning in today’s information age, so it would make perfect sense for Generation Z (today’s high school-aged students) to take advantage of, right?

“This absolutely is the time for students of all ages to get into MOOCs, but to do so appropriately,” says Dr. Valeri Chukhlomin, professor of marketing and international business at Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, NY.

“MOOCs are supposed to be modern day equivalents of the old introductory texts, providing insights into new and sometimes complex subjects, but for the YouTube generation. [While] a teenager may not be sufficiently prepared to fully digest a course on artificial intelligence or data analytics, he or she may get enough exposure from a MOOC to help them say, make a career choice.”

“There are thousands of MOOCs and there some are better suited for the younger students than others,” Chukhlomin said.

Class Central, a search engine for free, online MOOCs, offers five reasons why high school students should consider MOOCs, echoing Chukholomin’s advice:

  1. To help prepare for AP exams
  2. To get a feel for potential schools
  3. To start exploring majors
  4. To get perspectives from other geographies and backgrounds
  5. Just to expand one’s horizons

It’s worth noting, that many MOOCS are designed for professional development, according to Chukhlomin. For example, in [Empire State’s] Coursera MOOCs, the majority of students are 35-45 years old, with only 0.15% [high-school aged or younger] making up the total participants.

But that shouldn’t deter young learners. Chukhlomin advises “it’s about finding the right courses for the right kind of students.”

In September 2015, edX (another MOOC provider) announced a high school initiative of MOOCs that are targeted to high school-aged students, and since then many other platforms (Class Central, and Futurelearn) have followed suit.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway of MOOCs for high-school students is the opportunity they allow for learners to explore potential college majors and to gauge their interests in certain areas of study. Chukhlomin strongly suggests that students work with their parents and/or teachers to develop a MOOC strategy and for targeted advice on what courses, if any, to explore.

Aubree Kammler is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY. She is now hooked on trying to find the right MOOC to enroll in.

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