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MOOCs - a fantastic free homeschooling high school resource!

It can be difficult to find resources to homeschool high school, so we were really happy when we discovered MOOCs.

Free! High quality! Easily accessible! And did I mention free?

And I think they’re perfect for any homeschooler interested in getting high-quality education resources for free (that’s everyone, right?).

What is a MOOC?

You’ve heard of Khan Acadamy? MOOCS are kind of like Khan Academy, but even better. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, and they’re exactly what they say – a course that usually has thousands of people enrolled, is open to anyone, and is delivered online.

Most MOOCs are provided by top universities and colleges and delivered by experts in the field. Many are actual courses offered by the university – you get the same resources as paying students, but you don’t get access to the teaching staff, or an academic transcript.

You can find MOOCs about virtually every topic – my kids have completed MOOCs about moons, becoming a vet, general science, anatomy and physiology, masonry, rhetoric, creative writing, and ecology (I’ve just realised that we’re definitely a science-loving family!).

I completed two about dementia to complement my nursing degree, so they’re useful for the entire family.

Some provide free certificates, while others require you to pay for the certificate. Many include basic gamification, which my kids love – the small additions like progress bars and grading create intrinsic rewards. It’s enough to keep them going without detracting from the actual learning.

Reasons to add MOOCs to your homeschool

  • They’re free and open access! Many paid courses like this would cost an awful lot of money to do, or require fulfilling entrance requirements. Both provide barriers to entry – many families can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for a single subject of interest, and many homeschoolers don’t have a formal academic history to rely on.
  • Practice learning in a university / further education environment in a relaxed way – many MOOCs are delivered in a similar fashion to my external nursing degree. Most include text, videos, images, and online quizzes. Essay writing is all most are missing – but there are dozens of MOOCs teaching how to write academic essays.
  • Try out interests before committing to a whole degree – if the interest doesn’t prove strong enough to last for a whole degree there’s been no money wasted.
  • Encourage and accelerate learning in areas of interest – my 11 and 12 year olds are capable of doing university level MOOCs in their favourite areas.
  • Use certificates when applying for jobs or courses – the achievement of voluntary online certificates shows that related knowledge has been achieved, plus demonstrates interest and enthusiasm
  • In the United States you can gain college credit or even entry by completing some MOOCs – to my knowledge this is not yet available in Australia but it’s worth checking in your country.
FutureLearn Moons MOOC result from an 11 year old homeschooler

Gabrielle’s result at age 11, when she did a university-level MOOC about moons. Yes, I’m still proud!

The negatives of MOOCs

Obviously, nothing is perfect. Here’s some problems with MOOCs that are worth anticipating.

  • Some MOOCs are of inferior quality, or just plain boring (usually from the professors who haven’t realised it’s 2020, and droning in front of a whiteboard for an hour isn’t enthralling anyone). We’ve ditched some that looked interesting because they’re ALL video, and we prefer a mixed approach.
  • Most will need parental help and input. Most homeschoolers won’t mind – but don’t assume you’ll be able to hand the computer over and have an hour of peace.
  • You may need to purchase or find complementary resources that cover the subject in more detail, or fill in the gaps left by assumed knowledge.
  • They definitely need to be audited first – one on creative writing used far too adult texts for my 11 year old daughter. Why do so many things rely on sex and violence?!

Overall though, MOOCs are fantastic. Our children didn’t use the computer for any of their work before MOOCs came along. We’re pretty old-fashioned when it comes to technology use – any technology-related learning has to prove its merit before it is added to our work (the vast majority of what I’ve seen touted as educational on computers / iPads etc is nothing more than repetitive, mindless games with a thin layer of education slapped on top as a seeming afterthought, but hey, that’s my archaic opinion).

MOOCs were good enough for us to get our older three on the computer, and anyone who knows us will know that that’s very high praise indeed.

Best places to find quality MOOCs

Have I convinced you to try a MOOC? Here are the best places to find high-quality courses for teens.

EdX

Alison

Coursera

FutureLearn

Canvas

Saylor Academy

OpenLearn

MIT OpenCourseware

There are many other MOOCs that are run individually by universities – for example, UTAS’s Understanding Dementia MOOC, which I completed. A google search using the keywords ‘MOOC’ with your topic (eg. MOOC hula hooping – one exists! Really!) should show any available.

I hope that helps you to diversify your learning resources without the cost.

I’d love to hear which MOOCs you and your children are doing, let me know in the comments below.

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