MOOCs are an amazing development in self-directed, open-access education. Never before have the materials that universities and other institutions use to teach their students been freely available to anyone with an internet connection. And they’re perfect for any homeschooler interested in getting high-quality education 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, except contact and feedback from the teaching staff, and 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 and ecology (I’ve just realised that we’re definitely a science-loving family!). I completed one about dementia to complement my nursing degree, and my eldest daughter has just started the first of a series learning Italian.
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.
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.
- 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
The downsides of MOOCs
Obviously, nothing is all sunshine and lollipops. 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 2018, 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.
- They still 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.
Where to find quality MOOCs
Have I convinced you to try a MOOC? Here are the best places to find high-quality courses.
- Saylor Academy
- MIT OpenCourseware These are not technically MOOCs, but the world’s top university publishes nearly all of its course materials online. For free!
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.
Do you use MOOCs in your homeschool? Which ones have you used, and what do you and your children think of them? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!