MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses

When I first began my own continuing education, especially learning as much as I could about starting a business and about entrepreneurship, and I wanted to learn something more than what I had already learned in college, I could sign up for a workshop through a professional organization, or even take a correspondence course.  I have also experienced auditing university courses, where I attended the class, participated in the discussions but was not graded on my efforts.

My how time flies when you are having fun, especially as a life-long learner.  The evolution of continuing education not too long ago created a massive number of courses and curriculum that some predicted would cause the demise of the brick and mortar university by offering courses totally online, free, and professionally presented.  MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, attracted tens of thousands of students from all over the world.  The universities remain intact, and these online courses and the organizations providing them have created a $65 million industry, according to Class Central.  

As an educator, I have always said you can find just about anything you want to learn through an online course, but you have to know what you want, where you can find it, and how to create your own curriculum in order to achieve your personal goals.  Knowing that over 20 million students took at least one of the 9200 MOOCs last year, can seem overwhelming when you think, “All I need is a little accounting, or budgeting, or an explanation in using Excel spreadsheets.”

So, who are the providers in this market? Over 800 universities worldwide offered courses on dedicated online learning platforms.  Some of the platforms I have personally taken a number of courses from are among the top rated: Coursera, Udacity, EdX and Udemy.

Who are the students in these online courses?  If you didn’t know, many of these courses have as many as 20,000 students signed up at any one time.  YES, 20,000 students taking the same course at the same time.  

According to Class Central, in 2017, the number one age group is 46-55, followed by 26-35.  One -third of the students were from the US. Students have access to the discussion boards where they post questions, which are seen by everyone who has officially signed up to take the course.  Though the instructor may or may not be able to actually participate in the discussions, reading the opinions of your fellow students is in itself quite educational.  

How does one go about identifying which courses to take, the quality of material and instructor expertise, what I can learn from the course, and how it will be presented?

How to identify courses

You can head over to one of the provider pages, google courses on the topic you are interested in, or also go to Class Central.  Because I signed up for promotional material from the four providers I referenced above, I learn about new and upcoming courses through their newsletters.  

I recently wanted to understand webdesign, so I went to Udacity, known for their nanotechnology courses. I found this one, HTML and CSS.

I clicked on it and found out more about the course, the instructors, and the curriculum.  I could also take a sample module of the course as well.

I also discovered this is a free, 3-week course, offered at one’s own pace.

I signed up and this is what I learned.  I needed to spend a lot of time learning in order to use the information.  Since I am not planning on developing my own webpage, I decided not to complete the course.  Had I paid for the course, I may not have felt inclined to quit, even if I thought the material really didn’t meet my needs.

What can I learn from these courses?

If I look only at the 4 providers I have focused on here, this is what they each say about their course offerings.  Notice that 2 are academic in nature and the other 2 are worksite/job related.


Coursera provides universal access to the world’s best education, partnering with top universities and organizations to offer courses online.


At edX, we take our mission of increasing global access to quality education seriously. We connect learners to the best universities and institutions from around the world.


Udacity is where lifelong learners come to learn the skills they need, to land the jobs they want, to build the lives they deserve.


Udemy is a global marketplace for learning and teaching online where students are mastering new skills and achieving their goals by learning from an extensive library of over 65,000 courses taught by expert instructors.

How do I know the quality of the courses?

I went to Class Central, where I can find a listing of all of the online courses available.  They offer the course name, location and the ratings.  I was also able to find a list of over 2500 courses with their location, start date and ratings by course participants.

I could spend a couple of hours and identify a series of courses to take, mostly free, and schedule them so that I don’t take more than one at a time.  I have been pleased with the quality, the learning that took place, and the overall experience.  I felt they are all self-directed, even those courses that were led by an instructor.  I was still one out of thousands of students, so I had to use self-motivation and perseverance to complete them.  Those that I completed are a testament to the quality of learning I experienced.  

As a lifelong learner, I have felt these courses are a treasure cove, though I have had to spend the time finding the right ones.

I have been asked often to make recommendations for courses that might help supplement someone’s knowledge in a particular area regarding business startup.  For an example of the curriculum I chose based on particular needs, please click here.

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