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Monday, August 31, 2015

Gaining the maximum learning from MOOCs

Today, we have plenty of learning opportunities online. One gets easily drowned in the quantum of channels available - be it blogs, YouTube videos, iTunes University, Tutorials, Communities or the latest thunder - MOOCs.

Video tutorials have been popular for long time now especially with the advent of easy to use video creating softwares and also because of the penetration of high speed Internet. I remember MIT coming up with open courseware in early 2000's. IITs and IISC had started similar efforts with their NPTEL platform.

Open learning also kinda followed a typical evolution of new product development that we generally see - from just being a repository of course notes to pre recorded class lectures to live classes to a complete community of learners. New business models have sprouted from the success of these platform ideas  (a good example being lynda.com).
Open learning really kicked off with the success of coursera and today we have a bunch of MOOC platforms. We can learn anything from philosophy to business to medical to technology; that to from the best universities and tutors - that too most of the time free of cost!

Having said that, it's always not easy to learn from MOOCs compared to classroom especially because of its passive nature. Here are some of the tips to keep in mind to gain maximum benefits from MOOCs.

Choose the courses carefully

Most of the well known MOOC platforms provide similar usability features - whether it is subtitles or download options. So ultimately, what matters is the course content. It is just a normal human tendency to try out and join as many courses as possible for the following reasons-

  1. It is free, we may get tempted to try out everything 
  2. Famous universities attract even though the course offered may be little relevance
  3. Passion v/s Relevance - with the plethora of courses available, it's easy to get sidelined or attracted to courses you may not want to learn - be it something you always wanted to pursue at school or something you always do at work. Both these schools of thought are right; so you need to be careful while enrolling for the courses
  4. Don't enroll for a number of courses that you can't manage. If many courses are going get started together, pick few of them;  these days same courses are offered multiple times a year or later opened as a self paced one. This selection process also help you to streamline your goals from attending MOOCS.

Get a preview before you commit

All the platforms provide an introductory video about the course. This provides a sense of what's in the cards.  Most of them also allow you to enroll, watch some  videos and unenroll at anytime if you want. So make sure you use these options to understand a bit about the course before you jump into it. Another benefit of this is to judge your wavelength  with the lecturer - is she too theoritical? Is the slang easy to understand,  does the lecture put you to sleep etc.

Selection of passive or active courses

When OCW or NPTEL started,  it was completely in a passive mode - you get the course notes, sometimes classroom lecture videos and you do a self learn. MOOCs took an active mode - releasing only a week's lectures, providing a platform to interact with fellow learners, quizzes, exams and so on.  These days MOOC platforms also offer self paced courses. So the choice is yours. My personal opinion is to go only with an active mode for obvious reasons -

  1. You get a direction of where you are going each week. You don't get lost in waggling between all the videos you have.
  2. Interaction with other learners may be limited since all will be in different paces, objectives and so on.
  3. It helps not to get into procrastination cycles.
  4. It gives a feeling of attending a class.
  5. A set of short videos with pop quizzes keeps your attention as opposed to one hour pre recorded videos.

Make the learning ritualistic

Since there are no monetary cost associated with open MOOCs and no administrative requirements behind you, it's easy to get driven away from learning after few video lectures. Commitment is the key here and making it ritualistic, allotting specific hours a week helps in getting the course completed.


One of the challenges in online learning is engagement. However that is also one of the best things about online learning. You get to make friends from across the world! These co-learners may very well become your partners in future. Hence it is important you participate in forum discussions, contact like minded learners  for projects and before all help each other  to learn better. Watching a video may not be as effective as attending a class in person; but combined with an active virtual participation can be equally effective if not surpass the classroom learning experience.


Most of the learners in MOOCs are adult learners. So give and take respect. Learners being from different geographies and backgrounds also make it a diverse platform; so maintaining professionalism is important.

Finally, enjoy watching the lectures and interacting with co-learners....Happy learning!

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net