There are plenty of uncredited, for-profit schools offering dubious degrees (and a mountain of debt) via online coursework–and that can give the arena of online class a pretty bad rap. But Massively Open Online Classes (MOOCs) are something entirely different: they’re largely offered free charge, are offered by non-profit institutions, and are often taught by prominent professors.
While these classes may be credible, many wonder: Can MOOCs boost your career? Can they help you learn about starting your own business? And with more than 900 MOOCs offered by US universities and colleges, how do you know which classes are worthy of your time? Here are some tips to help you figure whether enrolling in MOOCs is right for you:
LOOK FOR THE SKILLS YOU NEED- NOT THOSE THAT SOUND MOST IMPORTANT
Sure, while an Introduction to Cataract Surgery class might wow the fellas (“Hey, good lookin’ – whaddaya say we go back to my place so I can check out your lens epithelial cells?”), it’s not likely that this class will help if you’re looking to launch a vintage legwarmer company. So when choosing from the hundreds of MOOC offerings online, be sure to pick a class (such as “Knitting Socks”) that that will actually help you on your path.
If you’re looking to launch your own business, look for MOOCs that cover entrepreneurship, like U of Maryland’s Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship, which can help you learn how to create a business plan and raise capital. The advantage to taking a MOOC rather than reading a book on entrepreneurialism? Timeliness. A course created this past spring can offer the latest developments in business more than a text written in 2012 may.
IF YOU’RE IN TECH, YOU’RE IN LUCK (… and nearly everyone is in tech)
A large swath of MOOC offerings are centered around technology-related subjects. For example, there is no shortage of offerings if you want to learn to code- whether you want to learn the fundamentals, a specific programming language, or dive into more hard-core coding.
Don’t think your field is particularly tech-driven? Think again: just because you’re not working as a software engineer, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a tech course. MOOCs in Online advertising and digital marketing can teach skills any burgeoning businessgal would do well to master.
Not only have Google, AT&T, Nvidia gotten in on the MOOC action, LinkedIn has partnered with various MOOCs to offer an easy way to let the world know about your newly-acquired expertise. (You do have a LinkedIn profile, right? If not, we can help you get cracking.)
In 2013, LinkedIn introduced Direct-to-Profile Certifications as a way to allow users to not just update their profile with their educational accomplishments, but to prove that the certificate holder has actually completed the course and with which university.
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE: STICKING WITH IT
If MOOCs are so awesome, why do 90% of people who enroll drop out?
For starters, it’s easy to binge-enroll in MOOC’s because the sign-up is so easy. “I’ve always wanted to learn about robotics! Oooh look – web development! I really should check that out. Let’s see… I really should explore Buddhist meditation. Mental tools! Who doesn’t want more mental tools?”
Before you know it, you’ve just signed up for 16 classes that all start next month, which is probably why the majority of drop-outs actually bail before the class even starts.
To help evaluate whether you have the time to complete a MOOC, look for two vital pieces of information about each course that most enrollees never even check out: the length of the course and how many hours of work estimated each week. Classes can vary from five to six hours a week for six weeks, to 20 hours of work each week for 11 weeks. Be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to studying and how enthusiastic you are about the class itself.
All said, enrolling in a MOOC can provide a professional leg up, whether striking out to create a business of your own or you’re trying to stand out among a sea of candidates. But like most things in life, you only get out of it what you put in. Doing your research, being realistic, and choosing classes geared to teach skills you actually need can make the difference between getting a valuable learning experience and finding just another way to waste time on the Internet.
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