Are MOOCs Worth it for High School Students?
A college education can take on many forms. Among the newest are MOOCs: massive open online courses. Offered by colleges themselves and open to anyone willing to enroll, these online classes give their members a look at a real college course — minus the college enrollment and credits. MOOCs for high school students are a great way to prep for the next step and bolster any application.
Many readers may be asking: are MOOCs worth it? The answer depends on how much time and energy you have on your hands, as well as what you’re expecting to get out of the course. In this guide, our experts provide a general overview of MOOCs — what they are and how they work — and then deep dive the question of whether or not they are “worth it” for high school students.
What Does MOOC Stand For?
MOOC stands for “massive open online course.” Rising in popularity over the last decade, MOOCs are offered by many institutions as a form of supplemental education that anyone can access — either for free or for a small fee.
What Are Massive Open Online Courses?
Short for massive open online courses, MOOCs are online classes offered by colleges, universities, and other institutions. Though they may be taught by a college professor and follow a college-level syllabus, they don’t always translate into college credit.
In the last several years, colleges have offered free online classes to anyone with an internet connection. These massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offer courses from top professors on a wide range of topics.
Harvard, MIT and Yale offer classes, many of which are open to the public. EdX, one of the organizations that offers MOOCs from different colleges, has a special section of MOOCs for high school students.
Aside from colleges and universities, there are several other platforms that offer MOOCs across a variety of fields. These include Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, Canvas, FutureLearn, Udacity, Open Education Europa, and The Open University.
Should High School Students Take MOOCs? Pros & Cons
High school students wondering whether they should take these classes should consider what they are hoping to get out of them. Below, we provide some pros and cons of moocs for high school students for your consideration.
PRO: MOOCs can reflect well on college admissions
For students willing to take on the coursework of an additional class, a MOOC can reflect well on college admissions. It shows college administrators that a student is ready to take college-level classes. It also demonstrates a love for learning and passion in a specific subject area.
While successfully completing a MOOC may not buy you a single college credit, it can certainly help you in college courses. Aside from bolstering your application, MOOCs can also bolster your knowledge — giving you a head start on subjects you’ll likely encounter in college. For some this head start can be a great introduction — for others, it can be a welcome second perspective. For many, MOOCs are both.
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CONS: MOOCs and online undergrad classes are not the same experience
Doing well in a MOOC, however, won’t hold the same weight as taking an online undergraduate class, which tend to be smaller, involve more interaction with an instructor and have certain prerequisites.
"Even within MOOCs, there can be a wide range of differences when it comes to the amount of material covered and the academic integrity involved," said Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis for WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.
“There are wide variances in educational experiences across institutions in what they offer as online courses or MOOCs,” he said. “Kingda Ka in New Jersey is the tallest roller coaster in the U.S. and it's a different experience than the gently rocking horse that your child can ride outside the local grocery store. Both are amusement rides, but there is little to compare about them.”
It’s not difficult to imagine the differences between a MOOC and an online undergraduate class. Perhaps the biggest difference is participation. MOOCs typically consist of pre-recorded video modules with worksheets and the occasional test. The interactivity usually stops there. With online college courses, on the other hand, students typically join a live video conference call to listen to a professor talk in real time. During the call, students can participate and ask questions. Online college courses also count for college credit, while MOOCs sometimes do not.
PRO: MOOCs can help high school students start earning college credits
Students looking to start earning college credit might want to consider taking an online undergraduate class. MOOCs differ in what they offer to people who complete the class, but, in many instances, participants must pay for a certificate showing they passed.
As many colleges do not accept MOOCs for credit, it’s best to plan on taking a MOOC for one of its other benefits. We’ve already mentioned that MOOCs are a great college prep tool: they can help you get a better idea of what a college course is really like, while exposing you to subject matter that will likely show up again in college. If you know which college you’re attending, taking a MOOC from that same school is a great way to try out professors to see whose teaching styles you like. It’s also a great way to audition courses in general, so know which ones to pursue and which ones to avoid. If you’ve narrowed your college list down to a few schools, taking a MOOC or two from each one can help you make a more informed decision.
CONS: MOOCs have an extremely low completion rate
One thing to keep in mind; although many people sign up for MOOCs, only about 5% complete them, according to a study by MIT and Harvard. When taking online classes, it helps to schedule a time and place during the week to view the lectures and work on homework.
With MOOCs, self-discipline is key. If you want to complete your MOOC and earn your certificate, you need to treat it as a regular class. Show up several times a week, pay attention, and do your homework. Get into a rhythm so you don’t forget, and try to review course materials immediately following each module so you absorb them as much as possible.
If this sounds like a lot of extra work, it is. While many students may have the time to work a MOOC or two into their schedules, many simply do not. If the enrollment fee isn’t too high, you can always enroll to see what a MOOC is like and leave it unfinished if the course load is too much for you.
PRO: Taking MOOCs can help high school students prepare for the modern college experience
As we’ve mentioned several times in this guide, this biggest pro of MOOCs for high school students is that they prepare them for college. MOOCs are a taste of the college experience: they’re taught by real professors, they cover college-level materials, and they teach good educational habits.
Beyond that, MOOCs are a perfect test drive of the modern college experience. In a world where online school is common, and many established institutions also offer online courses for credit, MOOCs can prepare future students for the online classroom experience. When you take a MOOC, you will have the opportunity to learn how you work best as an online learner. This knowledge will help you succeed in many collegiate environments today.
CONS: MOOCs tend to have a cost for completion or certification
Many MOOCs aren’t free — and some of those that are may require a fee for certification. In many cases, this is how MOOCs are funded, so you should expect to pay something when you enroll. That said, the price of MOOCs is typically lower than that of an online college course.
One popular example of a MOOC platform that allows students to enroll for free but pay to receive a certificate is Coursera. While this method may seem strange, it’s actually quite beneficial for the learner. Anyone can access course materials for free and learn. Only those looking for a certificate to earn course credit or bolster their resumes must pay.
Are MOOCs “Worth It”?
Here at the end of our MOOC guide, we’ve left you with information to consider the all-important question: are MOOCs worth it? While MOOCs have pros and cons, the ultimate answer to this question boils down to you.
Do you have the time and energy to enroll in a MOOC? Many high school students have full plates with schoolwork, sports, and extracurriculars. Others have the bandwidth for a MOOC or two. What do you expect to get out of a MOOC? If you just want exposure to a college class and college-level subject matter, a MOOC is a great choice. If you want course credit, make sure that the schools you’re considering accept MOOC certificates — and be ready to pay. How else can a MOOC help you? For students who are narrowing down their list of colleges, and for those who have already made their decision, MOOCs can provide welcome intel on a college’s professors and courses.
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