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Maximum Impact: Get the Most Out of MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have grown increasingly popular as a means of IT study and training in recent years. Here's how you can use them to best advantages in your own professional development.

You can get more from your next MOOC by following these tips.MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are fast becoming a staple training and study for knowledge-hungry IT audiences. So how can you leverage this still new-ish tool for your benefit, not waste time or money, and really add value to your professional portfolio?


The concept of a MOOC — pronounced however you like, though most people use the noise a cow make, with a hard C-sound at the end — is simple. A MOOC creator takes a topic, records lectures and displays (professional or amateur), and then broadcasts course content on the web.


A MOOC is distance learning, with a web flare. Any person can, for a few hundred dollars, sign up to take a class offered by Yale or Harvard. MOOCs are not limited to ivy-league schools, or even to schools in general, and attendance is open to all.


Take a MOOC and you’re almost certain to find amateurs training right alongside the professionals. As long as there are individuals out there are willing to pay for content from a given provider, even if that provider is an amateur, then course creators can make some money.


(This is as good a place as any to note that many, if not most, MOOCs are free. With free MOOCs, you generally only have open up your wallet if you want a certificate of some sort verifying that you completed the course.)


This author has taken several MOOCs and can attest to the fact that the amateur trainers are oftentimes as good as the professionals. Sure, the Yale and Harvard classes will look good stacked on your resume — but the real-world work, being discussed by someone who does it every day, may be better for your learning ability in the long run.


The biggest benefit is that ability to learn your way, anyway, right away. You can drop in on a MOOC anytime and that, to today’s busy human, may be the biggest benefit of all. There are quite a few tips and tricks to getting the most out of MOOCs — and web learning, in general. Here are my top eight suggestions:


1) Tag Team, Back Again: You should always double-up your MOOC-inations to get credibility along with your learning. For example, if you want to learn “Python for Genomic Data Science,” then “Joe Bob” from down the street is probably not the most qualified instructor.


Job Bob, on the other hand, might be able to help you wrap your mind around the basics and fundamentals of Python, before you then go on tackle the specific advanced topic referenced above, which is an actual MOOC offering Johns Hopkins University.


You’ll find the likes of advanced courses from John Hopkins on Coursera, whereas you’re most likely to encounter the Joe Bobs of the MOOC universe at Udemy. You can put Johns Hopkins on your resume and LinkedIn profile, even if credit for your base understanding is more due to Joe Bob.


The relevant point is that you should get the learning and the gold star for your CV by taking similar courses from different sources.


2) Pay the Piper: Don’t skimp when it comes to MOOCs. None of these courses are terribly expensive, but if you are looking for bargain basement, the you are looking in the wrong place. Some course providers are cheaper than others, but if you are a prolific learner, then be prepared to drop some cash on beefing up your skill.