Learning Student-made

Going the extra mile (with MOOCs)!

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As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am a postgraduate engineering research student. Unlike an undergraduate or a taught postgraduate degree, when conducting a research project, the responsibility of obtaining knowledge appropriate to one’s field and the ability to understand the relevant literature is bestowed upon the student. This implies that the learning process in non-linear and at times unstructured. This is one of the reasons I decided to enrol in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) at the beginning of my postgraduate journey. In this blog, I will present some pros and cons of starting such a course, share my experience with MOOCs and give you some links so you can start learning!

First let’s define what MOOCs are. The best way to do this, is by understanding each term in the name.

Massive: The first term implies that the course material can be accessed by a very large number of students, typically orders of magnitude greater than that of traditional classroom. It also implies that the course’s delivery method is independent of the number of students participating – whether it be 100 or 10,000!

Open: This is in my opinion the most important aspect of MOOCs. The term open can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, these courses are “open” in the sense that everyone around the globe can participate. They have no prerequisites nor do they require a particular degree or certification. It is important however to note that certain courses do assume prior knowledge of certain topics. On the other hand, “open” means that the course is available for free. Whilst there exists a multitude of free courses, certain platforms charge a participation or certification fee.

Online: This is the self-explanatory part! MOOCs do not require physical attendance in a classroom as all of the course content as well as their associated coursework and occasional assignments are readily available online.

Course: The structure of a MOOC is very similar to that of a University-level course (though not necessary). Students are given certain learning objectives which are achieved within a specific period of time. Most courses require students to demonstrate their knowledge via quizzes, online tests or assignments by the end of the course or in regular time intervals.

As my project involves the design and development of a complex system, I decided to undertake the MIT Architecture and Systems Engineering programme. This is a four-course programme, leading to a Professional Certification. Unlike most MOOCs, this course is not short term and takes approximately eight months to complete. Nevertheless, it is structured like a University course (yes, including assignments and exams). Another reason I decided to take this course is because it offers an online platform where the participants can discuss the course content and exchange ideas. I am also very fond of the way lectures are delivered; instead of 1-hour lectures, each course is comprised of several short videos which go in depth about a particular subject. Overall, I feel that taking this course helped me enhance my engineering skillset and also helped me connect with experienced professionals who are also taking the same course.

Graduate employers seek individuals who possess unique skills and can effectively demonstrate their passion and motivation. By completing a MOOC, students can “hit two birds with one stone”. Whether the course is offered by an established University or a credible online platform, by completing one of these optional courses and earning a certificate, you can obtain specialised knowledge that can run alongside or add to your University degree and demonstrate your ability to be proactive. This not only enhances your understanding of a particular topic but also gives you the chance to tell a good story during an interview! Moreover, MOOCs can help postgraduate researchers to understand a topic in a structure manner with defined learning objectives.

Whether it is a new language you want to study, an optional course relevant to your degree or a topic you feel passionate about, chances are there is an online course about it! Many online platforms exist offering courses like Udacity and edX and Cousera. Most of these platforms feature courses from institutions from around the world with the same curriculum that is delivered on-campus. If there is something you always wanted to learn, either to enhance your skillset or out of sheer curiosity, MOOCs are for you!