By Pat Bowden, published August 15, 2017.
The world of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can be a confusing one, with around 7000 available through a myriad of providers. I have written about how to choose a MOOC, but here are some specific ideas.
People have a range of interests and abilities, and the variety of MOOCs available reflects this. You might be awash in a sea of indecision, but this is a short list of popular MOOCs that don’t require background knowledge. For this list, I have limited the MOOC providers to the three largest: Coursera, edX and FutureLearn.
- Learning How to Learn (Coursera). This course holds the world record for the most students, with well over 1.5 million enrolled to date. Released in 2014, it still consistently makes Top 50 and Top 10 MOOC lists. Reviews by learners include comments on how useful the course has been in their everyday lives, not just while learning. No matter what your age or educational experience, try this course! Also available in fully translated Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese versions.
- Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree (FutureLearn). Produced by the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, this MOOC emphasises researching Scottish ancestry, but there are also plenty of useful general tips and resources for other countries. Ways to effectively search databases, organise your notes, deal with spelling changes, and DNA issues are some of the many topics covered. If you have ever wondered about tracing your family tree, this is a great place to start. Read my review of the course here.
- Mountains 101 (Coursera). If you enjoy the great outdoors, stunning scenery or learning about a variety of plants, animals and geological processes, this course could be for you. Released in early 2017, this 12-week MOOC is a comprehensive look at all aspects of mountains, from the geological processes involved in forming and degrading them, through plant and animal life and how they have adapted to the cold and sparse atmosphere at high altitudes, to humans’ folklore and cultural aspects. A useful aspect is the weekly “Tech Tips” video covering many aspects of hiking, camping and safety in the mountains.
- Mindshift (Coursera). Made by the same team as Learning How to Learn and launched in April 2017, this is an excellent MOOC for anyone thinking of changing careers. It gives learners the confidence to master new fields and transfer skills from one aspect of their life to a different path. You can see my minute of fame in video 1-5.
- If you are interested in astronomy but not strong on physics, you may enjoy The Science of the Solar System (Coursera). This was the third astronomy MOOC I tried, after giving up on the first two because of heavy physics components. My 40-year-old high school physics just didn’t help with them, but Professor Mike Brown’s fascinating explanations of many complex astronomical and geological topics are spot on. Yes, it covered some difficult concepts and was time-consuming (I watched some of the videos a few times to make sure I fully understood the science), but it deserves its place in Class Central’s Top 50 list. And what amateur astronomer can resist a MOOC presented by a professor whose Twitter handle is @plutokiller? You can find my review of the course here on Class Central.
- A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment (Coursera). This was a fun, upbeat course, with exercises that were helpful for increasing happiness levels, many of which were designed to continue after completing the course.
- The Science of Happiness (edX) is a similar course that looks at happiness from a psychologist’s point of view and also includes practical activities to promote happiness.
Bonus – an 8th Course
- Who isn’t interested in food? The Science of Gastronomy (Coursera) looks at the scientific basis of food and cooking as well as the enjoyment of food and combinations of tastes. If you would like to learn more about nutrition, there are a number of courses available. Type Nutrition into the catalogue search box of your chosen MOOC provider and select any that seem interesting. Check if the syllabus and time commitment suit you before signing up.
A Final Thought
The above MOOCs are my top choices, but you might prefer others. If you start a MOOC, but are not enjoying it, simply un-enrol and try something different. Have you done any MOOCs? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.