By Pat Bowden, published September 19, 2017.
Are you thinking about taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) but are worried it might be too hard or take up too much time? You’re not alone. Many people spend too much time thinking about things rather than simply jumping in and giving them a go.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”—J.K. Rowling.
MOOCs are Lower Risk
MOOCs can be a simpler option than some other modes of education. They have no entrance requirements. They can be free, or if not, are usually cheaper than studying with a bricks-and-mortar institution. If you are not sure whether you can manage the workload of a MOOC, see if you can opt for free access at first. You may be able to pay for certification later, if you want it.
Many MOOCs have more relaxed deadlines than on-campus courses, because the providers understand that most MOOC students have other commitments such as paid work or family duties. Often, students are allowed more than one attempt at quizzes and exams in MOOCs. Even if the questions are not the same, having already tried the test, you have a better idea of what is being asked, and can study up on any weak areas before attempting it again. On the down side, it can be harder to stay self-motivated if you fail a MOOC test.
What if I Fail?
Most people hate to fail. It’s a natural reaction, but a failure now and then can be beneficial. A search for “Famous Failures” in your favourite search engine is likely to turn up Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs among others. All of these people lived through times when they considered themselves to be a failure. Reading about their continued struggles and refusal to give up when times were bleak can be inspirational.
How you respond to failure is more important than failing itself. If you have failed a MOOC, instead of panicking, try to look at the situation calmly and rationally. You may need to defer thinking about it until the next day, when you can consider your options honestly, with less emotion. Can you pinpoint what reasons caused the failure? What can you do differently next time? Even small adjustments in your study habits or time management skills can lead to big transformations down the track.
Strategies After Failure
There are a few possible options after failing a MOOC:
- Give up. Yes, this is an option, but the fact that you’re here reading this indicates to me that you want to succeed in your learning journey. Don’t give up without a fight! Keep reading my posts, and if I haven’t answered your particular question or addressed your problem, please leave a comment below or contact me via the “Contact” form.
- Defer your studies until a more convenient time. Sometimes the desire is there, but life simply doesn’t allow you to complete a MOOC right now. You might feel less frustrated by setting a date in your diary or calendar to review your commitments and perhaps fit the study in a bit later down the track. In the meantime, you may be able to fit in an occasional YouTube video or podcast on your chosen topic, to keep it in mind and give you a head start when you are able to enrol and give it more focussed attention. Alternatively, look for a self-paced course or transfer your enrolment to a later run. Sometimes you can do this without losing the results you have already achieved.
- Look at other options. Perhaps the particular MOOC you tried wasn’t right for you. The teacher or presentation style might not have grabbed your interest or the subject may not be as useful as you expected. Changing subjects is easy with MOOCs. There is no qualifying process, simply sign up to a new MOOC and give it a go.
You may have been a bit too ambitious with your chosen course. It may simply be too difficult for you right now. This could be because you did not have sufficient prior knowledge of the subject. Were there prerequisites for the course? You may need to look for a MOOC or other resource that teaches those prerequisites. What about trying to find a more elementary course in the same subject area? As a very general observation, FutureLearn courses might be easier than EdX or Coursera courses, for instance. It’s not unusual to find several MOOCs on similar topics. Try an easier MOOC, then decide if you want to go back and take on the harder one again.
- Investigate another type of study if the MOOC format does not suit you. Some people thrive with the continued support and encouragement from teachers and classmates that they can get from a face-to-face course, or even an online course that offers close contact with an official mentor. They may find that MOOCs do not offer enough social contact or person-to-person support for their needs.
- Try again. In 1895, Albert Einstein failed the entrance examination for the Swiss Polytechnic at his first attempt. Although his mathematics and physics results were excellent, he had insufficient knowledge in other required subjects. He spent the next year studying, and enrolled successfully in the Polytechnic in 1896. If at first you don’t succeed, remember you are in great company and refine your study habits to work towards the end result.
Succeeding at MOOCs
Having a poor result at the first attempt doesn’t necessarily mean MOOCs aren’t for you. Organising your time, employing strategies to succeed in tests and using a Pomodoro to put off procrastination can all help. Make sure you have the best tools for the task and look after yourself with nutritious food, sufficient exercise, and rest. You may be surprised how much easier it is the second time through.
A Final Thought
No-one else needs to know if you failed a MOOC, and it can be so satisfying if you manage to pass on the second or subsequent attempt.