How Do People Spend Their MOOC Time?

Getting the right balance

By Pat Bowden, published October 3, 2017.

What is the best thing about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)? To many people, it’s their flexibility. You can enrol easily, then choose to do as much or as little of the course as you like.

Striking the right balance can be different for different people. One student might work diligently through all of the available material. Another might watch a few videos, peruse some readings, then go on to something else. Which of these students has benefited the most?

Why Enrol?

The answer lies in why each student enrolled in the MOOC. What are your MOOC goals?

If you are a job seeker looking to improve your resume, your best strategy might be to complete any compulsory components and earn certificates. You may also benefit from doing optional activities that could boost your employability. More ideas might be available in FutureLearn’s How to Succeed at: Writing Applications.

Alternatively, you may want to know something specific, such as how to make an app for your iPhone. Coursera’s CODAPPS: Coding Mobile Apps for Entrepreneurs might give you some useful knowledge. You can pick and choose which parts of the course will be relevant to you without having to go through all the information about coding for Android.

What if you are doing MOOCs to increase your knowledge, with no specific goal in mind? You’ll probably want to peruse every page of the site to make the most of the MOOC. Or you may watch just one video before abandoning it and moving on to a different MOOC.

Changing Aims and Goals

There is also the chance that your aims and goals might change as you progress. Having started out just wanting to code for iPhone, you may later decide to extend your expertise to include Android and Windows as well. With MOOCs, it’s easy to go back and complete the remaining sections. Many MOOCs advertise access to their material for an unlimited time, particularly if you have paid for a certificate.

Even if your original plan is to purchase a verified certificate, you may find it better to delay the payment until you have done at least part of the course, in case you change your mind about completing it.

I started on an astronomy MOOC, planning to follow a lifelong passion and learn about the universe. It was hard for me to accept that I would need to spend many, many precious hours simply understanding the complex mathematics and physics in order to answer the quiz questions and pass the course.

After some soul-searching, I chose to bypass the quizzes and simply watched the videos. I learned about star types without worrying about exactly how hot or how large each was. Later, I attempted another astronomy course, which featured a heavy component of learning about photons and x-rays. I didn’t complete that course either.

Success at last!

Eventually, I tried and passed a third astronomy course (The Science of the Solar System) which, although challenging, had less emphasis on calculations and more on understanding what particular observations meant. The sense of achievement was wonderful! I had finally finished an astronomy course. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I repeated it and managed to earn 100% the second time around.

My general aims have been slightly refined in the five years since I discovered MOOCs. I am now concentrating on writing and the learning process. I’m still fitting in some science MOOCs and a smattering of other topics. My current aim is to finish one hundred MOOCs. Check my progress here.

Time Management Tips

One way to make the most of your MOOC time is to watch the videos efficiently. As mentioned here, you can increase or decrease the playback speed, or pause it to take notes or think about a particular topic or problem. It can also be more efficient in the long run to replay a section a few times if you don’t understand it. If you continue without understanding, you might just become more and more lost.

Other time management tips are to schedule your MOOC time and use the Pomodoro technique to focus on the MOOC.

Why a MOOC?

You may wonder if enrolling in a MOOC is worthwhile, or whether you could find the knowledge somewhere else. There are other channels such as books, internet searches, and YouTube videos. You would need to investigate whether buying a book or two, or viewing several YouTube videos would be better for you.

If the MOOC is on the topic you want, having all the material organised and presented in a logical way can streamline the learning process. You might even end up combining MOOCs with other sources to really round out your knowledge.

A Final Thought

Whether you want to thoroughly explore every page and watch every video of the MOOC or just dip into interesting sections, exploring MOOCs can fulfil your needs.