What is a MOOC – The complete guide

Learning online has become a necessity, especially during these pandemic times. And even without that, the traditional classroom learning in itself can be quite limiting. With the furthering of technology, it only makes sense to exploit the internet for learning purposes.

More so, the world has become a global village where information is the new currency. There is a need to get information across the globe without distance, space, or time being a major constraint.

A practical solution that improves virtual learning is the advent of MOOC platforms. It has proved effective in connecting teachers from various locations to millions of learners spread across the globe. What better way to advance humanity.

Still wondering what MOOC is? That’s what we are to discuss. So, sit back and enjoy this detailed read on MOOCs.

MOOC - The Complete Guide

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What is a MOOC?

A MOOC, meaning Massive Open Online Course, is an online course created for free access for learners. It is tagged massive as there is no restriction on the number of persons that can enroll. Open as anyone can opt-in, no strict admission process is required. Online needs no explanation; you can only access it over the internet.

And for emphasis sake, the course part means they are created to teach a particular subject or topic. This model of creating courses has proved useful as thousands of classes are now available online, cutting across virtually any topic you can think of. The fact that you can access them for free has contributed to the vast student base often recorded.

MOOCs are often presented in video lessons, e-book formats to be read, quick assessments, and discussion forums. All these work hand in hand to deliver an influential network of people with common interests. This has been instrumental in helping students, professionals, and several other persons gain ground in their fields.

All you need to benefit from this learning structure is an internet connection and a device that connects to the same. I mean, you don’t necessarily have to own a computer to participate in some MOOCs. That’s how convenient learning has become. You can sit in the comfort of your home and learn all that is being taught in a university lecture hall.

Another impressive quality of a MOOC is the free offering. I mean, we all know how costly college and university tuition can be. Not to compare MOOCs to the nominal educational structure, but in the end, you learn precisely the knowledge being shared in schools. Although, you won’t be receiving the acclaimed certifications awarded at these institutions.

But still, it’s no slight to say MOOCs offer a much more convenient way out of the rigid educational structure that has been followed over time. The average course hosted as a MOOC provides the flexibility of learning to an appreciable extent. What matters is that you can fit learning into your schedule.

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Hosting MOOCs: Where to find a MOOC

MOOCs come as individual courses. This means an instructor would gather knowledge around a topic of interest and form a body of knowledge. This is then put online for students to explore the modules.

However, if courses are being created individually, it won’t make sense to share them singly. That way, most classes won’t reach their full potential. Thankfully, MOOCs don’t work that way.

Instead, platforms are created to host MOOCs in their numbers. So, learners can log on to such platforms to access their course of interest. That way, courses reach more interested persons. These hosting platforms also present a more organized, as well as practical, method for educating virtually.

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Again the question arises who the ones behind MOOCs are? Indeed, it won’t make sense for any Tom, Dick, or Harry, who is probably not so grounded in a subject, to provide content on the same topic. That is why reputable institutions, like universities and companies, mostly create MOOC platforms.

Some of the foremost MOOC makers are top universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the likes. And then, there are companies like Google and Microsoft also involved in course creation. Together with various professional bodies and organizations. Examples like the Linux Foundation, the IEEE, among several others.

Having established how courses are created with enough credibility, next to discuss is which platforms are known to host MOOCs.

The first point to establish here is that MOOCs are hosted together because the courses are linked. Classes created by the same institution or organization’s instructors tend to be offered on the same platform. Or at least studies with the same focus are gathered under a relevant forum devoted to that subject.

Most of the well-established MOOC platforms are created with this bias. We have edX, Coursera, Udacity, MIT OpenCourseWare, FutureLearn, etc. which are all products of affiliations with major universities in the US and UK. Then, platforms like Open Learn, Khan Academy, Canvas Network, among others, are created to establish a network of related courses.

Whichever way a platform surfaces from, they all achieve the same goal; offering courses for free. And since most universities do not share their lessons themselves, these platforms become vital instruments in creating a community of students online.

Before we call it quits for this section, let’s check out some of the most popular MOOC platforms you might love to explore. 


Udacity is a foremost MOOC provider with a focus on tech-related courses. You most likely won’t find any class on this platform that’s not related to ICT. And as is expected, most of these courses are up for free. If you wish to receive course credit for your chosen subject, you might have to pay a token.

However, there are several features on the platform that are locked behind a paywall. This includes enrolling in the Master’s Degree program in Computer science available on the forum. These can cost up to thousands of dollars and often have stringent course frameworks. Finally, Udacity is strongly affiliated to Georgia Tech alongside tech experts from companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook.


Coursera is another established MOOC provider with a focus on providing educational materials across the board. Hence, on Coursera, courses are usually offered as part of programs. With some even culminating into an online degree.

Most of the course materials are available for free. However, to enjoy the platform’s full features, you would need to subscribe to a membership plan. Apart from this, course certificates and awards and special programs also incur an additional cost.

Coursera offers all of these features based on their affiliations with reputable universities worldwide. These include but are not limited to Stanford University, University of Colorado-Boulder, American Museum of Natural History, Duke University, and the University of Copenhagen.


Arguably the most popular MOOC platform today, edX, is responsible for hosting thousands of courses, bringing together millions of students and lecturers. And this is so because most of the courses offered on edX are academically based.

What edX is most famous for is the quality of courses offered on the platform and so done at no cost. All edX courses are provided for free, despite strong affiliations with the top universities in the world. The only fee you pay is charged for a certificate of completion.

Some of the higher learning institutions that offer courses on edX include MIT, Harvard, CalTech, Columbia University, Georgetown University, and several other top-tier universities.


This is another reputable MOOC provider based in the UK. FutureLearn also provides academic courses for free to students who want to learn online. They have comprehensive coverage of fields and offer academic credit and degree programs in some areas.

FutureLearn has major affiliations with universities like the University of Leicester, Queen’s University Belfast, Purdue University, University of Oslo, Penn State University, etc. As said, most of the courses on the platform are free. But obtaining academic credit or a degree comes at a cost.

Features of a MOOC

What distinguishes a MOOC from other online offerings? What are the things you should look out for before enrolling in an open online course? And finally, how can you determine which course is best for you? All these questions are answered in this section.

1. Accessibility

We have established the two vital needs in accessing online classes; a good internet connection and an electronic device, preferably a computer system. The reason for this is simple. Most MOOCs are delivered in the form of videos, written text, and few exercises. Depending on the course work’s technicality, it might become increasingly difficult to keep up with the lessons using only a mobile phone.

Another issue some students face is that of the internet. To enjoy going through a series of video lectures, you would need a fast and stable internet connection. And not only that, but the size of these materials is also large, this means you also need much data.

In essence, to properly go through a MOOC module, you need to be prepared both internet and device-wise.

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1. Diversity

The range of courses available on various MOOC providers is quite impressive. There is virtually no area of study that can’t be found online today. Even courses that usually are not readily available at higher institutions are available on these platforms.

What has helped to achieve such vast diversity is the gathering of instructors from various institutions and organizations to contribute to their respective fields. And this has worked fine by offering knowledge to learners worldwide, even to places where such areas are not available.

2. Timing

There are two angles from which MOOCs have an advantage with timing. First is the convenience of going through lecture modules and lessons. While the second is the option to start a course when it is most convenient. While these features can not be generalized for all MOOCs, we can still attribute them to most courses in this category.

Most courses are self-paced, meaning you can go through the lessons as fast or as slow as you want. In contrast, some others have variations to this, such that you have a given period to complete certain aspects of the course. Still yet, you get the freedom to learn when you are most productive – during the day or even at night.

Then for the other point, most open courses are available at any time online. You can sign up today and blaze through a module that has been created since 2018 without any hindrance. This is a huge plus that is not available in physical schools, where you have to go through semesters and sessions under strict schedules. However, some of these online courses also have plans. While some others even become unavailable after some time. It all depends on the course and the platform.

3. Certification

While certification still serves as the most regarded proof of knowledge, it is required to get jobs. Therefore, online courses must offer credible certifications to students who have learned online. This is why most MOOC online offer certificates of completion. Even though they usually are not given for free.

The bone of contention regarding this is usually if these certificates are as credible as those obtained from on-campus programs. The truth is, you probably won’t cover as many subjects and topics as would be done in universities. However, for the specified subject, there probably is no difference.

Then again, there is the question that, on what basis are online certificates issued? Well, you shouldn’t expect to be certified without having gone through a series of assessments. Online courses do come up with one form of test or the other. We have auto-graded quizzes or peer-reviewed assignments. Either way, you have to pass the required tests before you are certified.

4. Pricing

One of the major talking points of MOOCs is that they are offered for free. This is what distinguishes them from other online courses. And to even think that you are getting the very same knowledge worth several thousands of dollars being enrolled in elite schools is even more rewarding.

As we have seen earlier, there are certain features that you do need to pay for in MOOCs. And one of such basic features is a certificate of completion. The cost of a certificate depends on the course and the accredited body issuing it. Regardless, a standard certification would cost less than a hundred dollars.

Another feature students have to pay for in online courses are academic award programs, unique degree programs, and other special offerings that offer in-depth study into a field. Be that as it may, these programs still provide the flexibility of learning at your convenience. And also, they usually cost less than counterpart courses at those institutions of higher learning.

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How Do MOOCs Work?

To participate in a massive open online course, all that is required is you register with the course provider with your name and email. That doesn’t seem so hard – well, it is not. After registration, access your chosen course and start learning.

Effective learning, however, goes beyond mere signing up and going through course lessons and modules. You need to know why exactly you are taking the course. There are various reasons why different persons take courses.

Here are some of the categories of people who benefit from MOOCs;

a. Students

We have students who are looking to broaden their knowledge on a subject. Then, some students are in for the academic award or degree. These are two separate cases. The latter would have to go through more stringent course regiments

b. Teachers

Also, teachers who want a better grasp of certain aspects in their field opt for online lessons. As experienced lecturers teach most MOOCs in various areas, there is much for everyone to learn from each course module. More so, teachers, often go for the advanced classes available.

c. Working Professionals

For people working already, there is often a need to upgrade one’s knowledge base to the standard of the day. And MOOCs provide an opportunity to do so while yet working. And in some cases where certifications are required to further along in one’s field, you can get the same from these courses.

d. Hobbyists/ Lifelong Learners

These are groups of people who love to learn new things and expand their knowledge of things. I could say MOOCs are created for such a group of people. Various topics and subjects of interest are available across diverse MOOC platforms. As an avid learner, all you need is a good cable connection and an excellent device to access course materials.

Even though it can be a bit limited in customization, it is a perfect choice for an organization that is growing as it is scalable over time. It comes with technical support throughout its use period.

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Other things you should take note in enrolling for a MOOC include:

  • Checking for prerequisite knowledge or courses.
  • Confirm technical requirements like software, hardware, or practice instruments.
  • Check for fees that might be incurred for your chosen class.


Are you still contemplating which online course to learn from? Your best bet is a MOOC. These sets of courses offer detailed study and explanation on the subject matter. And as an added advantage, you get to access the course materials for free.

So, nothing is stopping from exploring more knowledge in your area of interest. Start today and register with the MOOC provider offering your subject of interest.

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