Don’t Be a MOOC Dropout: How to Survive and Thrive in a Massive Open Online Course
As you surely know, Massive Open Online Courses are the big trend in online education. The New Media Consortium Horizon Report 2013 views MOOCs as the technology trend of the year. The MOOC concept is spreading rapidly from what was initially developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Now institutions like Coursera, Udacity and edX have taken over the conversation, offering a wide variety of courses open to learners around the world. Meanwhile, leading universities like Stanford, as well the Open University (OU) in the U.K. are jumping on the bandwagon with their own MOOCs.
MOOCs are sprouting elsewhere around the globe, too. Germany is catching up with #OPCO11 and #OPCO12 (Trends in E-Teaching), followed by the #COER13 (Open Educational Resources) or the #MMC (MOOC Maker Course). I have participated in a couple of MOOCs in both German and English and studied six years online with the Open University, and I want to share my experience with you.
You might have heard about the great workload, the high MOOC dropout rates or being lost and overwhelmed within the MOOC environment. Maybe you are uncertain about what to contribute or whether somebody is interested in your contributions. Or you might experience some language barriers. Well, these might be factors; nevertheless there are lots of benefits you don’t want to miss. By following this advice, you should be able to finish a MOOC successfully and avoid some of the pitfalls I stumbled over during my first MOOC.
Before starting a MOOC
Choosing a MOOC
When choosing a MOOC, simply follow your interests. The three big providers, Udacity, edX, Coursera are a good start for your search, but you might want to look for other independent MOOCs, like the MobiMOOC, the OldsMOOC or the #COER13 I am taking right now. (Each of these is for educators learning how to implement educational technology.) However, don’t make the same mistake I did by taking more than one MOOC at a time.
Think about your time and motivation
As Debbie Morrison said in an earlier post, understand your own goals is key. Ask yourself why you want to participate in a MOOC. Out of curiosity, because the topic interests you or because you want to know new people? Ask yourself how you want to make use of the acquired knowledge and skills. Can the MOOC support you with your study or your job or do you plan on your own project?
That is all reasonable, but you should consider that MOOCs normally last at least a couple weeks, sometimes up to a quarter of a year, and are quite time-consuming. To survive and thrive in a MOOC you should be willing and able to invest, from my experience, at least an hour a day for reading course material, for communication and collaboration with others, writing your own blog, etc.
I don’t want to stop you from participating in a MOOC. On the contrary I highly recommend trying at least one MOOC. However, reasonably assess your own motivation and your time before making a decision.
by Sylvia Moessinger
During a MOOC
Start early enough
The early bird gets the worm! I also second Debbie’s advice to familiarize yourself with the layout of the course website and materials. The site normally opens a couple of weeks before the actual course starts, so you can actually orient yourself in advance. Explore what communication channels are used (forums, Twitter, a wiki). Sometimes you’ll need to register or set up new accounts such as on blogging platform. You might also consider whether you want to earn a badge or achieve some course credits if the university offers that option.
Take it easy
Each MOOC starts with an initial hype. People introduce themselves and write about their reasons for participating. They respond to each other and start out fully motivated on their first tasks. Don’t feel obligated to read all posts and tweets from the other participants. That is almost impossible and you can feel easily overwhelmed. No need to. Introduce yourself, wait for comments on your introduction, but don’t be too disappointed in case that does not happen. But do provide feedback yourself so you can start building up a network.
Don’t be shy
A MOOC is not about competition, but collaboration. So don’t assume other participants are smarter and have more to say. You might want to start as a so-called ‘lurker’, reading what others have to say. It is absolutely okay to be passive and just go through the course material on your own.
But honestly, it is a lot more fun to participate actively. Ask questions, comment on other contributions and start blogging your reflections on what you are reading and learning . Don’t underestimate the value of what you have to say. Agree or disagree with others or start a discussion that might help you get a new perspective or to confirm your train of thought.
In my experience, the MOOC community is really helpful. Other participants, as well those who organize the course are more than willing to support you. This is a good start to network and brings you in contact with other participants.
Often the instructors pose questions for each topic which you should answer, yet keep in mind there is no wrong or right answer. These question are supposed to help you develop your opinion on a certain subject.
Don’t be worried if the course language is not your first language. This is the case for many other participants. English is not my first language either, but I learned that it doesn’t matter at all whether your grammar or use of words is correct. (And I am sure there are a couple of mistakes in this article. ;-) People will understand you nevertheless.
The initial hype is usually followed by a depression. It’s time to keep up now and endure. There is one advantage to this period — communication is not as fast-paced as before, giving you a rest. But keep in mind that no tutor or teacher is checking on you, so it’s up to you to keep your motivation up. The more you do, the more successful you will be in the MOOC. Hence, you might want to remind yourself what your initial aims were and focus on what you are doing.
After a MOOC
Time to wrap up
Reflect on the course. What have you learned? What could you have done differently? Did you achieve your set goals such as attaining a badge or developing a project? Think about what the organizers could improve and povide feedback in the course survey.
When you’re done with that, congratulate yourself on your hard work and start thinking about your next MOOC.
Try to keep in contact with some of the people you got to know better during the MOOC. Nowadays it’s important to network, and you’ll never know what might develop out of this contacts. Plus, it’s fun to have friends around the globe.
And, of course, you should find a way to apply your new knowledge, before it expires.
Looking for more advice on succeeding in MOOCs? Check out our MOOC Resources