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Life After High School – Using MOOCs for Career Exploration

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Young kids get asked this all the time, and they typically answer they want to be a firefighter, astronaut, doctor or superhero.  But those choices usually change over time, and when high school students are asked that question, it takes on a new meaning, doesn’t it?

What do you want to do after high school? Parents ask  (often), teachers ask, family members and a host of other adults ask. It can be most irritating! More often than not the answer is “I don’t know” or “Not sure . . . .”

Those are completely normal responses. But what can you do to to figure it out? There are hundreds of careers paths to choose from — jobs you may not be aware of even. But what if you could be proactive, start to explore areas of interest, learn about career paths on your own time by getting career information from a laptop or mobile device? What if you could learn from people who are in the field and also learn about out what kinds of things you will need to study to succeed at it?

And what if you could do it for free?

High school students have a terrific option to explore careers with massive open online courses, a.k.a. MOOCs. You can take control and be proactive by taking advantage of what MOOCs offer.

Numerous MOOCs provide introductions or overviews into areas of study, jobs and paths to a career. These courses will also give you an idea of what you can do while in high school to prepare yourself for a career path you might be interested in. Bonus! Nothing is worse than wanting to follow a career path and then find out in 12th grade that you didn’t take the right courses to apply to a program. 🙁

Best of all, even though MOOCs are serious classes with assignments and tests, they are low-risk — no transcripts and no permanent record — making them a great way to sample different subjects without overwhelming you. They also let you get your feet wet with the kind of work you might experience in college or trade school, so you’ll have a better idea what to expect when you get there.

You may even discover fields of jobs out there you didn’t know about. Taking time to learn about career paths in high school is time well spent — you are taking control of your future by doing so. It doesn’t mean the path you choose after high school determines your choice for life, by any means, but it is a start.

Where to start your career exploration

Below is a list of five professional or academic fields with two or three MOOCs identified that are great ways to start exploring those careers. Each course is approximately four to six weeks long and requires three to five hours of watching lectures and reading per week.

Health care

Introduction to Nursing in Healthcare, on Open2Study, begins May 27, 2013 and is 4 weeks.
This course will introduce students to a career in nursing. Since Open2Study is an Australian platform, the material is geared to Australia’s healthcare system, but it provides universal information about the nursing profession.

Introductory Psychology, on Canvas Network, begins June 3, 2013 and is 6 weeks.
This course is ideal for students who would like to learn more about the field of psychology.

Science & technology

Exploring Engineering, on Canvas Network, beings June 3, 2013 and is 6 weeks.
Are you considering a career in engineering? Are you fascinated by what engineers do? In this pre-college course, you will gain an understanding of the various fields of engineering and explore the engineering design process, from conceptual design to project construction, and engineering ethics.

Introduction to Computer Science, on Udacity, ongoing enrollment.
In this course you will learn key concepts in computer science and learn how to write your own computer programs in the context of building a web crawler.

Fundamentals of  Audio and Music Engineering, on Coursera, begins June 3 2013 and is 6 weeks.
In this course students learn the basic concepts of acoustics and electronics and how they can applied to understand musical sound and make music with electronic instruments. Topics include: sound waves, musical sound, basic electronics and applications of these basic principles in amplifiers and speaker design.

Game Theory 101, on Udemy, ongoing enrollment.
Game Theory 101 is an introductory course which provides an introduction to game theory basics. Over the course of the several videos, students  learn about fundamentals of game theory. Some basic knowledge of HTML code is required.

Environmental studies

Intro to Sustainability, on Canvas Network, begins May 6, 2013 and is 6 weeks.
This course provides an introduction to the environmental aspects of sustainability, including renewable energy techniques, the impact of nonrenewable sources, air quality, storm water management, land use and the built environment.

Introduction to Environmental Law & Policy, on Coursera, begins August 2013 and is 8 weeks.
Learn how the law analyzes issues and resolves disputes involving pollution, natural resources, endangered species, environmental justice and sustainable development.

Business & management

Sports and Recreation Management, on Open2Study, begins May 27, 2013 and is 4 weeks.
Learn about careers in sports and recreation management.

Build. Measure. Learn. Lean Start-up, on Udemy, ongoing enrollment.
Welcome to the exclusive Lean Start-up course where you will learn lean start-up methodology from the world’s leading entrepreneurial founders and experts.

Education & writing

Foundations of Teaching for Learning, on Coursera, begins in August 2013 and is 4 weeks.
Foundations of Teaching for Learning is a program of study primarily for students interested in becoming a teacher. It is an introductory program that considers the three domains of being a teacher: Professional Knowledge and Understanding; Professional Practice; and Professional Values, Relationships and Engagement.

Writing for the Web, on Open2Study, begins May 27, 2013 and is 4 weeks.
Explore how writing style, web design and structure can grab the attention of and engage online readers.


Closing thoughts

Of course this is only a small sampling of courses available by MOOC providers. If you don’t see something of interest here, I encourage you to explore the courses offered by the providers I mentioned. You can also check out the MOOC reviews section to see what other students have said about some popular courses. (And, of course, keep checking the homepage for the latest updates on MOOCs.)

Also career exploration is not limited to MOOCs. There are many options to explore careers that go beyond MOOCs. In the United States, for instance, local community colleges often sponsor career exploration days. Schools also frequently will have scheduled online chat sessions about programs within their schools. This is a great way to learn about specific programs.

Another time-saving option is listening to podcasts available through  iTunes University. More often than not, you can find career specific talks from schools or even experts in a given field. Then there is the old-fashioned way of just talking to people in careers that interest you. People generally like to talk about themselves, so if you ask someone about his or her job, you’ll likely get lots of feedback!

And please let me know in the comments below how you have used MOOCs to explore subjects and find out what career might interest you.

Embrace your career exploration journey! Have a great summer—make it fun, and make it count!



Debbie Morrison (6 Posts)

Debbie Morrison is an instructional designer and educator with over ten years of experience in creating meaningful, rich learning outcomes in higher education, K-12 and business settings. She collaborates with organizations to develop effective online programs, and is the learning mentor for the online department at four-year university, and most recently the Lead Curriculum Developer, Online Programs. She writes and blogs about online education and MOOC learning experiences. Debbie holds a Master's Degree in Education and Human Development, with a focus on educational technology.