Take a free course at Harvard from home
The first time I heard about MOOCs, I thought it must be some kind of hybrid cow. The name caught my attention, so I did what I always do when I want to know about something: I Googled it.
Turns out MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. What’s that?
Massive — thousands of students. Open — anyone can participate. Online — over the internet. Course — college classes.
About 45 colleges in the United States and nearly 140 around the world offer online courses that you can either audit for free, or pay a modest fee of about $40 and get a certificate. (There are online courses from major universities that offer credit and degrees too, but for this article I’m writing only about free or certificate courses.)
Learning for fun
I’ve taken several MOOC courses just to learn something. Most were recorded lectures, so I could go at my own pace. I could even replay any class if I thought I had missed something.
What’s more, some professors talk rather slowly, and I could speed up the playback and get through an hour’s lecture in 45 minutes.
Some courses require you to pass a quiz before going onto the next lecture, but others allow you to skip the quizzes. Since I don’t want a certificate, sometimes I skip the quizzes. I can usually complete a six-week course in a couple of weeks.
Being loose with how I take the courses means I probably miss something, but at the end I know more than when I started, and that fits my goal of learning something new every day.
For example, I’ve taken a course on Financial Markets from Robert J. Shiller, a noble laureate at Yale; a course on Cybercrime from the University of Maryland; a course on Ancient Israel from New York University; and I just completed a course from Tel Aviv University called “The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem.” All for free!
Almost endless choices
When I first came across MOOCs, there weren’t a lot of choices. Since then, the idea of MOOCs has gained traction.
Search “MOOC platforms” and one result will be a list of the top 10. Just put any one of them in your web browser and then go bonkers choosing from the hundreds of courses you might want to take. (The platforms I have used are Coursera and edX.)
The list of courses seems endless: music, math, astronomy, computer programming, taxes, cinema, art, culinary, biology, history.
You can also search by subject to find courses. Just to make the point, I looked up something I thought kind of obscure: a “mooc course on how clocks work.” I got a list of possibilities!
Before COVID, I audited at least one course at Howard Community College every semester to keep my brain working. Since COVID, I’ve used MOOC courses as a substitute.
Currently I’m into ancient Middle Eastern history. Without the MOOC classes, I’d have never thought to travel there. Now I’m finding it fascinating and contemplating a trip.
Whether you’re still working or retired, you can reward yourself by learning something new or reviewing a subject you haven’t thought about in a while. And you can do it at your own pace at no cost.
I keep thinking about going back over algebra. I use equations every day, but can no longer figure out where two trains traveling in opposite directions at various speeds would meet — and I don’t see how I can possibly go on without knowing how to do that!
Even after my life gets back to a post-pandemic normal, I’ll keep making use of the learning opportunities made available in MOOCs. Try it; you’ll like it.
Visit edx.org or coursera.com for a list of their free classes. You can also search for a specific university’s free courses at their website (for example, Open Yale Courses at oyc.yale.edu; Professional and Lifelong Learning Courses at pll.harvard.edu, etc.). Note: some courses on these sites do charge for tuition.