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‘MOOCs’ sound like some sort of alien race, full of slimy green creatures who come from a still-undiscovered corner of outer space. Guess what? That’s not at all what they are.

MOOCs stands for ‘massive open online courses,’ a new and innovative form of education that emerged in 2012 (and no, we are not talking about Hogwarts online). We thought we’d give you a crash-course introduction to the topic and the controversy that surrounds it.

First, the basics:

The courses are offered by universities around the world, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.



(Image via MetaLAB at Harvard)

MOOCs are free.

MOOCs are open to anyone with internet access.

Computer Access

(Image via Blog Entelo)

MOOCs mostly consist of 5-20 minute pre-recorded video lectures that participants can watch whenever they please on a suggested weekly schedule.

Originally, most MOOCs covered topics like computer science and engineering (leave us alone!). The program has since expanded, though, and now offers classes in widespread disciplines. Last we checked, the upcoming courses for June (found on were varied — titles ranged from, ‘Harness the Power of Professionalism ‘ to, ‘Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World.’ Maybe you’ll even find some of these. 

Mooc poster(Image via Wikipedia)

All of the basics above sound (and are) pretty awesome. But, like all things in life, MOOCs also have their drawbacks.

Firstly, participants generally do not receive class credit for completing a MOOC, rather a certificate of completion. Moreover, certificates are issued by the platform provider, the website that administers the course, not the university from which the professor of the course hails. In other words, don’t expect Harvard University to pop up on your résumé anytime soon (unless you actually do go there, in which case…congrats?).

Secondly, MOOCs are surrounded by considerable controversy. The main concern is that they could destroy higher education,” by lowering enrollment as students choose to receive a MOOC education (provided online by, say, a Princeton professor) rather than a traditional one. Another concern: what if schools struggling with finances decide to replace real-time courses with MOOCs? Talk about a Brave New World. 

The last, and perhaps most significant (just kidding, kind of), drawback to MOOCs? Students must participate in discussion forums and complete required online quizzes, exams, and assignments. But hey, at least you won’t need to use these lecture survival tactics anymore. Pick your battles, my friends, pick your battles. 

Would you register for a MOOC?