Massive Open Online Courses #28–30
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as they exist today are really quite new—most date their official emergence as 2012. The concept is simple: a trusted college or university shares—for free or very low cost—the content of their top courses taught by top professors to anyone with a desire to learn! It’s a little bit like visiting the public library, but instead of checking out a book, you can register for a World Literature course by Harvard, Quantum Physics through MIT, or Music Theory 101 at Julliard.
Most MOOCs offer the option of upgrading to a certificate, but since the certificate isn’t for college credit, we’ll leave that option off the table. The free or very low-cost option places the accountability with the student—in other words, you’ll listen to lectures and do the reading, but you won’t be graded on the homework. The up-side is you can try your hand at any subject and simply drop out if it’s not for you. No harm, no foul, no permanent record. It’s exactly like the public library, where the motivated student can devour any and everything that catches their interest without expectation.
Not everyone embraces MOOCs. Despite the entire movement being created by our world’s top universities (MIT and Harvard were the ones who started it all, but now more than 55 top universities offer more than 1,900 courses this way), a few professors have been critical. Professors argue that giving free access to educational
courses will reduce campus enrollment (job security). Another criticism is that students aren’t capable of “real” learning independently without the professional guidance of a qualified teacher and the interaction with their peers. Obviously, Harvard and MIT disagree. Education comes in many shapes and sizes, but you’re a homeschooler, you already know that!
The BEST, and I mean BEST, example of how to grab all that a MOOC has to offer is the MIT Challenge by Scott Young. He wondered if he could acquire the same knowledge as an MIT undergrad Computer Science student DIY style at home. I find his experiment to be so exceptionally inspirational, that I insist you watch this:
How to use MOOC in a homeschool
MOOCs are a fantastic homeschool tool because the student is still enrolled at home, takes the course in the home, is supervised by the parent, and the parent awards the high school credit. In the majority of cases, the parent doesn’t have to do any grading, but they have full control over the extent that their teen completes the work. Perhaps the parent wants to assign additional homework, but in other cases, the parent allows the teen just to follow the course independently. There really are no “rules” here! In addition, the majority of courses are college-level courses, so if your teen has a passion or talent to go beyond their high school curriculum, they can do so through a MOOC.
There are literally thousands of courses in every subject –so the trick to generating college credit is to use a MOOC that aligns well with credit by exam or finding direct credit. The DIY approach is the lowest cost and most flexible option. By using MOOCs as your curriculum provider, you can assign high school credit (general or honors level) while simultaneously helping your teen prepare for credit by exam option (like CLEP or AP). Since most college freshman courses tend to cover similar content, chances are excellent that most of the edX Psychology 101 courses offered through the University of Michigan, Georgetown, or Cornell will all cover the same major themes. As such, you can expect these themes to align very well with the AP or CLEP exam!
There are a few criticisms of MOOCs, one of which is poor completion rate. That is to say students register, but don’t finish. I would argue that to be an ADVANTAGE of a MOOC! Speaking from personal experience, I’ve registered for 4 MOOCs this semester, one through Harvard (credit-eligible) and 3 through Stanford (2 credit-eligible, 1 for enrichment only). The Harvard course was exactly what I needed- it provided targeted education on a topic I needed on my resume. The Stanford courses were in my area of professional expertise (nutrition) but for personal enrichment. One of the courses was outstanding- seriously engaging and fascinating. The teacher was amazing, and I eagerly completed the whole course and paid for the continuing education certificate ($40). The second course was a little dry. The certificate, if I completed the course, was free. I dragged on through it, completed the course, but more from an obligation to earn a free continuing education credit than an engaging education. The last course was credit eligible but wasn’t interesting, so I dropped it to do something else. In my case, I completed 3 of 4 (75%), but if I’m being honest, I wanted to drop the third one too. That would have brought my personal completion rate to 50%….but who cares? Use what you want and leave the rest!
MOOCs as a high school curriculum
Here’s an example of one 12th grader’s schedule comprised totally of free courses taken through edX.
- Science: Human Anatomy (University of Michigan)
- Math: College Algebra (Arizona State University)
- Civics: American Government (Harvard)
- Technology: Introduction to Computer Science (MIT)
- Fine Arts Elective: History of Art (University of Pennsylvania)
- Language Arts: AP English Literature and Composition (UC Berkeley)
- Language Arts Elective: Journalism for Social Change (UC Berkeley)
Earning College Credit
Option 1: Participate in a partnership
There are small but consistent efforts by some of the large MOOC providers to allow students an opportunity to earn college credit. These verification processes differ by provider, but in short, it usually involves passing some type of proctored final exam and paying a fee. Not all MOOCs are set up to convert into college credit, so if you’re looking for direct credit, you’ll have to choose from their lists.
One example of a formal partnership is between edX and Arizona State University. They’ve created an entire “Global Freshman Academy”(name revised 12/01/2018 now called Earned Admissions Program.) There are several others, this is just the best example because the credit goes directly to a university.
Option 2: DIY College Credit
The lower cost and more flexible options are to simply Do It Yourself! In other words, by using MOOCs as your curriculum provider, you can assign high school credit (general or honors level) while simultaneously helping your teen prepare for a credit by exam option (like CLEP or AP). Most college freshman courses follow a predictable curriculum, this is why English 101 transfers easily into another college. The course structure is almost always very similar. As such, you can count on a freshman MOOC taught through a university to be very similar to the content required for a CLEP exam! Note, you’ll still want to allow time for test preparation, there are resources in the toolbar above to help you locate testing resources and practice exams, but the content will be covered through the MOOC! And best of all, if test prep isn’t going well, you can simply choose not to do it.
Jennifer’s TOP 2 MOOCs
These guys are the heavy-hitters. They’ve been around the longest, have the most prestigious college partners, and are well funded by philanthropists and non-profit funding. In other words, they are highly motivated to scale their offering and create a model that sustains them for years to come. You can’t go wrong with either of these.
Beyond my shortlist, there is a longer list on Wikipedia you may find useful. Note that they don’t all offer courses taught by university professors, and some charge a fee. I suggest you start with these 2 first:
edX Started by Harvard and MIT in 2012. You can take classes from top universities all over the world. A Nice search feature allows you to filter by level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and by language (some courses are taught in languages besides English). They have really detailed filters that make finding the best match very user-friendly. In addition, they have relationships with a handful of colleges to award college credit for some courses and have recently added MICRO MASTERS programs. These programs allow students to take graduate-level courses that can turn into MBAs or Master’s programs at actual universities.
Coursera Started in 2012 by 2 Stanford professors, you’ll find their setup similar to edX. They also offer free classes from top universities all over the world. They don’t offer individual college partnerships for undergraduate courses the way edX does, however, they do have a robust graduate program that can be rolled into college credit that rivals edX’s. The area that I think Coursera falls a little behind edX is in website user experience. I find it much harder to search Courser’s site – I don’t think they have a nice filter system the way edX does, but that’s splitting hairs. They are truly a leader in this area. The course I spoke of earlier that I enjoyed so much was on Coursera’s platform. Child Nutrition and Cooking by Maya Adam (Stanford)
edX and Coursera have started to charge fees for certificates, and sometimes the user experience is different for paid students- you’ll want to check and see if you’ll have other benefits (besides a piece of paper) like access to the instructor, downloadable textbook, forum access, or other learning community benefits. These benefits may help bring the course to life for your teen in a way that the more passive approach does not.
#28 edX and ASU Earned Admissions Program (formerly Global Freshman Academy)
Arizona State University is the first college to build a full formal
direct-credit partnership with edX that allows students to do their
entire year via MOOCs. From the Earned Admissions/Global Freshman Academy website
“Global Freshman Academy, offering a unique, cost-effective
way to break down the barriers to a quality education. GFA provides
students the opportunity to complete their entire university freshman
year coursework, risk-free, and pay for the credit earned after
passing the course. Courses are open to everyone with no application
or transcripts required.”
This type of program would be a good option for two categories
of families: (1) If you’re already considering Arizona State University
(on campus or online) as a target college for your teen, this
will save you a good chunk of tuition and allow them to begin
their coursework in high school. (2) Families who have students
that may not be eligible for dual enrollment in their home state.
This includes states without dual enrollment, states with testing
standards your teen can’t reach, or whose age prevents them from
The rest of you may not like the cost. While the MOOC portion
is very reasonable (the verification of identification and exam proctoring
is only $49 per course) the remaining degree tuition is about $600 per credit.
#29 Christian MOOCs—Hillsdale College
Good transferability (Summer Study only)
Hillsdale College is unique because they are a private Christian
college that is completely free from government funding or participation
in financial aid. To my knowledge, they are the first Christian
college to offer a MOOCs program. Their catalog contains 20
courses in politics/government, literature, economics, and history.
Like any MOOC, they are open to anyone of any age without testing
or admissions criteria. You will not get college credit directly
from Hillsdale. But these are perfect courses you can use for high
school credit, and then after some exam prep pursue credit in the
four “American” CLEP exams: American Government, American
Literature, US History 1, and US History 2.
Their second program that is available is worth college credit.
“High School Summer Study and Travel programs offer rising
high school sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen the
opportunity to earn three college credits from Hillsdale College
while traveling to cultural and historic destinations domestic and
abroad. Two-week travel courses begin with time on campus studying
with Hillsdale College faculty, after which study continues on
site.” Unlike their MOOC catalog, there is an application process
that includes admissions testing. Cost for American trip (2018) is
$2300, overseas trips are $4300.
Non-transfer, Special transferability coming soon
Started in 2012 by two Stanford professors, they are the direct rival
competitor of edX offering free classes from top universities all over
the world. Strictly regarding course selection, be sure to add them
to your list. If you can’t find a course in edX, you’ll probably find
it in Coursera and vice versa. Unlike edX, Coursera is a business,
so you’ll be encouraged to upgrade your course to a “verified certificate”
but remember this course does not generate undergraduate
college credit—you’ll have to take the DIY approach and roll your
course learning into college credit by taking an exam (AP, CLEP,
DSST, foreign language).
Where edX has the Global Freshman Academy partnership,
Coursera has announced an entire category of bachelor’s and master’s
degree degrees that allow students to enter their college through
the MOOCs door instead of the college’s traditional application process.
Today’s catalog lists only master’s degrees with “coming soon”
announcements for bachelor’s degrees. (Example: you can earn an
MBA from the University of Illinois through Coursera for about
$22,000 vs. their on-campus tuition of $60,000). I expect to see a lot
of new degrees through Coursera 2019 school year.