Massive Open Online Courses (M.O.O.C.)

Credits in this section usually have very specific procedures to follow, limitations, or are part of a special relationship. This is a unique category for credit types that don’t fit well into the other groups.

The concept of a MOOC 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. There are some other college credit options which we’ll discuss in a minute. 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.

MOOCs for High School Credit

MOOCs are a fantastic homeschool curriculum option because the student is taking a college class at home supervised by the parent, and the parent awards the high school credit in the amount they deem appropriate. In the majority of cases, the parent doesn’t have to do any grading, and 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! If you want to enhance the experience, you may choose to purchase the upgraded certificate option (if available) but these classes are more for a motivated student than one that needs close monitoring and external feedback.

By using MOOCs as your curriculum provider, you can award a grade, and record high school credit on their transcript as general or honors level credit.

Here’s an example of one 12th grader’s schedule comprised totally of 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)

Here’s a second example, this time of an adult, who completed the entire MIT Computer Science degree (unofficially) by building his DIY program using the free uploaded courses from MIT and holding himself accountable. (it’s an amazing story)

MOOCs for College Credit

MOOCs weren’t designed for college credit, but there are essentially 2 ways you can make it happen for your teen.

(1) Pick a class or classes that align well with credit by exam (CLEP, AP, DSST). In this case, you may build a high school program that will also prepare your teen for a credit by exam test that they can take later. The credit by exam approach is the lowest cost and most flexible option, and it allows you to play things a little by ear. If your teen is thriving, you can pursue the exam with enthusiasm, but if their interest falls off, you aren’t locked into a college credit course that leaves a paper trail. Since most college freshman courses tend to cover similar content, chances are excellent that most of MOOCs offered through these universities will all cover the same major themes. As such, you can expect the scope and sequence of MOOC courses to align well with CLEP, AP, or DSST.

(2) There are small but consistent efforts by some of the large MOOC providers to allow students an opportunity to earn college credit directly through the course. 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. Also, these courses, especially those that funnel you into a certificate or degree, can have a lot of strings attached.

One example is the “Microbachelor’s Certificate” in Chemistry being offered through the Harvard University MOOC on edX. This series of courses cost $1,200 (08/2022 price) and is worth 8 college credits. The college credit, however, is not Harvard’s college credit, it’s transcribed by a partner college in New Jersey. The idea is that you might go on and earn your degree at that partner college, but in the Homeschooling for College Credit community, our teens are still in high school, so the portability and transferability of credit is VERY important. The two snags here are that (A) The credit is recorded as pass/fail credit, which rarely transfers well and (B) is not taught by the partner college, which will be evident on the transcript. This attempt at credit laundering is unlikely to be successful. In short, spending $1,200 for THIS TYPE OF college credit is very risky and very expensive.

At the time of this writing, there are several colleges that are attempting to create flexible and affordable paths that all stem from MOOC programs. It is my opinion that the undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) programs are still too expensive, too uncertain, and clumsy to make sense for high school students TODAY. I expect that to change eventually. The master’s degrees, on the other hand, are a steal.


edX  Started by two professors from Harvard and MIT in 2012.  You can take an unlimited number of free 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.  

Master’s Degrees: These were the first degree options offered, and they are thriving. They’ve partnered with many TOP UNIVERSITIES to offer these degrees for a fraction of the cost and fully online. There are currently about 50 different master’s to choose from, some better than others, and some are still pretty expensive. These three are my top pics:

See full list of degrees

FUN FACT: The ASU Universal Learner Program (formerly called Earned Admissions) so popular in our HS4CC community was born on the edX platform.

Christian MOOCs—Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College is unique because they are a private Christian college 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 30 courses in politics/government, literature, economics, philosophy, science, 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 for these course. But these are perfect courses you can use for high school credit, and then with some exam prep, your teen can pursue college credit by exam (yes, you CAN use Christian courses to prepare for secular college credit exams CLEP, AP, and DSST).

If you are looking for college credit, they also offer 2 options for high school students – both programs carry a cost and require registration.

(1) Summer Study & Travel (10th-12th grades) Learn More

(2) Dual Enrollment (11th 12th grades) Learn More

Brigham Young University MOOCS

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Non-transfer)

BYU MOOC Catalog

BYU offers a number of completely free non-credit MOOCs. A small sample include Speed Reading, Book of Mormon, Biology, Interior Design, Family Finance, Drug Use and Abuse, Bowling, Astronomy, and many others. These free courses are not available for college credit, though they do offer a college credit program available to students of any age. BYU Independent Study college credit courses


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” a lot during the course, but remember this course does not generate college credit—so the upgraded option may offer other things you want (quizzes, tests, teachers, cohort, etc.) but it does not change the actual credit in any way.
Coursera has an entire category of bachelor’s and master’s degree degrees that allow students to enter the college through the MOOC portal instead of the college’s traditional application process. Interestingly, I can’t find many examples of these degrees that are either faster or cheaper than simply enrolling directly through the university. It is possible, however, that you can earn guaranteed admissions or get advanced standing and college credit when you use your MOOC this way.

Pro Tip: your teen can earn graduate level credit through the college partnerships in Coursera without having graduated high school or having earned their bachelor’s degree.