How you can stay up-to-date through MOOCs

In this post, I’ll share with you how you can use MOOCs to stay up-to-date with your field and acquire new skills. I’ll also share some of my experiences after having completed about 30 MOOCs in the last year and a half.

What is a MOOC?

Let us start with the basics. According to Wikipedia, MOOC is defined as:

A massive open online course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.

Wikipedia

MOOCs are a kind of distance education where you can consume the learning content whenever and wherever it suits you. A MOOC is typically built with the following building blocks:

  • Video lectures
  • Self-tests
  • Assignments (weekly / finals)
  • Collaborative projects
  • Discussion forums
  • Downloads (videos, slides, and transcripts)

The following mind-map by Mathieu Plourde (Mathplourde on Flickr) [CC BY 2.0] gives a nice overview of the concept and the flexibility of its implementation:

MOOC poster mathplourde

My first contact with MOOCs

I stumbled into the world of MOOCs in February 2018 after having found the MOOC platform of SAP, named openSAP. SAP was offering a technical course on test-driven development in the programming language ABAP, which I enrolled for. The course was great, and it changed how I keep up to date as a developer.

What can you use MOOCs to learn?

The MOOCs I’ve attended mainly fall into the following three categories:

  1. Technical skills
  2. Thought leaders
  3. New products and solutions

Technical skills

Being a developer, I always look for material to expand and improve my technical skills. This can be anything from learning a new programming language or a test framework to learning about a new NoSQL database.

The courses I’ve attended in this category typically consist of a lot of coding exercises, which for me personally is a very good way of learning. MOOCs that fall into this category are typically the most work-intensive.

Thought leaders

As a developer, it is important to widen your perspective and be aware of greater trends in technology and society. Attending MOOCs within this space helps you to keep up with new business practices, and the lecturers are typically business and academic thought leaders as well as top politicians.

New products and solutions

When working with enterprise software, you as a developer will often be asked by your customers about new products and solutions which they have heard about. Even if you have not yet had the opportunity to do hands-on work with these products and solutions, I recommend attending MOOCs within this area to at least have an overview of which scenarios the solutions are applicable to.

When and how I consume MOOCs

The major advantage of MOOCs over traditional classroom training as I see it is that you can consume the course content whenever it suits your personal schedule.

I have a daily subway commute of about 45 minutes in total. As long as I can find a seat, I think that this is an ideal opportunity to use MOOCs. The MOOCs I’ve attended typically have units with a length of approximately 20 minutes, which means that I can squeeze in two units a day, just going to work and back. I find this to be a much more productive use of my time than just scrolling through social media posts or playing games on my phone.

The assignments typically require at least an hour of focused work and are not ideal for my commute. I typically do the assignments when the rest of the family is sleeping.

Nice side-effects of attending MOOCs

Apart from the learning itself, which is, of course, the most important part of attending MOOCs, I’ve encountered the following nice side-effects:

  • Certificates and badges to put on your LinkedIn profile: If you receive a certificate or a badge, make sure to put it on your LinkedIn profile. Since the words of the MOOC are searchable, people looking to connect with people with a certain skill will find you through these search terms.
  • Free books: In one MOOC I attended, the teachers were publishing a book on the topic simultaneously to bringing out the MOOC. Since I was one of the top 30 students of the course, I received a free copy of the book in hardcover.
  • Discount coupons: Several MOOCs I’ve attended have given me a discount coupon at the end of the course. The coupons have been for books, conferences and paid e-learnings.
  • Invitations to conferences: Just the other day, I received an invitation to attend a conference on a topic for which I had attended a MOOC. I’d still need to pay for the conference, but I wouldn’t have been aware of the conference if I hadn’t attended the MOOC.

Potential downsides to attending MOOCs

The potential downsides I’ve encountered when attending MOOCs are the following:

  • Opportunity cost: When attending a MOOC, there is an opportunity cost. I’ve noticed that I’ve read fewer books when attending MOOCs due to time constraints. Make sure that the courses you are attending are really worth the time investment you are making.
  • Marketing material in disguise: A few of the MOOCs I’ve attended have been little more than sales pitches and marketing material from a software vendor trying to push a new product. This becomes obvious at an early stage, so don’t hesitate to drop out of a course with these characteristics. I’ve come across these courses mainly in the new products and solutions category.

MOOC platforms

There are a lot of MOOC platforms out there. I just want to give you a few examples to get you started. If you have any recommendations, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

freeCodeCamp

At freecodecamp.org you can attend an online coding boot camp completely free of charge. The focus is mainly on front end web development with courses on topics such as responsive web design, JavaScript, front end libraries, and APIs. There are a lot of hands-on coding exercises available.

openSAP

At open.sap.com there are hundreds of courses available. Many of them are focused on SAP specific solutions and technologies, but there are also a lot of general courses available. Some examples are courses on Java, Snap!, design thinking, digital transformation, and AI. The courses are offered free of charge to anyone interested.

Udacity

At udacity.com you can acquire tech skills within different areas, like programming and development, AI, cloud computing, and data science. I’ve only taken a JavaScript course at Udacity, and am not all too familiar with the platform.

Final words

I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts and experiences around the topic of MOOCs. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. I plan to write a follow-up post with my favorite MOOCs attended so far. Happy learning!