Is there a MOOC point?

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Confession: I love MOOCs. In fact, I love every kind of opportunity to learn something. And if it is available for free on the internet, anytime one has the time for it, just the better. Isn’t it?

I hear the opinions that there is no real innovation behind the idea of MOOCs, since there are many online materials these days by universities available on the internet, you just have to look for them, learn them, same result. And if you want to go to a university, go for real.

I am seriously all for lifelong learning and constant self improvement and stuff like that, so much, that my opinion almost qualifies as biased in this argument. I think the whole point of free online learning is not earning a degree and with that beating people who went to those same uniersities for years (obviously that would be impossible with one or even a few courses). In my opinion the point is to learn MORE about things that interest you in the first place and it is also a very good way to stay up to date in your profession, following its current trends in education. I do think that MOOCs are not just parts of our reality now, but will be core parts of our future too. 

Hereby I will attempt to collect the best sites and sources of online education. Of course I do not consider myself an expert, just someone who is immensely interested in this topic and would be more than happy to share her experiences with you all.

Since I am mostly interested in international law and politics (and really, everything related), I might put a special emphasis on those, but if you happen to be interested in some other topic, well then, first of all, thank you for reading me anyway, and second, please go on reading this post, you might learn something useful too.

I start with the three sites that this recently published infographic (a good one, I might add) names as “major MOOC players”.


I was interested in online learning and was constantly looking for opportunities before, but for me the turning point was last summer when edX launched. I mean when could I ever attend courses of Harvard without leaving my home in Hungary? I was a little disappointed though when they announced the first courses. MIT and Harvard, the two founder institutions, and Berkeley, that joined just in time to offer courses at the launch mostly had IT related courses for earlybirds. For this winter semester though, there were more social science and humanities courses for my taste too. I already picked a law course by Harvard, and I am thinking about the Global Poverty course by MIT. I am also very excited about the join of Georgetown that will start to offer courses next fall. And I am sure edX has even more surprises coming up, it is worth keeping an eye on!

Coursera has already have a much wider range of topics to choose courses from, many offered by some rather prestigious universities. Whatever you are interested in from music through microbiology to mathematics, you will surely find something to learn here. For me, I am looking forward to the European Law course date to be announced.

I don’t have very much to say about Udacity, because it mostly offers courses in IT and mathematics, with a few exceptions like How to Build a Startup that might be interesting for some of you, but nothing really exciting for me yet. Still I continue keeping an eye on it too.

Open Culture is one of the most extensive collection of courses. It is basically a collection of online materials of past courses in a wide range of topics – links to video and/or audio of them, sometimes accompanied by written material.

Probably THE most extensive collection of free online courses can be found at Education Portal. Make sure you scroll down to the very end of the very long page, it’s worth it! From acting through cooking to plumbering, you name it, you’ll find it!

Many (or all?) of Canvas Network courses are also available on some of the collections above, but – just so you don’t miss anything – it’s worth checking their website directly once in a while.

Open University was actually to be the second on my list that I would have recommended to you warmly. Although they had quite interesting Law and International Studies courses as well, my favorite topic here was Skills. It had everything from communications to learning how to learn, and more. Unfortunately when I checked it now, it turns out they do not offer courses for free anymore. I am still featuring it here because Education Portal still lists some Open University courses as free. I found it very hard to come across but one free course browsing on the new page, but if you start from the Education Portal page, they seem to be open and working. I will test it on a Spanish course sometime.

And finally, I just recently found this site, which is a collection of other MOOC sites, many listed above, and much more. Should there be anything yet uncovered you might be interested in, you can continue looking here.

What I did not mention before and it might be useful for those of you not familiar with online courses: there is a difference between those sites that have links to archive materials and the ones that are offering interactive courses (like edX, Canvas Network, etc.). Interactive might not even be the best word to describe it, because it is not that you are there at the same time, you just proceed by the same schedule, it is sort of like a correspondence course. And I am far from saying it is better, it is just a whole different experience to be able to learn with other students and communicate with the instructor, it adds a lot. But as I said, there are lots of great courses among the archive materials as well – in that case you can proceed in your own pace by your own schedule.

Now, you know what’s next: start learning! I warn you, the hardest job will be to decide where to start, what course to pick first! Once you’re done with that, there is nothing left but to enjoy learning! Hope to meet you in some of those MOOC communities in the future!

If you have any good (or bad?) MOOC stories to share, my Ask Box is always open with or without name. I am looking forward to reading your experiences. Let me know if you have any questions too!

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