Kirra, Coolangatta and Tweed Heads

Elisa Young
Thursday 16 October 2014

Rise of the MOOCs

Exercise your brain with free online university courses

You may not have heard of MOOCs but they are the new big thing in education and as their influence grows we witness the advent of a brave new world shaping how we learn. Physical universities and schools could very well be heading for extinction. Welcome to the future!

MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Courses. The concept is reminiscent of the Open University days of the 70s - professors on the telly, in bad ties with wild hair and blackboards telling you about physics in the comfort of your own home. The idea then, as now, is that anyone can go to university. You don’t need to be rich, young, qualified or even leave your home. You just need to invest some time.

Most MOOCs take the format of a free short 3-10 week online course hosted by a well known university. Renowned organisations such as Stanford, UNSW, Yale, the Word Bank, National Geographic, the British Museum, Berkeley, Harvard, MIT and Caltech all have MOOCs on offer. Courses have enrolment, and a start date with lessons released weekly requiring between 2-10 hours of time at your own convenience.

Short attention spans have been well catered for with many MOOCs offering short snippets of learning comprising 1 minute videos, quizzes, discussions, short paragraphs, pictures, links to background reading and progression summary bars. Having content delivered in short bursts of knowledge makes this easily something you could complete during TV ad breaks or on your mobile while commuting on the bus.

MOOCs offer a level playing field; disability, gender, age, orientation, geography and wealth are all irrelevant on the world wide web - making them accessible, global and communal. You may find yourself studying electronics with people from Syria or discussing the importance of reliable power supply in the modern world with someone from India.

The range of MOOC courses is astounding and includes science, yoga, business, finance, guitar lessons, history, art and poetry. You name it, you’ll find a course for it.

Alas, indulging in MOOCs won’t earn you a degree. You can, however, get a certificate of completion. The courses are generally designed as introductions that spark interest and tempt you to enrol for a full degree - enticing appetisers for further learning.  

So for those who perhaps never went to university, chose the more career-focused subjects, or who were just too busy partying to pay attention, now is your opportunity to relive those youthful days and go back to school - on your own terms and at your own leisure.
Especially for those retired with free time, the MOOCs represent a great opportunity to exercise the brain cells without needing to be physically active. Best of all, you can consider teaming up with some pals to form a study group and do the MOOCs together.  Make it a social experience to relive the thrill of discovery and understanding of something new, together.

Get the ball rolling by looking at the courses available on these top MOOCs. I guarantee something will take your fancy!!/all (mostly computing & techy courses) (not free) (community focused, create your own MOOCs!) (then click the "Subjects" dropdown top left)
Why not leave a comment below if you enrol for a course or if you're looking for a local study buddy?

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16 Oct 14

Peter T.

Great story! Thank you. Closer to home, the University of Queensland now has MOOCs on offer via UQx: See for course listings.