What is a MOOC and How Can It Help Me in My Career?


If you've never heard of MOOCs, you may be interested to learn that taking these courses may help your career. Read on to learn about some MOOC options that can help with professional development.

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. Many of these courses are offered for free with no enrollment requirements. Knowledge that was only available to those attending college is now open to anyone who has a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Technology has created some great opportunities for students and learners across the globe, connecting them to lectures at the touch of a button.


The cost of education has steadily increased over the years, leaving us with a national student debt of over $1.4 trillion. With more and more students needing an education to enter the workforce, MOOCs may be more relevant now than ever.

Why Take MOOCs?

MOOCs have an advantage over traditional colleges in the sense that they are able to offer affordable (often free) education to students. More and more sites are popping up to offer MOOCs, due to low startup costs and large enrollment possibilities. An unlimited number of students can sign up for a course without a school having to worry about class size. This gives online classes a notable advantage over traditional classroom settings.

Higher Learning

Educause, a nonprofit association committed to advancing higher learning, sees MOOCs as a game changer for higher education. By offering low-cost courses to an unlimited number of students, MOOCs validate an informal learning model.

Most people enrolled in MOOCs are not college students seeking a degree, but rather students looking for personal enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities. This changes the education model from simply earning a degree to learning for increased professional development. Online learning gives us a platform to change the way we think about the learning experience, making technology an enabler of a new, lifelong-learning model.

How Can MOOCs Help My Career?

Many careers, such as those in law, accounting, and real estate, require continuing education credits in order to maintain licensure. What if all careers required some level of continuing education, or reminder courses, to help employees stay sharp?


In a survey of students taking MOOCs from Coursera, the majority responded that their main reason for taking a MOOC is to either 'gain skills to do my job better' or to satisfy personal curiosity. The vast majority of students surveyed reported that they already had a bachelor's degree (79.4%) but were taking courses for personal and professional development. In a similar survey by the Harvard Business Review, 52% of students surveyed reported that they were taking MOOCs to improve their career, and 87% of those 'career builders' reported that the courses did provide a professional benefit.

Taking a MOOC can help you in your career in many different ways. If you are seeking a promotion at work, talking about a relevant MOOC you took may give you a leg-up in the interview process. You may also be able to petition your supervisors for a raise based on additional skills you have learned. Additionally, taking a MOOC may help you find interests that you never knew you had, resulting in a new job that requires these skills or even the start of your own business. If a promotion at work requires a bachelor's or a master's degree, a MOOC may help you to prepare for enrollment in one of those programs.

Where Can I Get Started?

MOOCs have become very popular over the last decade; there are thousands of courses offered by hundreds of universities online. Picking the right MOOC depends on what you are hoping to achieve in a course: satisfying a personal curiosity or advancing your career.

Getting Started


edX is a non-profit organization founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the goal of making high-quality education available to everyone everywhere. In addition to its free online courses, edX offers three certificate programs created by top universities and recognized by a number of companies like Walmart, GE, and IBM.

The XSeries Certificate programs are designed to provide a deep understanding of key subjects and in-demand fields through a series of courses. The Professional Education program can increase your marketability by helping you develop proficiency and expertise in areas like data science or digital marketing. The MicroMasters certificate programs offer a series of graduate-level courses from top universities; students may be able to apply credits earned to affiliate universities and spend less time earning their master's degrees.


Coursera, who has partnered with Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania, is an educational technology company that operates on a for-profit basis and offers over a thousand online courses in a variety of subjects. Unlike most MOOCs, which target professional learning and technical skills, Coursera also offers courses in the arts and humanities, personal development, social sciences, and language learning. Upon completion of a course, you receive a certificate.

In addition to individual courses, Coursera offers specialized certificate programs in specific career skills. For an additional fee, Coursera also works with university partners to offer degree programs in business, computer science, and data science.


Udacity is a for-profit educational company that offers cutting-edge courses built in partnership with companies like Google,, IBM Watson, and Facebook. Their courses are focused on mastering in-demand skills that can help students launch careers in web development, software engineering, data science, android and iOS operating systems, and more. In addition to free online courses, Udacity offers an industry-recognized certificate through their Nanodegree Plus program. Enrollment in Nanodegree Plus does come with associated fees, but Udacity offers a 50% tuition refund offer and a job placement guarantee.

What Are You Waiting For?

We are living in the 'Connected Age', where information is available at the click of a button, from anywhere at anytime. So what are you waiting for? Most MOOCs offer free, anytime learning that can be tailored to your already busy schedule. Why not give one a try, and see if it will help your career.

Connected Age

By Lindsay Mattison
December 2016
college balancing school & work

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