A new concept in education known as “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, have become a free and accessible way for individuals to learn a variety of subjects, and companies like Coursera are adding to those offerings with for-profit learning opportunities. While you may think that it makes sense to focus solely on free courses, there are lots of benefits to investing in paid options, as well. You can find online classes spanning tons of subjects like graphic design, computer science, economics, biology and history. Practically any topic of interest is available at your fingertips. Read on to learn more about MOOCs, the pros vs. the cons of paid offerings and whether these accessible courses may be right for your educational needs.

About MOOCs

Along with for-profit companies, massive open online courses are also offered by prominent colleges and universities worldwide. The roots of such programs likely began in the days of correspondence courses. These learning opportunities existed before the invention of the internet and involved mailing out lessons to students to complete and return for assessment. This method had many drawbacks, including poor learning outcomes, eventual lack of student interest and cheating. The advent of the internet allowed online classes to be more convenient and filled with aspects such as interactive learning, multimedia components and easier access to the instructor. The first MOOC was offered in 1994 by a professor named James O’Donnell from the University of Pennsylvania, and the topic was the works of St. Augustine of Hippo. More than 500 students signed up for this class. Currently, you’ll find millions of MOOC offerings on almost any topic you can imagine.

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History and Purpose

In 2012, Coursera was founded by two professors of computer science from Stanford. Since then, it’s become one of the most well-known names in MOOCs. The company doesn’t create its own educational coursework. It works with post-secondary institutions and government agencies to facilitate placing their current offerings online. In the beginning, the startup only worked with a sampling of the top colleges and universities to offer the most popular coursework. After this trial period, it now counts its partner institutions at over 100, with approximately 1000 course offerings. Partners are paid between 6 and 12 percent of the revenue earned from their courses, incentivizing their continued participation.

Course Formats

While there are a variety of course formats available, most classes run from between four to six weeks in duration. They run the gamut with regard to subject matter and offer video lessons, along with forum participation and various graded assessments on reading assignments. An honor code is signed by all students in an attempt to cut down on academic dishonesty. This is reinforced during exams by webcam use and biometric analysis of computer keystrokes in order to confirm the identities of students working toward a certificate. Along with online learning, students can also take classes through a mobile app.

Most of the learning opportunities on this platform remain free. However, if you wish to obtain a certificate for official purposes such as job promotion, you can opt to enroll in a paid program. Coursera offers educational opportunities from some of the most prestigious institutions at an affordable cost, which provides a wide array of benefits to students.