MOOC Courses: Massive Open Online Courses [2024 Guide]

By Joy Cromwelle
Updated on December 19, 2023
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MOOC Courses: Massive Open Online Courses are online courses open to large-scale participation and generally free of charge.

They are designed to provide people who are curious about and interested in a topic an opportunity to come together to learn and share in a structured environment.

MOOC Courses - Massive Open Online Courses [Ultimate Guide]

What are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC courses)?

MOOCs are similar to online college classes in that there are lectures, suggested reading and participation in forums. However, there are not typically papers, assignments or graded exams.

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Class participants may be asked to engage by sharing articles, resources and their own ideas and to collaborate and connect with others. This shared information, as well as the network connections, is part of the value in MOOCs.

MOOCs are generally free. There is no fee to learn and participate. However, there may be a fee if you want to receive college credit or certification, or if you are enrolled through a service like Udacity.

What are open online courses?

open online courses

Open online courses, also known as Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs, are web-based learning programs designed for a massive number of participants.

“Open” refers to the fact that the work is out in the open, accessible to everyone. The work presented by the course facilitators as well as the work is done by participants like you is all available for everyone to learn from and reflect on. Rather than completing assignments, you are expected to contribute and engage in the community.

Courses like these are generally free. You might pay to receive credit from your college or university, or for the service that connected you with the course (such as Coursera) but you are not paying to participate in the course itself.

How do MOOCs Work?

Massive Open Online Courses

MOOCs work by providing open access to educational materials to anyone, anywhere who wants to learn. Of course, how this is structured and executed may vary by course.

One example of how MOOCs can help you reach your goals — here are 35 Free Courses that help Small Business Owners.

Beyond that, Ivy League Yale University offers MOOCs that give individuals everywhere access to teachings by their distinguished professors and scholars. Participants view video lectures recorded right on campus, and receive course materials such as syllabi, suggested readings, exams and problem sets, all of which can be completed and self-evaluated at the user’s convenience. Some examples of MOOCs offered by Yale include:

  • African American History: From Emancipation to the Present
  • Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
  • Financial Markets
  • Modern Poetry
  • Roman Architecture
  • Global Problems of Population Growth
  • Capitalism: Success, Crisis and Reform
  • Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)

The structure of Yale’s MOOCs is typical. Most MOOCs will include course material such as video or audio lectures, suggested readings and problem sets, as well as interactive forums where students and professors can engage as a learning community.

Do Open University Courses Cost Anything?

Open University Courses

MOOCs are free if you take them directly from a college or university. These courses can provide you access to some of the top scholars and experts at the best universities in the world, and can connect you to a network of talented, passionate participants – all for free!

If you are not taking a MOOC directly from a university, there are a few providers you should know about:

  • EdX
    • Started by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Content from more than 70 schools, organizations and corporations
    • More than 1800 courses
    • Offers courses and even graded assignments free
    • Must pay to earn a certificate
    • Also offers paid “Professional Education” courses
  • Coursera
    • Founded by former Stanford University professors; Content from Princeton, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and more
    • More than 2400 courses
    • Offers a few free courses, but most have a fee
    • Offers paid specialization programs that include a series of related classes and a certificate
    • Offers paid degree programs
    • Offers a paid monthly subscription model that includes graded assignments and a certificate
  • Udacity
    • For-profit organization that partners with tech companies
    • Programming and technology courses for professionals
    • Offers paid “Nanodegree” programs that include a series of related classes and a certificate

If you are looking to learn and connect with others about a certain topic, but do not need college credit or a certificate, it’s a good idea to look for MOOCs offered through colleges and universities first.

Can you take MOOCs for college credit?

MOOC college credit

Yes, there are MOOCs that offer college credit. MOOCs taken through a university and those taken through services like edX or Coursera can result in actual credit.

In most cases, in order to receive credit, you must be enrolled in a program at a university (meaning you are admitted and pay tuition). You will need to contact your university to find out if it’s possible to receive credit for your completed courses.

As an alternative, you can simply enroll in a traditional online degree program or accelerated degree program to earn traditional college credits.

Are MOOCs worth it?

MOOC education

Yes, MOOCs are worth it because they provide a means to acquire knowledge and skills on your own terms – without grades, pressure or expense (usually). You are learning because you want to, which is absolutely worthwhile.

But what about paying to receive credit or a certificate?

Here are a few reasons paying for a MOOC may be worth it:

  • To add to a resume / To set you apart from other job applicants
  • To earn a promotion or new position
  • To earn college credit
  • To motivate you to continue/complete the course

Whether you pay for a MOOC or participate for free, it’s an excellent way to enhance your education and develop an expertise in a certain area.

Why MOOCs are good

MOOC advantages

MOOCS are an excellent option for on-going learning. Here are some of the many advantages:

  1. Most MOOCs are free!
  2. Access to top schools and educators. Thanks to MOOCs, you can learn from professors at Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. – schools you may never otherwise be admitted to, schools across the country from you, etc.
  3. Specialized education. You can take a MOOC on Android programming and one on Modern Poetry. There is so much to learn, so many specialties to drive into!
  4. MOOCs can connect you to professors, experts, and learners from all walks of life, all around the world.
  5. At your pace and convenience. For the most part, you can learn at your own pace and reach out for help from the community as needed. You can log-in and listen, read or engage whenever it’s convenient for you.
  6. No pre-requisites. No one is monitoring what classes you take and in which order, so you can feel free to sign up and participate in whatever classes interest you.
  7. Promotes learning. The premise of MOOCs is learning for the sake of knowledge, which is inherently good!

There is a lot to be gained from these courses, both personally and professionally!

Why MOOCs are bad

MOOC disadvantages

MOOCs are not bad, but there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind.

  1. Moocs may have up to 100,000 participants. With that many students, it’s impossible for a professor to provide the level of support he or she can in a traditional classroom. Additionally, within forums, it may be difficult to feel you are truly engaged and being heard. You may feel too intimidated to ask a question or speak up on controversial topics.
  2. Online format. Online classes require self-motivation and discipline, so they aren’t ideal for every learner. This may be why the majority of people who enroll in MOOCs never complete them.
  3. Lack of feedback. With tens of thousands of participants, it’s impossible to grade individual papers and assignments. You may receive little or no feedback on your progress.

While there are many more advantages than disadvantages when it comes to MOOCs, you should be aware of the shortcomings before enrolling.

List of Ivy League MOOCs

Want to get an Ivy League education without the Ivy League price tag? We have great news… every single Ivy League university offers MOOC courses online.

In addition to these Ivy League university MOOCs, there are a few honorable mentions that are well worth checking out, despite not being officially Ivy League.

Honorable Mentions – Top Schools offering MOOCs:

Complete List of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses

Alternatives to MOOC Classes

MOOC Classes alternatives

Want to earn your degree online, but prefer a traditional degree program?

That’s understandable. It’s always nice to have academic counselors on standby to lend a hand or university resources such as the library or tutoring readily available. Most accredited universities also offer financial aid resources, too.

If you’re not sure what types of degrees are available, we cover degree types here.

List of accelerated degrees offered online (if you want to finish your degree faster)

Whether you want to get your associate’s or doctorate, universities nationwide are offering more and more online classes… some even with monthly (or weekly) start dates.


MOOC Classes

MOOCs promote genuine learning by encouraging individuals to pursue their passions and interests independently, while simultaneously networking with others around the world to build on their knowledge and ideas.

Still not sure what’s right for you? Check out our Is College Worth It? article.

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.