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by: Mikael Manoukian

If you haven’t heard there is a new online learning platform ideally suited for the development needs of busy professionals like TIVA members. The concept is called Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s for short.

MOOC’s are an incredible resource for both personal and professional development across a wide range of subjects. The courses are convenient, high quality, well managed and free. Yes free, assuming the use of a computer with a good internet connection, the cost of participating is zero. While online learning is by no means a new concept, the idea of being able to participate in university quality courses for free is a big deal. And yes, there is a healthy variety of online learning resources on the web. However, the MOOC system is a significantly different beast because of its unique combination of quality and value.

Let me describe two recent learning experiences I had using the Coursera platform this past fall to highlight the benefits of participating in a MOOC. Coursera represents a network of several major universities like Princeton, Stanford, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania plus about 50 other reputable American and international colleges.

After signing up for Coursera with my name and e-mail, I enrolled in The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color at Wesleyan University and taught by Scott Higgins. The syllabus listed the flow of the five week class and cited the (2) required movie viewings per week. At the start of each week, the professor released about 75 minutes of lecture videos addressing the current topic. The lecture videos often ended with a couple of multiple choice questions reinforcing that specific lesson. Complimenting the class was an online forum where we were encouraged to interact with classmates about the material. At the end of the course we were given a lengthy multiple choice final exam. This was the only graded element of the entire course.

The second class was Introduction to Music Production from Berklee College of Music and taught by Loundon Stearns. This six week course was both rigorous and technical. As in the previous class, the professor provided about 75 minutes of instructional videos weekly. These lessons were reinforced by challenging homework assignments. Once these were completed the student was required to 1) upload the homework for grading and 2) peer review five assignments submitted by fellow students. Yes, part of the assignment was to evaluate the homework of our classmates. This served two important purposes, first it alleviated the need for the professor to evaluate the thousands of assignments submitted. I did say thousands, since MOOC’s are free it is not unusually for a popular course to have thousands or even tens of thousands of students. Even the best professor with a couple of assistants could not possibly grade so many students. Second, the peer evaluation model gave us additional opportunities to understand the material. This class too had an online forum where we could discuss, ask and answer questions about the lessons.

Upon successful completion of the Coursera class you receive a “statement of accomplishment.” In case of the two classes I followed, the threshold for receiving this was 70% or better. Basically, it is was a Pass – Fail evaluation. That said, the percentage by which I passed was higher than that and the actual percentage was reflected on the PDF certificate that is delivered to the student. But, the MOOC concept gets better than just Coursera. There are several other players out there, such as edX, FutureLearn, Iversity, Canvas, and more. Each network represents a consortium of at least 20 major universities. When you sign up for Coursera, you get unfettered access to all the classes offered within the network. By no means is this complete access to the entire course catalogue at a university like Wesleyan, but it does offer you a buffet of compelling choices from a variety of excellent schools. That said, if you can not resolve your appetite for knowledge through one system feel free to sign up for multiple systems concurrently.

Since many of us speak “video,” I found a short video that illustrates the MOOC concept. I would encourage you to view it if you are interested in learning more.

What is a MOOC? by Dave Cormier…http://youtu.be/eW3gMGqcZQc

And if you are already sold on the idea, just do a search for any of the above networks to find a course you want to take.

Mikael Manoukian is the owner of Ear of Eye Productions, a production company that partners with clients to create documentary style advocacy videos and live arts/culture programs that convey strategic stories to their audience. He can be reached via http://earoftheeye.com or mikael@earoftheeye.com.