Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are becoming increasingly popular for social-impact professionals. And because these courses are often free of charge, open to all and flexible enough to work with the most complicated of schedules, they also provide a prime opportunity for professional growth and development.
Perhaps you're looking to expand your communication and leadership skills for your current role. Or maybe you want to deepen your understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace as preparation for additional responsibilities or pivoting into a new field. Or are you just interested in exploring something new for curiosity’s sake? MOOCs are a great way to solidify your knowledge about DEI and provide excellent opportunities for independent and remote professional and personal growth.
What are MOOCs, and are they a fit for you?
While MOOCs are diverse in offerings and formats, there are a few key things you should know.
- They’re inclusive. MOOCs were created with the intent to be accessible to anyone with interest and an internet connection.
- They’re often free of charge. What distinguishes MOOCs from traditional higher education is the lack of tuition fees, unless you want to earn a credential, in which case a modest fee may apply.
- Classes are big. Typically MOOCs do not have an admissions process. This means enrollment is uncapped and classes can have thousands and thousands of students from across the globe all completing courses asynchronously.
- They’re self-directed. In lieu of direct conversation with instructors, MOOCs often provide assessment through automated quizzes and peer review. These courses tend to be flexible and great for independent learning, and many also offer interactive components, including discussion boards and opportunities to connect with and provide feedback to others in the course.
- The stakes are often low. If you’d like to develop new skills to help you in your current role, become a better candidate for a promotion, or prepare to transition to another field, MOOCs may be for you. They also provide a low-risk way to test the water and explore a new topic or subject without making significant geographical moves or financial decisions. For example, before applying to or starting a graduate public policy program, you might first take a MOOC on policy-making and see whether you find it enjoyable.
Where to find courses
MOOCs are offered by universities as well as nonprofits that focus on informal education. To see what courses are available, start with the below sites:
- Open Culture maintains a curated and user-friendly list of MOOCs from various providers, alongside a compilation of recordings, e-books, films, podcasts and other continued learning resources.
- edX was founded by Harvard and MIT and provides access to courses from over 100 universities across the globe. Their platform makes it easy to view courses by subject and see what the most popular offerings are.
- Coursera offers free courses in a variety of fields from myriad institutions, with the option to earn a certificate (prices start at $49).
Develop your diversity, equity, and inclusion know-how
If one thing has become clear over the past weeks and months, it’s that we cannot claim to be doing our part to promote social change within our organizations and the world, if we aren’t taking deliberate actions toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Here are some courses to accompany you along the journey:
- Justice: An Intro to Moral and Political Philosophy, Harvard via edX
- Unconscious Bias: From Awareness to Action, Catalyst via edX
- Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work, University of Michigan via edX
- Gender and Sexuality: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, University of Pittsburgh, via Coursera
- Cross-Cultural Competency, University of West Florida via Canvas
- Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History, University of Illinois via Coursera
Up your communication and leadership skills
MOOCs provide ample opportunities to improve your ability to connect with others and up your leadership readiness. Here are some courses to consider:
- Leading with Effective Communication (Inclusive Leadership Training), Catalyst via edX
- Writing for Social Justice, University of California, Berkeley via edX
- Community Engagement: Collaborating for Change, University of Michigan via edX
- Improving Communication Skills, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton via Coursera
- Organizational Behavior: How to Manage People, University of Navarra via Coursera
- Women in Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change, Case Western Reserve University via Coursera
How to stay motivated once you start
It can be difficult to maintain motivation and avoid distraction, and for some, MOOCs exacerbate these challenges because they lack the support provided in more traditional classroom settings.
If you find yourself getting distracted from or behind in your MOOC study, take time to determine how to better navigate an environment that may lack structure, community, and available instructors. To make independent study work easier for you:
- Uncover your learning style. You can’t change how the course is taught, but understanding your learning style can help you transform the way you engage with course materials.
- Get to know your brain and learn how to learn. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, has been demonstrated to improve learning and lead to increased confidence.
- Figure out what motivates you. Gaining self-awareness about your approach to work can help you hold yourself accountable, correct bad habits, and study effectively.
- Connect with other learners. Start a study group and post a call for participants on the discussion board or via social media. Peer motivation can go a long way in keeping you engaged and holding you accountable.
- Develop a routine. There can be a downside to the flexibility MOOCs offer. Without some sort of schedule or plan, too much flexibility can lead to chaos. Whether you make a recurring meeting with yourself to focus on the course, or create self-imposed deadlines, find a way to stay on track.
- Cut yourself some slack. Take time to reflect on what is (and isn’t) working. Determine whether it’s the subject matter, lack of instructor/classmate presence, style of instruction, screen fatigue, persistence of external distractions, or something else that is preventing you from showing up, and proceed accordingly. Since you’re taking this course for your own development and interest, you shouldn’t feel pressured to complete it if right now isn’t the best time for it.
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Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.