My Brief Experience with MOOCs

Submitted by Ann Clay, Manassas

Some of the latest, most exciting offerings for homeschoolers are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These courses are meant for large-scale participation (most courses have hundreds, if not thousands, of students). They are the newest development in what is commonly called ‘distance education.’

MOOCs can be very useful to the homeschooling community. 1) They are a great tool for furthering your own education as a parent, so that you can serve as a better facilitator of your child’s learning. 2) Some of the courses are user-friendly enough for students as young as 9 or 10, depending on the person and the topic. It really depends on your child’s interest and learning comprehension levels. 3) MOOCs can be used by teens and college level students, not to earn credit (as yet), but to prepare for advanced placement tests, CLEPs and the like. Some courses offer a certificate of completion.

My experience has been limited to Coursera, but you can find MOOCs in many places: Udacity, Academic Room, Canvas Network and CourseSites by Blackboard. Coursera is easy to navigate and has hundreds of offerings.

 I’ve used MOOCs for supplemental material in homeschooling my two middle school-aged boys, but I have gotten a lot more out of them simply as an adult lifetime learner. So far I’ve studied World History, Astronomy and Philosophy. I feel like I’m getting to take all the courses I didn’t have time for in college!

My two boys and I enrolled in ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue,’ an offering from Duke University. The instructors in this course, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Ram Neta, have been engaging and easy to understand. They use lots of visual aids and funny cartoons and pictures to make their points. We found them entertaining as well as instructive.

However, my experience so far with the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ has been less than thrilling. To be fair, the course just began, and there are seven instructors listed who will share the duties. Up to now, all the teaching has been from a single man standing against a white backdrop, talking at me—not my preferred method. I’m hoping the other six will be more dynamic.

Just as in an actual college classroom, satisfaction with MOOCs will vary according to teacher and subject matter. These are university level courses, but they are open to anyone who wants to take a shot. You sign up for free, giving very scant personal information, and you can stop following the class if it doesn’t suit your needs, with no consequences. On the other hand, if you want to participate to the fullest, they come with quizzes, discussion boards and suggestions for papers to write. These are shared with other participants, rather than the instructor, so your feedback is from peers.

From the Coursera Blog:
Five Coursera MOOCs have just been approved for college credit. The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated and recommended college credit for five courses on Coursera.

ACE CREDIT is a recognized authority in assessing non-traditional education experiences, with more than 2,000 colleges and universities considering ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

The five courses approved for college credit recommendation include four undergraduate credit courses:

And one course approved for developmental math vocational credit recommendation:

  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine

Over the next months we will work to receive ACE CREDIT recommendations for additional courses.

If you’re interested, go to Coursera and peruse their list of offerings. Courses start at all times of the year. My husband and two gaming sons are already signed up for ‘Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative’ which starts in July!

This is a screenshot from a game featured in the ‘Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative’ class.


Ann Clay lives in Manassas with her husband, two sons and five cats. Her hobbies include procrastination and goofing off. She is a member of the Board of Directors, is the Volunteer Coordinator, and the Social Media Director for VaHomeschoolers. Ann has been homeschooling since  2002.

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3 comments to My Brief Experience with MOOCs

  • melissa

    My son, a high school junior, had a very positive experience with Coursera. The class was an Intrduction to Logic, taught by a Stanford professor. He learned to work under a deadline and the material was challenging. He is planning to enroll in college this fall and plans to utilize many online classes as he enjoys the format and pace.

  • Hi Ann, thanks for sharing your experiences of these courses. I’m currently trying to find out more about the various ways that different MOOCs are assessed; could I ask, how was the ‘Think Again’ course assessed? Did it use multiple choice questions, or peer reviewed essays, for example? Many thanks & best wishes! Katy

  • Great article. You often hear about how online learning systems are used in the classroom, but rarely about their application at the homeschooling level.

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