Written by Reese Lopez


What Is a MOOC?

Emerging in the 2000s, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have played a major role in democratizing education, enabling students to learn remotely without enrolling in traditional college degree programs. Available entirely online, these courses cover topics as diverse as those in most traditional college catalogs, and many MOOCs are entirely free.

MOOC courses gather academic resources from more than 900 colleges and universities across the world, serving more than 110 million students annually.

This page offers an overview of business MOOC courses, including major online education platforms, typical course offerings, and factors to consider before enrolling.

What Format Do MOOCs Follow?

MOOC courses resemble traditional online courses offered at four-year colleges, and many are organized by well-known schools like Harvard and MIT. Students complete all coursework remotely, including lectures, readings, and quizzes. Most courses occur asynchronously, allowing students to complete assignments at their convenience.

The key difference between most MOOC courses and traditional online college courses is the level of communication between students and faculty. Free MOOCs may enroll thousands of students across the world, making it impractical for faculty to evaluate individual student work. Some MOOCs include quizzes or tests, but students generally work through assignments independently, with no feedback from faculty members. However, some MOOC courses entail group work or peer review.

Paid-enrollment MOOC courses often feature live lectures, group chats, and regular communication with peers and faculty. These courses may offer additional student benefits, such as extra course content, graded assignments, increased faculty access, and professional certifications and other credentials. However, program formats can vary widely, and students should always research MOOC courses to determine their level of faculty and student engagement.

How Long Are MOOCs?

Course lengths for MOOCs vary as much as the course offerings themselves. Most take 1-16 weeks to complete, depending on the nature and depth of the subject matter. One-week courses might cover very specific topics, such as an introduction to Google's BigQuerry cloud data platform. Conversely, more in-depth courses covering broad topics, such as innovation for entrepreneurs, might last 8-16 weeks.

Different courses call for different weekly time commitments. Lighter courses may require just 3-5 hours of work per week, while heavier courses entail eight hours or more each week.

How Often Are MOOCs Offered?

GIven the platform's self-directed nature, many MOOCs offer open enrollment, enabling students to start courses whenever their schedules permit. Other MOOC courses may adopt more traditional, class-based models, with set start and end dates. These courses may feature more collaboration between students, requiring participants to engage in peer review and evaluate each other's work. Courses resulting in certificates or other credentials may also maintain more structure in their start and end dates.

Popular MOOCs often repeat throughout the year, allowing students to enroll every few months. Some specialized courses may run only once per year, or even less frequently.

How Much Do MOOCs Cost?

While many MOOCs cost nothing, others feature enrollment fees or certain paid components. Programs resulting in credentials such as certificates, specializations, or MicroMasters credentials may cost hundreds of dollars, particularly for in-demand subjects such as business and information technology.

In some instances, MOOC platforms offer two versions of a course: a free audit, which provides readings, lectures, and other coursework, and paid enrollment, which offers access to additional paywalled content, such as expanded assignments, graded coursework, and faculty contact. Typically, students must pay for course content to receive certificates and other professional credentials.

Free courses offer a tradeoff in terms of accessibility and student engagement. Free MOOCs make online learning accessible to all types of students but often lack the engagement and feedback that paid MOOCs provide.

What Are MOOCs for Business?

Business MOOCs focus on specialized topics relevant to business professionals. These courses help students build marketable skills and competencies to advance in their careers. MOOCs distinguish themselves from other online courses in terms of accessibility and cost. Through MOOCs, students may build specialized skills or knowledge at little cost or for free.

Business MOOCs cover many topics, but they often focus on business and technology skills. Universities and MOOC platforms constantly introduce new course topics, with more than 2,500 new courses launched by more than 400 colleges in 2019 alone.

The following sections outline some major benefits of MOOCs in comparison to traditional college education pathways.

What Are the Benefits of Business MOOCs?

MOOCs offer several benefits over traditional college courses. The convenience and accessibility of the MOOC platform makes it practical for many types of students, particularly working professionals who may not have the bandwidth for typical university coursework.

Why Should I Take a MOOC?

MOOCs feature democratized education, making courses from elite public and private colleges available to students around the world. However, institutions are still determining the best ways to use the unique MOOC delivery format. The following table highlights major pros and cons associated with MOOCs.

Comparing the Pros and Cons of MOOCs

Pros of MOOCs
  • Students can complete courses from anywhere in the world without visiting college campuses.
  • Courses run at all times of year, commonly dispensing with the standard campus calendar.
  • Specialized subject matter enables students to complete courses that meet their unique needs.
  • Flexibility allows students to easily complete courses while maintaining full-time jobs.
  • Certificates, microdegrees, and other specialized credentials can help students increase their professional standing.
  • Some courses may count for college credit, enabling students to transfer into traditional degree programs.
  • Even paid enrollment courses often cost less than traditional college tuition.
Cons of MOOCs
  • Students rarely interact with faculty members, except in some paid courses.
  • Courses are primarily self-directed, requiring students to work independently.
  • MOOCs offer fewer opportunities for group work and other collaborative activities.
  • The open nature and high enrollment volume of MOOCs make individualized feedback and engagement difficult.

What Is There to Show For Taking a MOOC?

In some instances, MOOC participants may receive professional certificates or other credentials, such as microdegrees, upon completing online courses. These options most commonly accompany paid-enrollment MOOCs, which require students to pay course fees before receiving certifications. Free MOOCs rarely confer certifications, and those free credentials may carry less merit.

Students typically list these credentials on their resumes or LinkedIn profiles, just as they would traditional certificates earned from in-person workshops. These credentials can help working professionals distinguish themselves for job opportunities, and they may help candidates advance in their current careers.

Comparing MOOCs to Formal Higher Education Options

Business MOOCs serve as practical options for students looking to develop their professional skills, and these courses closely resemble traditional degree options, with some exceptions. This list outlines traditional degree and certificate pathways as they compare to MOOCs, exploring the benefits MOOCs offer at each academic level.

MOOCs vs. Certificates
Focused on building specialized skills in defined areas of knowledge, MOOCs often function similarly to certificate programs. Paid-enrollment MOOCs leading to certifications serve professionals looking to develop specific skill sets or build competencies in certain areas.
MOOCs vs. Associate Degrees
MOOCs focused on introductory business skills often resemble associate degree curricula. However, associate degrees build academic credit, which may apply toward a bachelor's degree, while most MOOCs do not. Associate degrees also build broad business knowledge, while MOOCs focus on specific subjects.
MOOCs vs. Bachelor's Degrees
More specialized MOOCs cover similar topics to bachelor's degrees in business. However, as with associate degrees, bachelor's degrees build a broader knowledge base, while MOOCs typically focus on individual topics. MOOCs can build foundational business knowledge, but they won't replace the broad subject matter of bachelor's programs.
MOOCs vs. MBAs
For advanced students, high-level MOOCs may build specialized knowledge similar to that of online MBAs, but at a fraction of the cost. Students who already hold bachelor's degrees but don't want to commit to full MBA programs may also benefit from MOOCs to hone certain skills.

Is a MOOC Worth It?

MOOCs offer notable benefits for students and business professionals. These benefits typically break down into three major categories: career progress, employability, and educational advancement.

How MOOCs Can Help With Your Current Position

  • Develop Specialized Skills: MOOCs can help professionals advance their current careers by building their applicable skills. Candidates interested in pursuing management roles might complete courses focused on management practices, while those desiring more specialized computer skills might take courses in specific programs.
  • Obtain Professional Certifications: Along with wide-ranging general knowledge, paid-enrollment MOOCs may confer professional credentials and certifications, which help professionals advance their current careers. Obtaining microdegrees or certificates can help candidates distinguish themselves for more advanced positions.
  • Build Soft Skills: MOOCs can help professionals build soft skills for the workplace while building business knowledge. Such soft skills may include leadership, communication, organization, and problem-solving.

How MOOCs Can Help With Your Job Hunt

  • Changing Career Fields: MOOCs offer practical pathways for professionals looking to change careers, and online courses typically enable participants to complete assignments while maintaining full-time jobs. Students seeking to change their careers can gain new skills through MOOCs without committing to full degree programs.
  • Improve Employment Prospects: New skills, competencies, and certifications can help candidates distinguish themselves in competitive job markets. MOOCs enable students to build practical, relevant skills that stand out to employers, and the specificity of most courses ensures students won't waste time on irrelevant content.
  • Explore New Areas of Interest: MOOCs offer opportunities to explore new fields of interest without committing too much time or money. These courses provide spaces to engage with new topics and determine their relevance to potential new career paths.

How MOOCs Can Help With Your Education

  • College Preparation: For students uncertain about returning to school or enrolling for the first time, MOOCs allow learners to test the waters of higher education. These courses mimic aspects of the college experience, but they feature more flexibility, helping students adjust to the structure of higher education without worrying about tuition expenses.
  • Earn College Credit: In some instances, students may apply MOOC content toward college credit requirements, completing their degrees more quickly than they could in traditional programs. Generally, only paid-enrollment MOOCs offer transferable credits.
  • Determine Professional Interests: Just as MOOCs can help students determine their preparedness for college coursework, they can also help candidates determine their subject areas of interest. MOOCs offer freedom and flexibility, enabling participants to explore many topics and interests.

What Do MOOCs for Business Look Like?

Business MOOC courses encompass a wide variety of topics, which generally break down into a few major categories. This list outlines several common types of MOOCs, grouped by categories such as subject area, institutional provider, learning outcome, and skill level.

Different Types of Business MOOCs

MOOCs can be categorized by:

  • Business Concept or Skill

    Many courses focus on widely applicable business skills such as leadership, management, or entrepreneurship. These courses may offer general overviews of topics or delve into more specific concepts and practices, such as securing startup funding for entrepreneurs or using social media for marketers.

  • Software/Program

    Software tools play major roles in most aspects of modern business, and many MOOCs focus on specific programs. Corresponding MOOCs exist for most types of software, and many courses exist for popular programs like Excel, QuickBooks, and PowerPoint.

  • Learner Level

    The accessibility of MOOCs creates a vast assortment of course offerings for business professionals of all skill levels. Introductory courses build foundational knowledge of business concepts and software applications, while advanced courses offer specialized knowledge for mid- and late-career professionals. MOOC platforms typically indicate the skill level of the course content.

  • Partner School

    Many institutions offer MOOCs, including universities, corporations, and professional organizations. For example, Harvard offers MOOCs in conjunction with edX under its HarvardX initiative.

  • Program/Learning Product

    Courses focused on specific skills, competencies, or software proficiencies may lead to professional credentials, such as certificates. MOOC platforms also offer "microdegrees," or series of courses building specialized knowledge in defined areas. In some cases, students may be able to transfer credits earned through MOOCs to college degree programs.

Business MOOC Examples

  • Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunities

    This general course examines concepts in psychology, sociology, and business practices, offering a broad framework for students interested in startup development, entrepreneurship, or corporate innovation strategies. Participants learn to identify, evaluate, and develop entrepreneurial ventures and innovation methods in a variety of business environments.

  • Supply Chain Technology and Systems

    This course focuses on the implementation of technology in supply chain systems, exploring fundamental concepts, data analysis, and core systems. Students receive an overview of supply chain software tools and the key concepts underlying common types of supply chain management systems.

  • Business Analytics and Decision-making

    Management decisions increasingly rely on data-driven models, with many organizations adopting evidence-based approaches to create competitive advantages. Intended for managers, this course highlights the use of business analytics in management strategies, giving participants the tools needed to identify, analyze, and implement data for effective decision-making.

  • Business Accounting Basics

    Serving small-business-owners and students looking to develop their understanding of basic accounting, this introductory course familiarizes students with accounting fundamentals such as income statements, balance sheets, statements of retained earnings, and statements of cash flow. Students also explore methods to project profitability and analyze costs.

  • Enabling Teamwork with Microsoft Teams

    Intended for IT professionals and other managers, this course introduces the fundamentals of the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform. The course covers how to enable users, configure Teams settings, plan for network usage, and configure voice functionality.

How Do I Take a MOOC?

Enrolling in a MOOC serves as a practical choice for students looking to begin or continue their business education, and choosing the right course platform represents the first step.

Sites Offering MOOCs

With thousands of MOOCs available, learners may feel overwhelmed browsing course listings among various platforms. This list highlights four of the most popular MOOC platforms, all of which combine robust business course offerings with academic and professional reputability. Their offerings may vary widely, but students can trust their general quality.

How To Find the Right MOOC

Online MOOC courses offer thousands of learning options, which can make it difficult to research and select a course. When exploring and selecting MOOCs, learners should consider the following:

Cost

Enrollment costs for MOOCs can range from totally free to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Always evaluate the cost of a course against its educational and professional outcomes, and look out for discounts.

Time Commitment

Some MOOCs last just a few weeks, requiring as little as 3-5 hours of weekly work, while others call for much heavier commitments. Busy students should make sure they do not take on courses with unrealistic requirements.

Prestige/Reputation of the Site/Educator

Particularly when enrolling in paid MOOCs, students should ensure they choose courses offered by reputable universities through reputable online course providers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I put a MOOC on my CV?
MOOCs resulting in credentials like certifications and microdegrees look great on resumes, CVs, and LinkedIn profiles. Students can include these designations as they would any credentials earned from in-person workshops.
How does a MOOC work?
MOOCs operate entirely online, allowing students to gain new knowledge and skills through distance learning. Many courses (particularly free offerings) are self-directed, requiring students to complete assignments independently without faculty supervision. Some programs entail more structure.
Are MOOCs free?
Many MOOCs are offered entirely for free, while others include enrollment fees. In some instances, MOOC platforms may enable students to audit courses for free but charge additional fees for expanded content, such as certifications or graded assignments.
Are MOOCs worth it?
MOOCs offer accessible, flexible education to students around the world. Free courses offer cost-effective methods of developing knowledge and skills, while paid courses often feature desirable professional and educational outcomes but at a much lower cost than a college degree.
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