Diary of a MOOCer

Stephanie Broad shares her experiences of taking a FutureLearn online course

It was something of a new year’s resolution to try a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), the online learning initiative that’s taking the education world by storm. I chose to give leading MOOC provider FutureLearn a try – they have, in just under three years, attracted over three and a half million users. Courses on offer range from politics to physics, going in-depth on a niche topic or providing an introduction to a larger one.

I opted for an Introduction to Journalism course from the University of Strathclyde, to see how much I could pick up in six weeks of study. Sure, it won’t be NCTJ-level training but I thought the short time frame would pack a learning punch.

The first thing that stood out for me on this course was the international mix of learners. I felt privileged to be learning alongside people from other European countries, India, the Philippines and more. While progressing through the steps on the course, participants were urged to post thoughts in the comments section. Despite a varied level of English, the language in which the course was taught, it was great to see so much interaction making our world that little bit smaller.

The course structure was light and easy to digest, with short articles or videos followed by open discussion

The course structure was light and easy to digest, with short articles or videos followed by open discussion. At the end of each week, a quiz tested what we’d picked up so far, and there were also peer-assessed writing assignments. I would have preferred the course leader to have assessed the work, but with potentially thousands of students on the course, this would be an unrealistic expectation.

This was very much a self-service course and, though it didn’t feel like the course leaders were monitoring, the introduction at the start of each week picked up on questions and themes from the previous week’s discussion. If you are not a self-starter, and need a lecturer and deadlines to keep you on your toes, MOOCs are not the platform for you. It would be quite easy to coast through, but being dedicated to the subject, I put the work in.

After six weeks, I had amassed many notes and picked up lots of tips from the lecturers and guest journalist speakers. At the end of every course, there is an opportunity to purchase a Statement of Participation, a certificate in print and digital format to mark the completion of the course. I chose to buy one, but there’s no obligation and you don’t need to make the decision immediately. 

Overall, the course is good value, particularly for those with no prior knowledge of their subject – for around £30, or nothing at all, one can develop skills or learn about something completely different with no obligation to turn up at class. In our multiple-device, self-service world, MOOCs are the perfect way to access learning outside the traditional classroom model.

Stephanie Broad is the Editor of Independent Education Today and Academy Today.