How to Study for Moocs

If you are new to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), it can be quite daunting knowing where and how to start. These guidelines will help you get on the right track to start your education online.

First of all, again what is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a university course provided over the internet free of charge*. Many high profile universities now publish courses online which are based on their campus-based curricula. Increasingly, large corporates are also partnering with MOOC platforms to deliver training in on-demand skills. These courses can be accessed anywhere and by anyone who has an Internet connection and a computer. They are “Massive” in the sense that thousands of students worldwide can be enrolled in the same course at the same time. Some MOOCs are scheduled with a set start and finish date, others are “on-demand” allowing students to enrol at any time. Both formats allow students to work at their own pace giving more flexibility than a traditional classroom-based course.

*Some MOOC platforms charge a small fee to access premium features, such as assignments, grading and certificates.

What type of education do MOOCs offer?

MOOCs are available across different levels of education, including pre-university, undergraduate, masters, professional development, vocational and technical. As there is no filtered admissions process, learners enrolled in a course will have very varied levels of knowledge and understanding of the subject ranging from beginners to experienced professionals. Information regarding any necessary prerequisites can be found on the MOOC description page.

MOOCs can offer solutions to different learning goals and motivations. For example, they are a good way for pre-university students to explore possible areas of future study, they allow learners to get a deeper understanding of a subject, or professionals to gain more competencies and skills in their field.

How long is a MOOC?

MOOCs can vary in length from 2 to 6 weeks depending on the type and depth of the course. Most courses are organised into modules which follow a linear learning path. The curriculum and timetable of activities can usually be found on the course home page. Some MOOCs have deadlines for submitting assignments while others offer more flexibility for learners to progress at their own pace. It is important to find out such information before embarking on a course.

Where do I look for MOOCs?

The most common way to access a MOOC is via a MOOC platform which is a website that works in partnership with educational institutions and universities to deliver their courses.

There is an increasing number of such websites, which doesn’t always make it easy to know which one to go for. For an overview and rating of the main MOOC platforms, the MOOC Platform Comparison Table can help you choose.

Alternatively, you can use Online Course Directories which offer a database of courses offered by the different MOOC platforms. See MoocLab’s Guide to using Online Course Directories.

Mooc comparison table

How is a MOOC delivered & assessed?

Usually MOOCs are delivered in video format with interactive quizzes, assignments and tests. Often students enrolled on a particular course have access to a course forum allowing exchanges with peers and sometimes instructors. Most commonly, assignments and coursework are graded using a peer grading system where fellow students evaluate and provide feedback on each other’s work based on grading criteria. On successful completion of a MOOC, most providers offer various forms of certificates, some of which are free, others a paid-for service with identity verification. These certificates do not award credit and may not always have professional recognition, although MOOC providers are starting to partner with universities and private companies to offer validated exams and university credit. For a guide to certificates offered by the main MOOC Providers, click here.

What are the Pros and Cons of MOOCs?

MOOCs offer an abundant choice of educational resources for learners to acquire new knowledge and skills, and develop professionally, without the constraints and costs that campus-based courses impose. They can suit many different types of learners, but it is also important to reflect on whether they are the right choice for you. Below are some pros and cons of MOOCs to help you decide.

MOOCs Pros & Cons Infographic.png

Using Online Course Directories

MOOCs offer a great opportunity to gain knowledge and skills from the comfort of your own home, and at no cost. There is however a vast choice of courses available for different learning styles, and knowing how to effectively filter through the options can save you a lot of time and effort.

Mooc Coffee.jpg

This guide will give you a step-by-step approach to finding the right MOOC for you.

If you are new to MOOCs, the best place to start is with one of the main MOOC aggregator sites, such asCourseTalk or Class Central. To see a list of the main Online Course Directories, click here.

Most online course directory sites have similar search and filtering tools to help you narrow down your search.

1. If you already know the title of the course you wish to study, simply type it into the search box on the main page. This will take you to the course overview page.

2. If you don’t know the title of a particular course, start by selecting the subject area by clicking on the “Subjects” tab. This will bring up a list of subject areas you can choose from.

3. Click on the subject area that interests you. This will bring up a list of courses related to your subject choice with the name of the Provider, the course type or start date, the cost if applicable and the overall rating if the website has course ratings.

4. You can narrow your search further by using the filtering tools which may allow you to filter by rating, cost, start date, language, platform, workload etc

5. Clicking on a course title will take you to the course description page where you will find an overview of the course as well as any ratings and reviews that have been submitted for that course. Reading through the reviews can be a useful way to find out more about the course from a student’s perspective. Make sure you read both the good and the bad reviews (if there are both) to get the full picture.

6. For more detailed information about the course, click on the “Go to Course/Class” tab. This will take you to the course page on the platform providing the course. To ensure the course suits your needs and learning style, you will need to check the following details:

i. Course pre-requisites & the level of study

ii. The course syllabus

iii. Suggested readings if applicable

iv. The course length and estimated weekly workload

v. The course start date if applicable (it may be on-demand)

vi. The course format – will it be delivered by video, audio, written text etc?

vii. Technical requirements if applicable

viii. The language the course is delivered in and if subtitles are available

ix. Who the instructors are – there is often a short biography of the course instructors

x. Certification – check what types of certificates the course offers and their cost

7. If you find a course you are interested in, most course directory sites have a course tracking tool where you can bookmark courses for future reference. This option will also be available on most platforms providing courses. You will need to sign up in order to do this.

How to Study for Moocs

Studying online is different from studying a traditional class-based course. Motivation, clear goals and organisational skills are key to success with online learning. Making good use of the tools and resources made available to you to support your learning will also contribute to a more productive learning experience.


The following guide will help you make the most from your MOOC experience with tips on enrolling, starting a MOOC and effectively studying a MOOC.

Enrolling on a MOOC

First of all you will need to sign up on the course provider website. This is usually very quick and easy either using your e-mail address or a social media account such as Facebook or Twitter. You will probably be asked to confirm your e-mail address after signing up.

Once signed up, you can enrol on your selected course by clicking on the designated tab. You may be asked if you wish to earn a certificate. Once enrolled, the course will be added to your list of courses and you will be notified when you can start learning.

Starting a MOOC

When the course materials are made available, you will be able to browse through them to see what is involved and how long it is likely to take you to work through the different sections.

Check the estimated weekly workload and when assignments are due for submission. When you have this information, make yourself a clear time table. You may choose to spend more time on certain sections than on others depending on your level of knowledge and learning goals. You will also need to factor in time to engage in group discussions which is an important part of your online learning. If you have enrolled on a course after the start date, give yourself some time to catch up so that you are studying the same part of the course as the others.

Familiarise yourself with the platform providing the course and how to navigate around the content and features. There are usually common features to most providers with some offering other unique elements. The most common features you will be using are the following:

Content, Resources & Materials

Syllabus – provides the structure and content of the course

Calendar – with timing of activities and assignment deadlines

Video player – for viewing video content

Audio Player – for listening to audio content

Transcripts – written version of the video/audio content

Written material

Links to external resources – for reference of further reading


Quizzes & Tests – These are often in the form of automated multiple choice questions to assess your understanding of a concept

Examinations – you may have opportunities to take examinations either online or in a test centre

Peer assessment – this is quite a common form of assessment used on MOOCs where students assess grade each other’s work

Certificates – most MOOCs give you the option to gain a certificate, some of which are ID verified


Notes – a tool allowing you to take notes

Download tool – allows you to download course material onto your computer or device

Upload tool – allows you to upload material for assignments or to share with others

Collaborative writing tool – allows multiple people enrolled on a course to contribute to the same document, in the case of group assignments for example

Social learning & sharing

Personal profiles – these provide information about other students or instructors

Discussion Forums – these allow you to interact with other students and sometimes instructors

Social media sharing tools – these allow you to share content on social media

Remember to check your learner dashboard regularly for course updates which will inform you of upcoming activities and what is required for each week.

Effective online study techniques

Everyone has different ways of learning. Some people learn better with visual aids, others prefer listening to content or reading text. It is usually down to trial and error to find out what works best for you.

Online study requires a lot of self-discipline not only to keep going through the course, but also to keep learning actively.

Here are some tips to help you study effectively online:

– Create a dedicated space to study that’s free of outside interferences and where you can keep all your course materials together. Make it clear to other family members or house mates that they should not interrupt you when you are studying. Try to keep your work space clean and free from clutter which will help you focus. Ensure your computer is set up so you can view the screen, type easily and hear clearly

– Get a study buddy – either someone you know who may be interested in enrolling in the same course or look out for similar minded peers in the course community. Having someone to study with will help with your motivation.

– Refer back to your study time table regularly to ensure you are on track. Adjust it if necessary.

– Pause videos or audios regularly and ensure you have understood. Rewind if necessary.

– Slow the video speed down when covering complex sections, or speed it up if you are already familiar with the concept.

– Watch videos in full screen mode.

– Make sure you understand each section before moving onto the next one.

– Take notes using your own words either directly on your computer or on paper.

– Review your notes after each section and ensure they are clear and you understand the concepts. Go back over a section if necessary.

– Create paper or online folders for each week where you collect notes, downloads and assignments to keep on track with your work. There are some great apps that can help with this. Creating an e-mail folder for all the course e-mails you receive can also help with managing your learning.

– Post comments in the discussion forums and ask questions whenever you need clarification. The more you interact in these forums, the more you will learn, meet people with similar interests and get helpful feedback. You can also look out for social media groups that have formed around your course, or create one of your own!

– Engage in as many course activities as possible, including live events such as Q&A sessions and live chats with instructors.

– Make time to support your learning with any recommended resources. You can also deepen your knowledge and understanding further by reading other people’s blogs, uploaded content and content in the discussion forums. Keep a note of and save links to any relevant material you have used.

– Save copies of all your work and assignments onto your computer. This will allow you to build a portfolio which can be used to showcase your work and skills.

– Keep a list of the actual skills you learn as these are more important to potential employers than just the name of the topic.

– Take regular breaks – a 10 minute break every hour. Leave your work station during your break.

– Reward yourself when you achieve a study goal. It could be a tasty snack, a walk in the sunshine, a meal out with friends. Decide beforehand what rewards will make you happy and what you have to achieve in order to earn them.

– If you find you can’t balance your study time with other life commitments, you are free to leave the course at any time. You can always enrol again at a later date – popular courses usually come round again fairly regularly.

5 Study Tips for MOOC Students

Get the most out of your MOOC with these study tips.

Being a student in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is fun and exciting, especially with the promise of a free education from professors at prestigious universities like Stanford and Princeton.

MOOCs require students to be much more independent than traditional college students, which can be very difficult at first. Even though there aren’t any grades or professors asking you why you skipped your last lecture, MOOC students have to have the personal responsibility to study and complete the necessary coursework on their own.

Luckily, these simple study tips and a little hard work can make your Massive Open Online Course a success.

1. Schedule time for your MOOC.

Since you don’t have to actually attend a school or classroom to take a MOOC, it’s easy to get distracted by the rest of your life. And MOOCs aren’t a walk in the park either. As Udacitysays on their front page, “Passing a Udacity class is as demanding as passing a university-level class.”

Set aside time to read content, watch lectures, participate in online discussions and do assignments. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it needs to be consistent and it needs to be enough for you to keep up with the class. If you treat a MOOC like a free-time hobby, you’ll quickly fall behind.

2. Participate in the learning community.

The nature of a Massive Open Online Course is that there are potentially thousands of people all taking the same class as you, reading the same material, and asking the same questions. MOOCs have forums and message boards for discussing your course with other students. Ask questions or offer to compare notes with other students online.

Not to mention that, as this Review of Educational Research study shows, studying in groups has been linked to improved student learning and success.

3. Practice your computer literacy.

MOOCs are taught exclusively online, and for people who have difficulty with computers, this can pose a significant problem. Learning about basic computer skills like word processing and web browsing through continued use of both the Internet and computers in general will improve your ability to learn with MOOCs.

4. Study at a desk or table, rather than in bed.

This study tip applies to students of any class, but is especially helpful for MOOC students. While lying in bed is great for browsing the web and watching funny cat videos, studying for a MOOC is hard work. Sitting at a table will keep you more attentive, focused and awake.

5. Don’t take more courses than you can manage.

Computer science, history of the New Testament, organic chemistry and the search for extraterrestrial life are all topics you can learn about with MOOCs. But just like a semester at a regular college or university, you can’t overload your schedule with too many classes. Take as many courses as you are able to truly manage. Keep in mind work, family and social obligations that might take away from your study time. It’s better to master one MOOC than take three and not have enough time to study for any of them.

Using Online Course Directories

Course aggregator sites or course directories curate courses from different course providers and have been developed to provide learners with a variety of search tools helping them to filter through the large number of courses and course providers to find specific courses that meet their individual needs.

Some of these sites are better than others depending on what your needs and objectives are, so these guidelines are designed to assist in making the best use of the resources currently available to you.

Firstly, there are some factors you will need to consider to help you with your search:

What are you looking to develop?

  • Academic knowledge
  • Professional knowledge
  • A specific skill in your field of work
  • Recreational interests

What’s your preferred course format?

  • Scheduled course with a start date and an end date
  • On-demand course which can be accessed any time and at your own pace

What type of learning do you prefer?

  • MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)
  • Online Course (Program of study on a particular topic)
  • Lecture videos & tutorials
  • Text based

For a brief description of the different types of free or low-cost course providers, click here.
More on Mooclab

Keep in mind work, family and social obligations that might take away from your study time. It’s better to master one MOOC than take three and not have enough time to study for any of them.


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