Level Up With a MOOC: How Online Courses Can Improve Your Career

desk with a viewTraditional education may not be practical for the recent graduate or worker; education is expensive, everyone is busy and sometimes we feel more at home online than offline.

Despite this, the fact remains that spending your time learning new things shows current and future employers that you’re dedicated, ambitious and up-to-date with the latest theories and practices in your chosen profession. As a (potential) employee, you have the responsibility to evaluate yourself, recognize where you could stand to improve and work to close that skills gap.

So what do these facts about modern life mean for the career-focused Millennial who wants to engage in some professional development?

True, you could shell out thousands of dollars on graduate degrees that require you to sit in a lecture hall instead of getting on with paid work, but now there is an easier way to make learning fit around your other commitments — and it means you can get an education from top universities while lying in bed on your computer! (Like this thought? Tweet it!)

Millions of people around the world are turning to Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, to satisfy their education needs. These courses are described as “massive” because there are no limits on how many people can be enrolled at once, with some classes attracting tens of thousands of learners from every corner of the globe. There are no fees, prerequisites or application forms — all you do is click a button and you’re signed up, ready to expand your mind.

 

Choose the MOOC for You

So the thought of engaging in some career-boosting learning without having to put on pants appeals, but where to begin?

There are many websites dedicated to offering online courses run by various top universities. Some of the most popular include Coursera and edX, although they’re all pretty much the same. The available choices can be a bit daunting, so it might be worth checking out a “MOOC search engine” such as Class Central or MOOCSE, which let you search for courses across a wide range of MOOC platforms. Class Central is particularly useful as it allows you to filter search results — for example, to only show upcoming courses or courses delivered in a particular language (so you could practice your Spanish while learning finance — two skills at once!).

The main decision to make is which course to choose, and this depends on what your goals are. If you want to study something directly relevant to your career, you’re in luck. There are plenty of MOOCs out there on career-friendly topics, whether you want to learn more to improve your performance at your current job or you’re searching for your dream job and want your dedication to professional development to help you stand out from other candidates. Courses range from marketing to financial modeling with everything in between, so there’s sure to be something to catch your eye.

There are also lots of MOOCs on topics that may not necessarily be related to what you do at work but are interesting anyway, such as history of art or marine biology. With a bit of creative thinking, you may be able to figure out a way to make these courses appeal to employers and sound just as beneficial as the more “vocational” courses

Firs, write a list of all the skills you use during the MOOC — these could be data analysis, copywriting, teamwork or anything at all. It might help to look at the syllabus page of the course to remind yourself exactly what you’ve done. Next, pick out which of the skills are relevant to the position you want. When you talk or write about your course, focus on these skills and show how they’re applicable to your job. It doesn’t matter if in your course you’ve used teamwork skills to write a screenplay and in your job you’ll be using teamwork skills to sell life insurance — the skills are the same and will impress your employer.

 

Pace Yourself

With a delicious smorgasbord of courses in front of you, it can be tempting to get carried away and take on too much. But it’s important to make sure you fully understand the demands of the courses you’ve chosen and when the deadlines for submitting work are.

Some courses just consist of weekly video lectures followed by a short multiple choice quiz, while others require essays, midterms and creative projects, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. You can find this information out on the course pages, and you may find it helpful to create a list in Excel (or whatever program works for you) to remind yourself what you have to do and when. Otherwise,coursework, essays and quizzes all pile up and you’ll feel like you’re back in school, about to get detention for not handing in your homework on time. That’s no fun.

It’s also important to note that many courses repeat themselves a few times a year, so don’t feel like you’ll miss out if you don’t immediately take all the courses you’re interested in. Most MOOC websites will also have a “course watch” feature, which will email you when a course you’re interested in is about to run again.

 

Tell Others What You’re Doing

Once you’ve come to grips with online studying, you’ll want to tell other people about your course and all the cool stuff you’re learning. If you’re looking to impress the people you currently work with, try to casually slip the fact that you’re studying via a MOOC into conversations. (A good way to do this is to bring it up when someone asks you what you’re doing over the weekend!)

Be prepared to explain what a MOOC is, what the acronym stands for and how it works, as many people will not have heard of the concept and will be unsure what it involves. This is particularly important if you’re in an interview situation, so it would definitely be worthwhile to practice explaining what MOOCs are beforehand. The key points to remember are

  • The course is entirely online, so dedication and motivation are required;
  • You can discuss course topics on course forums so you’re not totally isolated.
  • There is real, assessed work to complete, so MOOCs are not an “easy option.”

It would also be very useful to write a few lines on the content of the course, the assessment methods used and how many weeks it ran for, then save this in a folder somewhere on your computer. This way, you’ll have the information on hand to copy and paste into application forms, and being forced to summarize what you learned in a couple of sentences means you won’t drone on if you’re asked about it in an interview.

 

In the End

Online courses seem to be the future of lifelong learning and are a great opportunity to take your education into your own hands and empower yourself to achieve your career goals. Employers will be impressed with your initiative, drive and resourcefulness, and you will have the opportunity to network with huge numbers of like-minded people on course forums.

Who knows where your MOOC could take you?

Would you consider a MOOC for your professional or personal development? Tweet at us!

Image: Flickr

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