Cathy Goodwin (Ph.D.)
Mid-life career challenges or career change often calls for developing new skills, discovering career fields that resonate with you, or sharpening your learning curve. One opportunity that is easy to overlook: Take a free MOOC course.
If you’ve been anywhere on the planet recently, you probably know about MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Courses (Source: Wikipedia). Professors from top universities have been offering courses online through ventures such as edX and Coursera. Some have started offering certificates to people who complete the requirements, take exams and follow specific procedures to document participation.
MOOCs are delivered as a combo of video and audio: a professor lectures into the camera and you hear the sound via computer (I prefer headphones myself).
Besides video lectures, you get a host of materials: access to background reading (sometimes at no cost except download and printing), quizzes to keep on track, exams, and discussion forums. The quality of the forums varies widely and all the tests and quizzes are optional. You can commit seriously to a course or two or dabble in half a dozen.
MOOCs can become addictive, if you’re the kind of person who always wanted to be a permanent student. Many people find they’re turning to MOOCs instead of their formerly favorite television program.
MOOCs are not for everyone. If you’re a totally visual learner, you learn by reading. In that case you can take notes and refer to your notes afterward. If you’re an auditory learner, you’re in luck.
All that aside, here are 5 reasons to MOOC:
1) Learn a marketable skill. If you’re disciplined and motivated you can get free training in programing as well as other skills. Coursera has offered Python programing. Udemy offers a wide variety of online courses at moderate investments on topics like Adobe Photoshop, web development and social media for startups.
2) Fire up your brain. We rarely engage in conceptual thinking or get out of our intellectual comfort zone after finishing school (lawyers and some other fields excepted). After a few online courses, don’t be surprised to find you’re thinking differently and asking new questions. You might find your grasping new material more easily and confidently (especially if you choose challenging courses).
3) Expand your creativity. Creativity thrives on change and novelty.When I study a topic that’s far removed from marketing and business, I get more ideas for my business.
4) Prepare for a degree or certificate program. Are you thinking of signing up for a degree program? Getting an industry certificate? If you’ve been out of school awhile, you might be a little concerned about getting back into the study groove. MOOCs are risk-free: you’ll get used to digesting new material and responding to test questions (if you choose to take the quizzes and tests).
5) Recognize your true interests and aptitudes. Do you find yourself drawn to courses in literature, social sciences, or science? Even if you’re an omnivorous course taker, you’ll find you tend to read certain material faster and do the assignments in some courses more readily than in others.
Of course responding to a course isn’t necessarily a predictor of satisfaction for careers in that field. I know many people who hated their professional training but loved their careers afterward.
Still, you’ll realize that your brain naturally grooves in some courses and not others.
For instance, programming requires a strong attention to detail and high frustration tolerance. Much as I’d love to be a techie, I suspect it’s just not in the cards for me. Social sciences – understanding how people act and why they make choices – remains my true niche.