The act of continuing one’s education is a topic that comes up quite frequently at my Toastmasters club.
All of us are in it because we want to keep learning and growing.
In this post, I wanted to share my experience about continuing my education and hopefully give you another option for pursuing a new professional skill set or continuing on in your academic career.
This option is credentialed, convenient, and useful.
I’m talking, of course, about a MOOC.
What Is A MOOC?
In case you’re aren’t familiar with it, MOOC is an acronym that stands for massive open online course.
As its name implies, anyone can attend a MOOC for free online. The learning content is similar to that which you’d get in a normal classroom, but it’s scaled for potentially unlimited participation.
That’s good because the popularity of MOOCs is growing.
The MOOC aggregator Class Central says that as of the end of 2016, more than 58 million people had signed up for at least one MOOC, with the most popular subjects being Business and Management, Computer Science and Programming, and Science. Further, the MOOC industry is expected by at least one market research firm to grow to $8.5 billion by 2020.
Who’s driving this growth, anyway?
It turns out that MOOCs are largely fueled by people who want to advance their education or their career. Sixty-one percent of respondents to a 2015 Harvard Business Review study reported educational benefits, such as completing prerequisites for an academic program or getting credit toward an academic degree. Further, 72% of respondents reported career benefits, such as finding a new job or enhancing their current skills.
This is the camp I fell into.
Many MOOCs, just like the one I took, offer three main benefits.
MOOCs Possess Credentials
First, MOOCs are generally credentialed.
In fact, Digital Marketing is just one of 7 specializations that form what the University of Illinois calls its iMBA program, which they tout as first MBA made available entirely online.
The U of I is just one of hundreds of universities to partner with a MOOC service: 550 universities have released 4,200 courses across all MOOC platforms.
MOOCs Are Convenient
Now that I’ve explained how MOOCs are credentialed, I want to talk about how they’re convenient in terms of cost and timing.
One of the first questions you might have about a MOOC is the cost.
Think of the structure like Lego blocks. Each block represents a course, and each course is available for free. You could pay for Coursera to certify you in each course. Or, go the route that I did, and link each of the courses together for the specialization and pay for it that way. That earned me a 10% discount and even helped persuade my employer to pay for it. Another step you could take is to pay for applying to the University of Illinois for academic credit.
In other words, you get what you pay for with this MOOC, whether it’s just being able to access information or getting academic credit.
On top of the cost structure, the timing of the course was great.
Since it was online, I could pick it up and leave it at will as long as long as I turned in the weekly assignments by a certain day and time. This was great for me as a full-time employee and part-time fitness instructor.
MOOCs Are Useful
MOOCs are credentialed and convenient, but perhaps the most important benefit of a MOOC is its usefulness.
In my experience, the entire specialization was worth it because of the real-world application of the skills we learned leading up to and that we applied during the capstone, as well as the frameworks and big-picture ideas that I learned from the course.
The first example of why the capstone was useful was because I thought it was the most challenging and the most realistic part of the class.
The capstone was based around solving a real problem: a leading industrial supplier looked to increase sales of one of its brands on its website by using display advertising and email marketing. For this, we had to develop a strategy for the supplier’s display ads and email by compiling market research on both brands, learn more about their target audiences, and get smarter about display ads and email marketing.
The second example of usefulness was the framework and big-picture ideas that we kept coming back to throughout the course, like Google’s Zero Moment of Truth and and McKinsey’s Consumer Decision Journey.
The entire specialization pushed us to think broadly – for example, why email marketing and display advertising would be valid methods of reaching people.
They stayed away from details like which phrases work best in email subject lines and what keywords to use for search engine optimization. There are many resources for that type of research already online, so I was glad to take a step back, so to speak.
Finally, the ultimate sign of usefulness for this MOOC is that I implemented strategies I learned from this specialization in my career. I developed a marketing plan using what I learned in this MOOC in an effort to raise brand awareness for a mobile.
As you can see, MOOCs useful, convenient, and credentialed. These are the three qualities that make MOOCs so appealing for me.
If you are at all considering gaining new professional skills or continuing your academic career, I would urge you to check out to see whether a MOOC is the right fit for you.