My Favorite MOOCs

A friend of mine recently requested that I create a list of my favorite MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses sites) and which ones I think are the best. I have used many MOOCs over the years but the following list contains my favorite ones and the reasons I enjoy them.

The ranking in this post is entirely my personal opinion based on the following factors

  1. How often I use the platform
  2. How much content is on the platform
  3. How conducive to learning the platform content is

Not all MOOCs are created equal and the best ones are those that facilitate learning by providing instruction, exercises, skill assessments, exams and a community.

So what exactly is a MOOC?

massive open online course (MOOC /muːk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials, such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive courses with user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants (TAs), as well as immediate feedback to quick quizzes and assignments. MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education, first introduced in 2006 and emerged as a popular mode of learning in 2012.

Wikipedia: Massive open online course

There are many providers of MOOCs such as edX, Coursera and Udemy and these MOOCs have leveled the playing field for people looking to get an education. In the past, the only way to get an education was through an expensive school with books or if we go further back with privately hired teachers who came home to teach you. With the advent of the internet, it is now possible to learn practically any subject or any concept at your own pace. The gift of knowledge that the internet has bestowed upon mankind is probably the greatest benefit of the internet (yes that is a bold statement but I am sticking to it).

In this post, I am going to go over each MOOC provider I like, what kind of content / knowledge that provider is good for and how to best utilize it. I will also go over some tips and ticks on how to best utilize the provider, the pricing structure any positives and negatives etc. I will list the last course I took on that provider just as a reference point for you. So here goes nothing.

YouTube

You must be thinking to yourself “Wait a minute! YouTube is not a MOOC”. Let me first say that I agree, YouTube does not fit the bill of MOOC. However, YouTube should be one of the first places you look for knowledge. The reason I love YouTube is that you can find short videos, long videos and even documentaries on any subject you are interested in learning about. You might even find a channel or two dedicated to the subject/skill you are trying to learn. The reason YouTube should be your first stop is that most YouTube videos are beginner friendly.

Go ahead and subscribe to the channels and every comment section is an amazing way to interact directly with the creator of the channel. If you have a question, comment or concern, you can talk directly with the creator. I remember taking many courses in college where the professor never even know my name. On YouTube, you can ask questions directly to the instructor and best of all, it is free. One drawback of YouTube is that it contains mostly videos only. Some channels attempt to create exercises and supplemental materials but those are few. I would still highly recommend YouTube to anyone looking to master any subject as it is usually the first place I look.

The last informational video I watched on YouTube was “Why Do Archers swing their bows”. I was curious as to why after launching an arrows, all archers swing their bows. Here is an excellent video explaining the reason.

Why Archers Swing Their Bows

Coursera

This is the first real MOOC on the list and by far my favorite MOOC. This is what Wikipedia has to say about Coursera.

Coursera (/kərˈsɛrə/) is an American online learning platform founded by Stanford professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Kollerthat offers massive open online courses (MOOC), specializations, and degrees.

Coursera works with universities and other organizations to offer online courses, specializations, and degrees in a variety of subjects, such as engineeringhumanitiesmedicinebiologysocial sciencesmathematicsbusinesscomputer sciencedigital marketingdata science, and others.

As of June 2018, Coursera had more than 33 million registered users and more than 2,400 courses.

Wikipedia: Coursera

One of the reasons I love Coursera so much is that any course is available for you to audit for free. If you don’t enjoy the teaching methodology, the content or anything else about the course, you can simply drop the course and even after you have paid for a course, you have up to 2 weeks to change your mind a request a refund.

Each course is divided into weeks and each week you are given video lectures, reading assignments, quizzes and practical / peer-graded assignments. Coursera courses encourage and at times require participation in the forums for each course which makes for a great community experience.

There are courses, specializations, certifications, and even degrees available on Coursera and the sheer volume of content on Coursera is staggering. Sometimes it is hard to determine which course to take and which course not to take. Coursera’s partner directory includes a who’s who of the best colleges, universities and private corporations in the world that are creating content for Coursera. You cannot go wrong with Coursera. The last course I took on Coursera was “Building AI Powered Chat-bots without Code” from IBM.

edX

A close second to Coursera on my list is edX. What is edX?

edX is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider. It hosts online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide student body, including some courses at no charge. It also conducts research into learning based on how people use its platform. EdX is a nonprofit organization and runs on the free Open edX open-source software platform.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University created edX in May 2012. More than 70 schools, nonprofit organizations, and corporations offer or plan to offer courses on the edX website. As of 29 December 2017, edX has around 14 million students taking more than 1,800 courses online.

Wikipedia: edX

There are two huge reasons that edX is so high on this list; Harvard and MIT. Both Harvard and MIT publish their courses on edX and not on Coursera. I am torn between whose Computer Science curriculum I like better but both Harvard and MIT publish amazing courses on edX. edX is a non-profit organization and many courses on edX are entirely free and you will never be asked pay a cent.

edX also has a two week refund policy for any course you pay for and you can audit any course on edX for free for a short period (it seems to vary by course) before the content will become locked and you will have to pay for it.

The number of courses available on edX is also massive and you get the quizzes, assignments, videos and content you would expect from an excellent MOOC provider. They also have Micromaster programs, courses, online Masters, professional certificates and xSeries which help you specialize in a topic you are interest in.

Even though it was not the last course I took on edX, “CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science” from Harvard University taught by David Malan is by far the best course I have ever taken (online or offline). This course is responsible for a career-resurgence I am experiencing and was the first MOOC I ever took.

I would recommend anyone who is reading this article to consider donating to edX.

Udemy

Udemy is another amazing platform for learning and it comes in at number 3 on my list. Let’s again ask Wikipeida about Udemy.

Udemy.com is an online learning platform. It is aimed at professional adults. Unlike academic massive open online course(MOOC) programs which are driven by traditional collegiate coursework, Udemy uses content from online content creators to sell for profit. Udemy provides tools which enable users to create a course, promote it and earn money from student tuition charges.

Wikipedia: Udemy

Notice that Udemy content is not actually published by universities, corporations or nonprofits but by users. What this means is that every course available on Udemy is created by either an individual or small business. This is where you have to be a little careful about the content. When searching for a course, make sure to read the profile of the author and Google them in order to ensure they are qualified to teach the content. Also make sure the content is well rated. I personally never purchase a course on Udemy that is rated anything less than 4 four stars. I also make sure that the course has lots of ratings. 1 or 2 five star ratings are not the same as 40,000 ratings averaging 4.5 stars.

The great thing about Udemy is that you will likely find a course on highly specialized subjects that you are not likely to find on other MOOCs. Also, the authors of the content are engaged on the platform so you can get in touch with the teacher.

Udemy has a 30 day no questions asked money back policy and you can request a refund for any or no reason and they will reimburse you. I have taken a few courses that after a few days, I realized the course was not for me and I had no problem getting a refund.

What is amazing about Udemy is that if you are a student and you can prove that you are student via an official student ID issued from an academic institution, you can email their customer support with the course you want to take and the fact that you cannot afford the course because you are a student and they will add the course to your catalog for FREE. Three Cheers or Udemy!!! However, please don’t take advantage of this. If you are affording (on average I have only ever paid $15 per course which is not much) and can pay the course fee, please do. Good teachers and content creators must be supported so that we get more good content. Also, Udemy has specials running on most major US holidays and some times for no reason at all so wait a little and that course listed for $199, you might be able to buy it for $10 which is amazing.

The last course I took on Udemy was AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate by A Cloud Guru. Fantastic course and I have sent multiple customers to them.

MIT OCW

MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW) is an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to publish all of the educational materials from its undergraduate– and graduate-level courses onlinefreely and openly available to anyone, anywhere. MIT OpenCourseWare is a large-scale, web-based publication of MIT course materials. The project was announced on April 4, 2001 and uses Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. The program was originally funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and MIT. Currently, MIT OpenCourseWare is supported by MIT, corporate underwriting, major gifts, and donations from site visitors. The initiative has inspired more than 250 other institutions to make their course materials available as open educational resources through the Open Education Consortium.

Wikipedia: MIT OpenCourseWare

For the third and fourth place, I was torn between two amazing sites: MIT Open Courseware or Khan Academy but I had to pick MIT for the reason that MIT is for college level courses. Now I am well aware of the fact the MIT OCW is not a MOOC. Then how come it is on my list? Well, the effort MIT has made in making the content available for everyone is the world is commendable and anyone motivated to learn the subjects taught at MIT can take an MIT OCW course and learn a lot. I personally have only taken two courses on MIT OCW but the content, the exercises, the exams, the materials is just so fantastic that I cannot rank it any lower than fourth.

All content in MIT OCW is free and anyone looking to create a course based on the MIT curriculum or take a course based on the MIT curriculum can use the site for self-directed learning. MIT OCW was trail-blazer in the open education movement and they deserve recognition. MIT OCW contains great content for anyone looking to get thoroughly educated in tough subjects such as Multi Variable Calculus, Linear Algebra and umpteen other courses taught by some of the best professors in the world at one of the best universities in the world. All that knowledge is now open to anyone, they just have to be willing to take it. MIT OCW is recommended for college students and for anyone that is looking to get a refresher or retrained on a topic that they have long forgotten. The last course I took on MIT OCW was Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a non-profit educational organization created in 2008 by Salman Khan with the goal of creating a set of online tools that help educate students.[8] The organization produces short lessons in the form of videos. Its website also includes supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators. All resources are available for free to users of the website. The website and its content are provided mainly in English, but is also available in other languages.

Wikipedia: Khan Academy

Before the launching of other MOOCs such as Coursera and edX, there was Khan academy. What started as a small YouTube channel for teaching math turned in to one of the greatest human endeavors in recent memory. The mission of Khan Academy (as stated by the founder, Salman Khan) is to “accelerate learning for students of all ages. With this in mind, we want to share our content with whoever may find it useful.” Khan academy has achieved that mission in large part and since all their content is free, it is now possible for anyone in the world with an internet connection to get a full world class K12 education without paying a cent. Khan academy also caters to teachers where a teacher can assign lectures, quizzes and other content to student to monitor progress and supplement student learning.

I am seeing a definite pattern when it comes to MOOCs and MIT. MIT OCW was the first endeavor of its kind and Salman Khan is also a graduate of MIT. Andrew Ng has cited Khan academy as a huge inspiration for creating Coursera which is number 1 on my list.

The great things about Khan academy is that it is always free, it has a great community of students and teachers behind it and it’s constantly creating content. Khan academy leads in STEM subjects such as math and physics.

Now you must be thinking, what is a K12 site doing on MOOC list created by a software developer? I am glad you asked. I personally still watch videos from Khan academy to clear some concepts that have become hazy because I took the courses a long time ago. I still references Khan academy videos for calculus, for trigonometry and my data science studies. All in all, even adults will find great content on Khan academy.

The last course I took on Khan academy was Trigonometry as a refresher before taking Calculus again from MIT OCW.

Pluralsight

Pluralsight, Inc. is an American publicly held online education company that offers a variety of video training courses for software developersIT administrators, and creative professionals through its website. Founded in 2004 by Aaron SkonnardKeith Brown, Fritz Onion, and Bill Williams, the company has its headquarters in Farmington, Utah. As of July 2018, it uses more than 1,400 subject-matter experts as authors, and offers more than 6,500 courses in its catalog. Since first moving its courses online in 2007, the company has expanded, developing a full enterprise platform, and adding skills assessment modules.

Wikipedia: Pluralsight

As an IT professional, I find my pluralsight subscription to be an indispensable tool. Almost any subject I can think of from information technology, I can usually find one or more course on Pluralsight. Pluralsight differs from Udemy in the sense that Pluralsight vets their content creators differently and the quality of the content is controlled. This means that anyone can create content on Pluralsight as long they can be vetted by Pluralsight and they follow the Pluralsight quality guidelines.

The greatest benefit I find of Pluralsight is their community (you can ask the experts a question personally), their non-video content such as articles and their commitments to creating content. Though there is sometimes a dearth of content for certain subject areas (AWS seems to be largely missing from their content catalog), I still find that the monthly subscription is worth it. You can choose to pay monthly subscription fee or pay an annual fee and get a discount on your bill.

Overall, I recommend Pluralsight lower than Udemy because Udemy actually has more diverse and better content overall. The last course I took on Pluralsight was Regular Expression Fundamentals by Juliette Reinders Folmer.

Udacity

Udacity, Inc. is a for-profit educational organization founded by Sebastian ThrunDavid Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky offering massive open online courses(MOOCs).

According to Thrun, the origin of the name Udacity comes from the company’s desire to be “audacious for you, the student”. While it originally focused on offering university-style courses, it now focuses more on vocational courses for professionals.

Wikipedia: Udacity

Last but certainly not least is Udacity. Udacity has an interesting training model in which they offer micro and nano degrees on different subjects such as full-stack development, data science or social media marketing. Since I have only ever taken their free courses (a large number of courses on Udacity are free) and have never actually pursued a nano or micro degree from them, I am less qualified to review them. All I can say is that Udacity still remains on of my favorite places to look for educational content and one of my favorite courses of all time which is How to Build a Start-Up is only available on Udacity.

Though I cannot speak to thier programs and whether they bring value to the students who pursue their programs, I can say that the free courses I have taken on Udacity have been terrific and I would recommend their free content to anyone. If you do decide to pursue one of their programs, that decision is entirely up to you.

Now on to an honorable mention

Qwiklabs

Even though this is not a MOOC, I love Qwiklabs so much that I had to give them props. The reaons I love Qwiklabs is that if I were to ever design a MOOC, it would be more in the style of Qwiklabs than the other MOOCs I have listed above. Qwiklabs contains a series of labs on some specialty topics such as Google cloud and AWS and they setup all thier learning in the form of labs. This means that you must do the work step by step in order to get credit for a lab. What this forces the student to do is get out of the cycle of watching video after video and never actually doing anything. I wish more MOOCs followed the Qwiklabs method and centered their studies around practical work and application as Qwiklabs has.

There you have it folks, my favorite MOOCs. Did I miss a major one? Do you disagree with the list or ranking? Let me know in the comments below.

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