WHY MOOCS ARE VITAL TO YOUR POST-PH.D. SUCCESS
Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs have been widely discussed since their first appearance on the academic scene. And for a while, many academics considered their increasing popularity as the end of the traditional university system. Thankfully, academic paranoia dissipated as soon as research started to show that the completion rate of MOOCs is dramatically low and that most online students end up accessing less than half of the content of their classes. However, despite their low completion rate, MOOCs should not be dismissed too quickly. In fact, they can be very useful, especially if you’re a Ph.D. student. According to a Harvard-MIT joint research conducted among 200,000 participants, 39% of MOOCs users self-identified as belonging to the teaching community. “The strong participation by teachers suggests that even participants who are uninterested in certification may still make productive use of MOOCs.”[i]
In light of the tenure-track jobs/ Ph.D. student ratio, it is important to remind yourself that it is very unlikely that you will get to use the knowledge you’ve acquired during your Ph.D. On the contrary, the narrow scope that you struggled to adopt toward your subject matter will, unfortunately, lose its relevance as soon as you step out of your university campus because employers are looking to hire candidates with a wide variety of skills and a broad scope of knowledge. That’s where MOOCs can become very useful while in grad school or if you’re looking to transition out of academia, as they provide you with the opportunity to acquire skills that your department continues to ignore.
Let’s be frank. If you are currently completing a Ph.D. or adjuncting with a heavy teaching load, you just don’t have the time and energy to commit to additional coursework, and investing money to earn a certificate might be low on relevance to you. However, spending a whole semester and countless hours on a course is not the only option when it comes to MOOCs. In fact, contrary to the classes you take on campus, MOOCs can provide you with a sense of freedom that you might find exhilarating as you reconnect with yourself. Here are two ways to approach online courses without adding a new level of stress to your existence:
BECOME AN AUDITOR: You should see these online courses the same way you would tackle a class you’re auditing: commit to watching all the videos without committing to the homework. You get to learn at your own pace without having the pressure of squeezing the extra work into your already jam-packed schedule.
FOLLOW WHAT YOU LIKE: With no one to tell you what to do, you can start to explore your interests and expand your horizons. Pick and choose what you want to learn. Move on when it gets boring and useless. Focus on your own pleasure for once! You can easily watch a video here and there to learn the specific information that you need.
Where to start?
Technology has become indispensable to our day-to-day activities, and the main driving force for change. Many of the digital devices we use today did not exist ten years ago. Yet, the ill-equipped academic deprived of the basic technology and computer skills needed to meet the rising demands of the digital world is an essential component of the researcher’s aura. How many professors have you seen struggling with technology inside and outside of the classroom? If you want to prepare for all possibilities post-graduation, the first thing you need to know is that there is nothing endearing or charming about being barely able to use a computer. On the contrary, most employers are looking for people who are keeping up with the pace of technology and who are tech savvy.
Thankfully, things are changing rapidly. According to the same Harvard-MIT research, most MOOCs participant are “drawn to computer science courses in particular, with per-course participation numbers nearly four times higher than in courses in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.” Why not jump on the bandwagon, since more and more are doing it? Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher, or WordPress are a great place to start. Look for relevant classes on Coursera, edX, or Udacity. We particularly enjoy Lynda.com, an online training library with a long list of courses taught on video by experts about the latest tools, software, and techniques in business, digital media, design, etc. Research your school’s website to find out if your university provides access to its classes to students by signing in with their student ID. If not, you can subscribe to its services for a small monthly fee. You won’t regret it.
We have the chance of living in an era where educational resources are freely available to anyone with access to Wi-Fi. It’s time to take advantage of it on your own and at your own pace. Take a few hours a week to audit an online course throughout the upcoming school year. You’ll be grateful you did post-graduation, as you enter the first chapter of your professional life!