Are Online Courses and MOOCs Worth Taking?

Online courses and MOOCs are gaining extreme popularity among students and professionals. In 2018,  the MOOC movement crossed 100 million learners, to reach a total of 101 million. More and more top universities are now being offering online degrees and specializations through MOOC platforms. Consequently, the MOOC platforms are seeing a significant increase in paying users (learners). You can have a look at the most popular and best-selling online courses and MOOCs of 2018. But, are online courses and MOOCs worth it? How effective are they? Are they worth the price? How do employers look at online courses and MOOC certificates? In this post, guest writer Anuradha Dutta will talk about if you should take the online courses and MOOCs and their ROI.


Are Online Courses and MOOCs Worth It?

Co-authored by Anuradha Dutta


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online courses have been in India for over 10 years and the apprehensions attached to these courses have been shed over the years as students and professionals realized the benefits that eventually helped them enhance their careers. Online courses have empowered everyone, who has desired to learn, improve and make difference in their life and career.


Are Online Courses and MOOCs Worth It


Unlike the in-person/regular courses, which have a specific schedule, online courses are flexible and in many cases self-paced, allowing learners with a variety of learning goals take them up and raise their level of knowledge and level of expertise.


Read: Online Masters vs Regular Masters (On-Campus) – Pros & Cons


In short, accessibility has made all the difference. While online courses reflect the progressive side of new-age education, it’s important to learn if you can really benefit from these types of courses?


Why Online Courses and MOOCs are Popular?


It took time for online education to take off, and still, it has a lot of paths to cover, yet it can be said, across the world online courses have been embraced by students. And, there are several reasons which have made online course gain popularity.


A survey conducted by California State University (San Bernardino) revealed that students are favoring online courses as “online environment is less intimidating and may encourage student participation”. While this is the main take away from the survey, flexibility has been cited as another reason which makes following a course so easy that people really want to study. You just need the gadget and free time to listen to the lectures or go through the study material or even give tests. It can be a park, your bedroom or any place where you can concentrate. Most courses let you study at any time, anywhere.


There could be a fixed schedule in case live lectures accompanied by question-answer sessions are attached to some or all part of the course. In most cases, the course providers ensure the student is not affected if they are able to devote specific time schedule for the course.


If you miss a lecture it can be accessed from the website of the institution and you may be allowed to ask a question, for which you can also get satisfactory replies. Most courses would be flexible enough to accommodate students who cannot keep up with the stipulated time schedule.


Online courses are made interesting to arouse the interest of even those students who cannot remain hooked to something for minutes. This is made possible because of the variety that these courses allow in terms of media used. Videos, gaming, simulations are all part of online courses now, but the usage of these elements vary depending on a range of factors.


A learner enrolled in an online course can take advantage of updated course content as there are regular updates and revisions in contrast to in-person courses, which take time to incorporate updates and students may not be able to get up-to-date knowledge immediately.


A very valuable aspect of online courses is on-site support. The students are provided in-person support where every student gets the chance to interact with instructors, lecturers or mentors during individual sessions, which enables a student to clarify doubts freely. This is extremely helpful in self-learning.


For many students self-directed learning does wonders and studying in a classroom-free environment is easier. They learn easily, retain more and apply their knowledge better, online courses are the right choice for them.


Having discussed the advantage of online courses, it is true that classroom education is an important part of one’s student life. Let’s see who can benefit the most from these courses.


Four types of learners mostly choose MOOCs and Online Courses


Working Professionals:


Mid-career professionals or even new entrants are always looking for means to enhance their skill set. Since they cannot leave their jobs or even go for evening or weekend classes, online courses are the best choice for them, and they are indeed one of the biggest group, who enroll in these courses.




  • Improved skill-sets aligned with the current industry requirements
  • Better knowledge and skill help gain a strong competitive edge in the job market
  • The desire to learn from best instructors in absence of quality education fulfilled


Read: Top Online Courses for Soft Skills Development, Job Search, and Career Progression


According to the Harvard Business Review, MOOCs and online courses are great for learning and career advancement. But, not many companies are yet to invest in employee training and up-skilling through MOOCs due to lack of awareness.


Are Online Courses and MOOCs Worth It




While it may appear surprising to the general people, those in the profession know how much they need skill training, knowledge enhancement and advanced degrees in their subject. Different MOOCs platforms have seen a growing number of teachers registering for the courses.




  • Acquire refined teaching skills
  • Get well acquainted with the new elements added to the course they teach
  • Supplement a course enrolled with another course with higher quality content
  • Learn about new pedagogies


College Students and Job Seekers:


College degrees often don’t make students industry ready. The freshers are put into training or projects for training. While many companies are willing to do so, there are many that don’t employ candidates right out of college. Lack of experience also bars them from getting good remuneration. College students nearing graduation and jobless graduates are also biggest consumers of MOOC content.




  • Repeat fundamental courses if they did not have good teachers or weren’t serious about doing the course
  • Become ready for well-paid jobs that help fetch the best jobs quickly
  • Pursue the subject they are passionate about while they are enrolled in another full-time course


Read: Why Skill-Based Learning is Vital in Today’s Job Market


High School Students:


More and more school students are depending on MOOCs to get into the depth of each content, moving away from traditional tuitions. These courses are using artificial intelligence and augmented reality to tweak the regular course content. There is much to benefit from these courses for students, especially when teaching in their schools is of poor quality.




  • Get a deeper understanding of the subjects
  • Improve performance in examinations
  • Prepare for entrance exams to prestigious college and universities


Recognition of Online Courses and MOOCs among Employers


The MOOCs Universe is extremely wide. While there are several courses launched by the top universities, more people benefiting from these courses are more from developing countries. It has been reported by many surveys that students enrolling from developing countries have been able to make tangible benefits like getting a new job or starting a business after undergoing a MOOCs course. It is has been also recognized that most people use these courses to upskill,  and such people are highly educated and either established in their career or are trying to build their career.


The reason why the employers are yet to recognize or give weightage to these courses is their wide variety. Experts feel, if these courses narrow down in their approach, it would be easier for the employers to consider them.


According to a study at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, hiring managers prefer job candidates with traditional degrees. MOOCs generally tend to be about filling skill gaps which are usually not measured during the recruitment process.


A recruiter with MOOC experience might consider MOOC candidates. But, the fraction of recruiters with MOOC experience is still possibly low.


It also depends on the industry. The technology sector seems to be more open about the skills gained towards productivity, rather than other liberal arts fields that rely more on credentials.


Courses targeting “narrow objectives” are more likely to attract the attention of the recruiter. The top universities across the world and even governments are coming up with online courses. So, these courses have importance in the job market, but choosing the right provider and the course with the right content is the key. You can very well give your CV that extra weight with a MOOC by considering all these factors.


Read: Pros and Cons of Online MBA Programs


Recognition of Online Courses and MOOCs among Universities


MOOCs are being offered across the world by universities and sometimes in partnership with top universities. They can be also the part of a curriculum of a course. In US several Ivy League universities are offering courses like MBA for fraction of the usual cost, as MOOC. These courses are definitely recognized by universities, selection of the provider is what counts.


Are the Online Courses and MOOCs worth the Pricing?


Are Online Courses and MOOCs Worth the Cost?MOOCs have had somewhat a liberating impact in upskilling men and women who were constrained to pursue a course to train themselves for higher career goals due to time and money and various other reasons. There are thousands of MOOCs across the world. While they are moderately priced in most cases, deciding whether a course is worth the money depends on how effective it would be in raising the student’s knowledge and skills. There are plenty of MOOCs that are available for free and open to anyone who is interested in learning.


Top MOOC  Providers


It’s easy to be confused here. The platforms are many and the courses they provide could be in thousand. However, latest surveys have figured the best platforms. Coursera has come out as the top platform and the best overall choice for its superior and effective learning pathways and, of course, the course features. FutureLearn and edX have also been considered as “strong programs” for MOOCs.


Read: Best Online Courses for Machine Learning, AI and Big Data Analytics


What are the Disadvantages of Online Courses and MOOCs?


Not all the MOOCs are accredited. It is always beneficial to complete an online course and get the much-needed knowledge. But, it would help you only when it acts a supplement to an accredited course. Industry recruiters are more likely to give importance to accredited courses.


Another downside of MOOCs is they are the usually simplified version of the college course and may not be the same as the original course. The providers may reduce the difficulty level of the course to reach a wider audience which may be too basic for some students.


Most students end up abandoning these courses. As these courses are supposed to be self-paced and flexible students tend to prioritize their other professional and personal issues over the course. The flexibility allowed liberates the students to the extent that course completion takes the back seat.




When deciding whether to take online courses and MOOCs, you should consider the personal needs as well as learning style with each format, learning objectives, and even long-term career goals.


The online courses and MOOCs are yet to replace the traditional learning methods and regular degree programs. But, if you are looking at to re-skill yourself, and want to be competitive in the job market and/or looking at to improving your admission chances at the top foreign universities, the online courses and MOOCs can be more than useful.


Anuradha Dutta


Author Bio: 


Anuradha is business, health and education journalist. She is an avid reader and loves to travel. You can connect with her on LinkedIn


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