What is a MOOC? [Explained + 6 Point Guide]

What is a MOOC? A Guide to Your Online Learning Options

Online learning has never been hotter. Pre-COVID, the online education market was projected to reach $350 billion before 2025, but now that the world has experienced a virtual-first learning environment those numbers are expected to skyrocket.

So with so many online learning and education options out there, how can you know what options are worth the time and investment? The good news is that there are many accredited institutions offering comprehensive certificate, degree and course options. But did you also know that there exists an entire network of online courses from around the world, that cover a wide array of topics, that are also free? These are what are called MOOCs.

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC — massive open online course — is a free online course available for anyone to enroll in. What started as a concept to provide developing regions with more access to education has grown into a large-scale repository of courses that cover the broadest range of topics imaginable. The formal definition of MOOC is “free online courses available for anyone to enroll that provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and deliver quality educational experiences at scale.”

How Does a MOOC Work?

MOOC options are seemingly endless, so to create consistency across platforms and sources, there are a few criteria that all MOOCs must meet. According to online course aggregator Edukatico, a MOOC typically works as follows:

  • The course is available via video and can be viewed from a number of resources.
  • Course participants can interact with each other through the video host’s website.
  • There is no interaction with instructors or follow-up materials. 

The most commonly found learning content is created by well-known educational institutions, universities or online educational organizations. Organizations like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn currently have more than 50 million users around the world.

3 Things Most People Don’t Know About MOOCs

1. That They Exist

Despite having millions of users, MOOCs are still a relatively unknown option in the world of online education. This is due in large part to the lack of a business model, no ability to generate revenue and a lack of disruption to the status quo in education. At one point, MOOCs were declared “dead” by Insider Higher Ed, but fortunately their fate isn’t that dire — MOOCs are still widely available and accessible to learners everywhere.

2. Completion Rates are Low

The biggest downside of MOOC courses on the whole is their completion rates. On average, only 10% of students complete the course, despite having a free resource for learning. This same study showed that only 12% of people who take one MOOC course go on to take another one. This suggests that the courses aren’t delivering material students find useful, or the lack of one-on-one interaction with instructors is deterring participation.

3. Colleges & Universities Offer MOOC-like Courses

The initial appeal of MOOCs was that they offered learners an informal way to supplement their current educational endeavors or to quickly learn in-depth about an entirely new subject. But what many don’t know is that colleges and universities offer courses that meet both of these criteria. There is always the option to audit an online course (enrolling in a college course for no grade and no credit), but there are also many schools that offer professional and continuing education options without formal degree requirements.

Will MOOC Attendance Help Your Career?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer here. MOOC attendance may help your career because it demonstrates a commitment to bettering yourself and diversifying your skillset. However, some employers might not give MOOCs the same weight as they do accredited degree programs or certificates/courses from accredited colleges and universities.

Pros & Cons of MOOCs



They’re open to everyone

Require self-motivation

They’re free

Can feel like an isolated learning experience


Requires high-speed internet connection


No access to instructors


Doesn’t count for college credit

Other Types of Continuing Education to Consider

1. Certificates & Certification

Many accredited universities and colleges offer certificate and certification programs that cover a wide range of topics and areas of interest. These certificate and certification options have many of the same benefits of MOOCs — offered online, available to everyone — but students are able to interact with professors for additional support or questions, and occasionally some of these classes count towards college credit. These certificate programs are a great option for professionals who are seeking professional development opportunities and formal continuing education avenues.

2. Single Courses

For those who are considering online learning options but aren’t sure what they wish to pursue or what format is right for them, single online courses are another great option. The same college and university programs that offer formal certificates also allow students to take courses in any of their programs. One-off courses are a great option for those with busy schedules or learners who want to pursue education for personal interests rather than formal degrees.

3. Degrees

Of course, the most widely known continuing education option available is a formal degree — either a master’s or doctorate. Formal degree programs are ideal for learners who have a specific track or career in mind and know exactly what degree will help get them there. The good news is that the aforementioned learning options, both certificates and single courses, can sometimes be applied toward a degree.


What is MOOC?

A MOOC — massive open online course — is a free online course available for anyone to enroll in. The formal definition of MOOC is “free online courses available for anyone to enroll that provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and deliver quality educational experiences at scale.”

Where can I find MOOC offerings?

MOOCs are offered by a number of online learning platforms, and a quick web search will direct you to reputable MOOC providers. There are also online search portals, like Edukatico, that aggregate many MOOC offerings on one search server. 

What types of courses are available through MOOCs?

There are MOOC courses for nearly every topic and subject imaginable — architecture, arts, culture, music, chemistry, engineering, politics, religion and psychology are just a small fraction of popular MOOC subjects.

How much does a MOOC cost?

Nearly all MOOCs are available free of charge, aka $0. 

Does a MOOC count toward a college degree?

No, it does not.

Online learning is now part of our everyday lives. But no matter what type of online learning format you choose, always make sure it’s from a reputable, or preferably an accredited source. The University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education is a nationally recognized, accredited institution offering a diverse catalog of certificate, course and degree offerings. To learn more or to inquire about a program, please contact us


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