Are prestigious online education courses worth it? Pat McMillin shares his experiences and how its rekindled and fueled his passion for learning.

Like tens of millions of others around the world, I have enrolled, fallen behind and re-enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) over the past few years. Data shows that only four percent of Coursera learners that start with the first lecture go on to complete the course.  In a traditional university setting, this lack of follow-through may equal some learning – but it’s very expensive and does not yield a degree.

However, this dismal four percent completion statistic does not dampen my enthusiasm for MOOC adult learning. In fact, this new method of learning has only increased my enthusiasm for learning and growing, both personally and professionally.

Forging a New Path to Learning

After college, in my first corporate job a long time ago, training and continuing education were available but were certainly not customized to my interest or career. Training was scheduled in a classroom or auditorium, with a printed book and delivered with an overhead projector – hardly conducive to learning.

Today, MOOC providers such as Coursera, Lynda, Udemy and others provide thousands of courses from introductory to advanced from top universities online, whenever and wherever you want.

Unlike traditional universities or corporate education departments with pre-defined, guard-railed paths in a course catalog, MOOC learning is an open-ended buffet: With each plate, you can choose as few or many items as you like.  If your selections don’t work this time you can go back as often as you like; the objective is learning and getting what you want from the course is the goal.

The Science Behind Adult Learning

According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Encyclopedia of Informal Learning, Andragogy (adult learning) is Knowles’ theory. It can be stated with six assumptions related to motivation of adult learning:

  1. Need to know: Adults need to know the reason for learning something.
  2. Foundation: Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities.
  3. Self-concept: Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  4. Readiness: Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives.
  5. Orientation: Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.
  6. Motivation: Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators.

Personal and Career Growth Online

Complementing traditional education, MOOCs provides endless possibilities to enhance, extend and refresh knowledge.  To date, my pursuits have fallen into two groups: Courses that satisfy a curiosity, and those that fill in knowledge gaps to evolve my career.  My completion rate is much higher for courses in the curiosity camp than they are for evolving career knowledge.

Some recent courses I’ve started include:

Satisfies my curiosity:

  • Internet History, Technology, and Security – University of Michigan
  • Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship – University of Maryland

Knowledge to evolve my career:

  • A Crash Course in Data Science; Practical Machine Learning – Johns Hopkins University
  • Digital Analytics for Marketing Professionals: Marketing Analytics in Theory; Process Improvement  – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Process Mining: Data science in Action – Eindhoven University of Technology

I don’t know if it’s Knowles’ andragogy* (adult learning) assumptions or simply the availability of near-instant answers from Google, Siri, Cortana or Alexa, but I’m far more curious today than ever. I enjoy being able to act on my curiosity of more complex topics quickly with MOOCs. Courses are starting frequently and some can even be taken on demand.

Interested in trying  MOOCs for yourself? Visit CourseBuffet and get started today!