How to Use MOOCs to Support Your Grad School Experience



By the time my muscle contraction test arrived, I had already forgotten which part did what. I knew the information, but we had covered so much other material that I needed a quick overview to reorient myself. I turned to Youtube’s Crash Course, looking for Hank Green to help me out. In about 12 minutes, I had completely refreshed the concept and dusted off the details.

MOOC is short for Massive Open Online Course, referring to anything from the tutorial style videos on Khan Academy to certificate-for-completion courses offered through Coursera. MOOCs have grown over the last several years to offer material on any subject you can imagine, as in depth or as casual as you could want. In my first semester of graduate school, I’ve found several uses for them.

Student Uses:

- Preparation. For my cardio section of physiology, I prepared for lectures by first watching these videos. I was able to understand lecture material far quicker because I had been exposed to the material already. Using the right MOOC will drastically reduce study time and enable you to engage the lectures when they happen. You have limited access to your professor, so being prepared gives you greater benefit.

- Clarification and Review. As I mentioned above, Crashcourse has helped me refresh some key concepts before reviewing detailed material. In renal physiology, I couldn’t get my head around the flow through the nephrons. I found these tutorials easy to understand and quick enough to leave enough time to study everything else. MOOCs that are more formally organized also have forums, wikis, and other means of interaction that can prove invaluable when professors aren’t available for questions.

- Distraction. If you’re in grad school, you’ve been immersed into your studies in a different and deeper way than in undergrad. You need a brain break. You need something to talk about with friends and family who don’t understand what you’re studying. I love history, so when I need a break, I’ll watch Yale’s history lectures. I don’t have to worry about learning or testing, it’s just fun to use a different part of my brain and learn about something outside of medicine. And I can have a conversation with people apart from my learning.

- Continuing Education. Many MOOCs offer a certificate of completion that requires some testing to receive. This is a great way to show an employer that you’ve invested time and attention to stay current in your area. Accessing that material on your time makes learning while working possible. Once you are out of grad school, chances are that you will need to do this on a regular basis and having a certificate to show you’ve done your work is worth the investment.

Teacher Uses:

- Remedial Use. Many graduate programs could provide remedial education and training without having to develop new curriculum on their own. This allows your program to be more flexible by addressing any idiosyncrasies in your students’ background without making others repeat material they already know.

- Required Reading. Instead of handing out articles to read, or having book after book assigned only to be skimmed through, give your students a list of MOOCs that cover the information. Give them more options than they need and let them pick a few. In the time before starting a course, give them access to a survey MOOC to prepare them for more focused classroom time.

- Peer Instruction. Divide several areas of knowledge between students and have them complete a corresponding MOOC. Then they can present either in groups or individually to teach everyone else and show mastery over an area. Or have students prepare presentations on competing ideas and have a class debate. Covering material outside of the classroom enhances your face to face time.

As more MOOCs become available, the landscape of our education transforms into a hybrid space combining classrooms, computers, living rooms, and offices. Finding ways to make education more efficient and effective means adapting to these new innovations and utilizing MOOCs to supplement your grad school experience.

Written by Ryan English and edited by Laura Morrison, the Content Manager of If you’d like to learn more about continuing your education online, find out here.