At Accredible, we are passionate about learning. In this article we walk you through the three largest MOOC platforms today: Coursera, Udacity and edX. How are they different? What kind of courses do they offer? What platform will suit you the best? We’ll give you the knowledge to choose when and how to study from each, based on your own interests and learning styles.
So, what is a MOOC? The term has been around the web for a couple of years and Wikipedia gives the following definition:
A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education.
Founded a year ago, by Stanford Computer Science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera is the most popular MOOC platform today. More than 3 million students take classes on diverse topics offered by 62 universities from various countries.
What makes Coursera unique is the wide range of subjects they cover. You can take courses in Arts, Economics, Life Sciences, Law, Computer Science, Chemistry and many more, all taught by leading educators throughout the world. This great variety gives you incredible flexibility to explore as many topics as interest you, no matter how diverse your interests are.
Each course runs on a fixed schedule so you’ll have to ensure that you have enough free time to study the courses that you want, but if you miss a particular course or there are too many that clash you can simply study them the next time the re-open. Some courses also offer archives and self-paced schedules
Coursera does not produce the courses on their platform themselves, but rather allows universities to create them under a set of guidelines and a common structure, generally consisting of weekly short video lectures, content quizzes and assignments and also including a midterm and final exam but this varies between courses. Some have only quizzes and videos whilst others have only a final exam. Also, computing courses generally have automated coding assignments while humanities courses usually use peer-reviewed essay assignments. The final decisions on teaching style, course content and grading rubrics are made by the individual universities and so quality and style can vary between courses.
Most courses offer free completion certificates (although not all) and some are eligible for Coursera’s Signature Track, which for a fee can give you an enhanced certificate for which Coursera verifies your identity.
Udacity is another Stanford-born MOOC platform and was founded by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky in February 2012. Unlike Coursera, the emphasis was mainly on Computer Science but they have since expanded to include Mathematics, Physics, Business and Psychology courses to its catalog.
Unlike Coursera, Udacity courses are all self-paced; you can study as much or as little as you like each week. This can be very valuable for students that have less flexible schedules or less free time. Of course, this also requires stronger motivation and organizational skills to complete the courses without Coursera’s looming deadlines – which many students find useful. However, many students have found great ways to overcome these challenges and we’ll be sharing these secrets with you in another article in this series!
Also unlike Coursera, which has many introductory courses, Udacity courses are divided into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each course also has requirements and follow-up courses, making it easy to plan a more structured, “degree-like” curriculum.
Udacity create all of their courses themselves and they follow their own unique pedagogy style with strict quality control. The team of instructors, teaching assistants and video editors work closely together to create courses that are well designed and highly polished.
Founded in 2012 by MIT and Harvard, edX is the East Coast answer to Stanford-initiated startups. Initially, edX offered Engineering, Computer Science and Science courses but they now offer courses on Humanities and Liberal Arts too. Many other universities have now joined non-profit initiative: Berkeley, The University of Texas System, McGill Australian National University, Wellesley, Georgetown university, University of Toronto, Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, Tu Delft and Rice.
The nature of edX courses is much more similar to offline college courses than with the other platforms but there is a feeling of great polish and quality for each one, especially with their Computer Science assignments which are very in-depth and interactive. Unlike Udacity, courses are not self-paced and unlike Coursera, the courses usually last between 10-12 weeks as opposed to Coursera’s shorter 5-8 week average.
You may find edX courses more challenging than courses of other platforms because edX’s courses are much more rigorous than Coursera’s and less tolerant in terms of deadlines than Udacity’s. However, the studying process is organized in the way most convenient to the student. It’s consistent: once you learn how to use edX, you won’t have to change your studying approaches and habits due to the new regulations or policies.
MOOCs are a young phenomenon and they are still evolving dramatically. So which platform should you choose? Each platform has its own unique style, pros and cons and many students prefer to study on several platforms simultaneously. Each will enhance your knowledge and help you to develop skills in expertise at the amazing price of $0. If you want to diversify your knowledge, browsing Coursera’s huge breath of subjects is a great place to start. If you are more interested in gaining a deeper understanding of a subject, then Udacity and edX are excellent options for when you want to advance beyond introductory courses.
In our next article in this series we will explore other less well-known but equally valuable MOOC platforms.
This post is part of a series on the Beginner’s Guide to MOOCs:
1. Major MOOC Platforms (current post)
2. 5 MOOC Platforms you should know about
3. 5 MOOC Professors to See Before You Die
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What do you think of the ‘big three?’ Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments! If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions for future articles send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’ll respond to every one!