Advice on using MOOCs

Perth U3A

In Perth there's a special group for study by MOOCs; its 19 members agree to discuss particular MOOCs  using the experiences for  monthly  discussions. The group has been running for some time; the June edition of Sources had an article "MOOCing about in Perth" by Phil Byers. Their experience goes beyond the FutureLearn courses, as they have chosen courses from all over the world.

Members choose their own courses to follow and report at the monthly meetings. Ian Hunt surveyed members of the MOOCs study group and these were some of their responses:

Positive Answers

  • Benefit to our generation: the obvious brain health benefit (use it or lose it) and also the benefits of the vast diversity available. Learning something new e.g. one member said studying forensic science, cardiovascular biology etc "'tweaks' parts of the brain that were previously in "slumber mode".
  • Clearly a superb resource. MOOCs provide an opportunity for groups within a U3A to come together and follow the same MOOC on an ad hoc basis as well as having a general MOOC meeting group as Perth U3A does.
  • How to get people interested? Suggestions were a once a year presentation to the Tech4all group and maybe at an Open Meeting? Possibly extending to people from different U3As following the same MOOC.
  • Good about MOOCs? It's Free!! Also no pressure. One member said "I recently signed up for a Coursera course about Greek/Roman myths but then discovered it really isn't what I was looking for. So, no problem, I just ignore it."
  • Why am I doing this? The day I stop wanting to learn new things, then cart me away!
  • There is no emphasis on qualifications so MOOCs are conducive to learning just for the fun of it.

Negative Answers

  • A member said they were ambivalent on how much time to devote to the online forums, which can be hugely time consuming and not always of particular value. Note see the advice on "Following" and choosing "Most liked" comments on the "What You Need" page, which can help to point you to the most interesting comments.
  • Doing MOOCs on your own is a solitary activity. However you have the option of becoming remotely involved with the group discussions/comments/forums. The member added though that "With the formation of the Perth MOOC group, with face-to-face discussion, experiences and enjoyment can be shared. To date our meetings have been excellent".
  • A new member commented "I feel that Coursera are very hard-sell re the certification. If I were less computer-savvy I would feel very uncomfortable. FutureLearn (being British, of course!) are much more discreet, but then, I have also completed several MOOCs with British universities that I found on Coursera and that were not available on FutureLearn." Note Don't feel you have to buy a certificate, only do so if it is something you would value. Follow the advice of this member "I don't take them too seriously and I would encourage your members to be lighthearted in the course work. I belong to the old school of learning.......... just let me get on with it."

Experiences of other e-learning opportunities

  • One member completed several MOOCs with Open Education Europa which offered a lot of MOOCs in their home language but added that "I will continue to come to meetings as I find them good fun and very interesting". The link for this site is
  • Two others are into and intend stay with Coursera. One particularly valued hearing/seeing American lecturers "from my old University in Chicago".

The Perth MOOCs Group decided this summer to take a course together. The course chosen on the Microbiology of aging was not a success as the level of complexity was very high. One member commented "I really did struggle to get to the end of the first week then gave up. I would like to study courses that are more relaxed. My days of serious study are long gone and I now have every intention of enjoying a stress free life for as long as possible."

MOOCs can provide course leaders with extra material. A small group could gather around a widescreen Smart TV and follow a course together at the pace which suits them.