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How Open Online Courses Can Help You Land a Job

online courses
Zoe Schiffer
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Published on June 4, 2013

Open online courses are the future of education. Despite what the name implies, they can provide a more personalized approach to learning than 300 person lectures. Plus you can take them in your pajamas.

Did you know?

  • Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun’s online course on artificial intelligence attracted 160,000 students from 190 nations.
  • EdX.org, the collaboration that started with MIT and Harvard, now has 27 schools offering 52 free online courses for this summer alone.
  • EdX.org also has about 890,000 unique users, of which 12 to 15 percent earn certificates (complete and pass the course).

Professor Terrance Odean of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business talked with us  about how and why students should take open online classes:

Q: You teach at the Haas Business School and are planning an online course on personal finance for January 2014—what would be the benefits for a student to take it, and other online courses in general?

A: I am going to teach a massive open online course (MOOC) on personal finance starting next January on the EdX platform. Personal finance is well suited for a free online course because many people who are not enrolled at universities find themselves faced with financial decisions that they don’t well understand. The course will ask hard questions such as “how much do I need to save?” “how should I invest?” easy, though critical, questions such as “why are mutual fund fees so important?”, and practical questions such as “how do I look up my credit report (and why should I care)?”

People should take this course for what they might learn, not the certificate.

MOOCs are only one form of online courses. More and more colleges and universities are offering online courses for-credit courses. After I teach the personal finance MOOC, I’m hoping to create a for-credit online course on personal finance for Berkeley undergrads. This will be an easier course to design than the MOOC because most of the students will be around the same age and facing similar financial decisions. However, with a for-credit online course, I’ll need to put more effort into assessment and grading. Quite possibly, the course final will be taken in proctored classrooms.

Q: The financial sector is notoriously difficult for students to break into; do you see these courses as helping students to land internships or jobs after graduation?

A: Things you learn in a MOOC could potentially help you land—or do—a job, but the MOOC certificate is unlikely to do so itself.

Q: What is the biggest barrier for students to successfully complete online classes? What does it say to you about the students that do?

A: Many online courses are offered asynchronously. Students can watch the lectures, work examples, and take quizzes when they want. It is a bit like homework, you need to do it by a certain time but not at a certain time. While this flexibility is convenient, it can also be dangerous. Undoubtedly some students will wait until the last minute—or perhaps beyond the last minute—to watch the online lectures and do online work. Some instructors will set incremental deadlines and try to monitor student progress, some won’t. Students who are better organized and more disciplined are likely to fare better.

[For more on time management check out this post from last month!]

Q: Do you see online courses as the future of education? What do they offer that traditional college courses don’t?

A: I see online for-credit courses as part of the future of education. I hope not all of the future. While I believe that online courses can be more effective than large lectures, they are not a substitute for small seminars. (Though one could teach a small seminar online to students in diverse locations.)

Free online courses reach people all over the world—many of whom don’t have access to good universities—people who have retired, and people who simply want to come home from work and learn. They reach people currently not served by traditional college courses.

Q: What advice would you give for students looking to take an online course? What skills do you see as being critical to success in this arena?

A: Be sure to fully engage at the beginning of the course. Don’t do the online course while you watch TV, surf the net, hang out with friends (who aren’t studying), talk on the phone, or sleep.

Curious to learn more? The following are a list of resources to jumpstart your online education:

Zoe Schiffer

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