Skip to main content
Audiences, Continuing Ed & Certificates, Education & Learning, Established Professionals, In Transition, New Grads, Retirement, Rising Professionals

What exactly are MOOCs anyway?

The subject of MOOCs has come up several times recently, both in our conversations with clients and in Friday Forum Webinar discussions about professional development opportunities. We thought it might be helpful to clarify what MOOCs are and share how they might fit into your career management strategy.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are online classes that reach thousands of students around the world. They offer an affordable means of learning specialized content, with hundreds of academic and technology-based subjects to choose from.  Single courses may be offered at no or nominal cost, with specializations, certifications and nanodegrees and even flexible online degrees offered for additional fees that are still significantly below traditional college tuition costs.  MOOCs also provide an opportunity to test the waters if you are considering another degree.

As Juliana Marques notes in A Short History of MOOCs and Distance Learning (MOOC News & Reviews, April 17, 2013), the first official MOOC was launched in 2008.  The number of MOOCs quickly climbed from 100 to 800 between 2012 and 2013.  By late 2015, over 3800 MOOCs were being offered (Ellen Wexler, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015, October 19).

One of the top MOOC providers is Coursera, which was founded in 2012 by two Stanford Computer Science professors. Coursera currently offers hundreds of courses in 10 categories, including 25 MOOCs taught by UVa faculty members.  Sixty three other U.S. schools partner with Coursera (including Yale University, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Brown University) as do universities in 28 other countries.

Udemy is a provider that offers over 42,000 academic and technical courses, with over 14 million students.  Another is Udacity, which focuses more on skill-based content, with numerous certifications and nanodegrees available as well as individual courses.

In summary, whether you are pursuing online learning for professional or personal reasons, MOOCs offer an affordable and convenient solution to consider as part of your overall career management and professional development strategy.

Check out our webinar, Jumpstart Your Career: Strategic eLearning for Any Career Phase, for more information on eLearning.


Marques, J. “A short history of MOOCs and distance learning.” (2013, April 17). MOOC News & Reviews.

Wexler, E. “MOOCs are still rising, at least in numbers.” (2015, October 19). The Chronicle of Higher Education.