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Choosing a University over a MOOC: There’s More to Higher Education than Learning

Choosing a University over a MOOC: There’s More to Higher Education than Learning
Since most individuals pursue higher learning for tangible outcomes outside of knowledge enhancement, traditional higher education institutions are still preferred over MOOCs by prospective learners.

With so many possible pathways available for today’s students, the competitive nature of the business of higher education has reached an all-time high. Today, students can choose to participate in traditional classrooms, blended formats, completely online academic programs and even free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), all of which possess significant advantages and disadvantages.

So, if the point of higher education is the pursuit of enlightenment, what factors impact students’ selections between free online classes, such as MOOCs, and traditional classroom learning? I believe the best answer lies in the individual student’s motives for learning.

In 2009, when my seemingly steady manufacturing facility closed its doors, I suddenly found myself unemployed with few transferable skills. I knew, in order for me to achieve my desired goals, I would have to pursue higher learning in some capacity. I was a father, husband and I was geographically fixed, so I began looking at which options existed for me. My decision came down to three realistic choices: online academic programs, MOOCs or attending the regional campus of a state university located in my community.

I quickly removed the online academic program from my list because these programs seemed to be created for those currently employed who are only seeking a degree for advancement opportunities and not necessarily for the value of learning. This type of degree is very appealing to those who have practical experience and are looking for the fastest or cheapest way to get that “piece of paper.” To someone like me, they held less value because I knew I needed more structured learning than this type of degree could offer. They are convenient in the sense I would be able to stay in my own home and take classes, but some employers have a negative perception of this type of program.

Next, I gave MOOCs some thought. At the time, this was a new concept that carried with it the same advantages of convenience as online programs, with one major additional advantage: they were completely free. I could sit at home and learn from top-notch instructors from well-respected universities. To me, if the point of higher education was the pursuit of knowledge, then this seemed like a win-win. I could soak in all of the content offered without having to make a financial investment. However, there was one major drawback, which was that free MOOCs carry with them no academic credit.

So, no big deal, because I’m only concerned with learning. The idealistic pursuit of knowledge, right?


My real motivation was to acquire knowledge to advance my pursuit of a chosen career, not to simply become a man of greater thought. Thus, I discovered the answer I sought. I would attend a regional campus.

As a non-traditional student, my return to school was all business. From day one, I knew the point of my return was to obtain a degree that would assist me in the competitive job market. I was confident in my decision because I spent significant time looking over job boards and ‘help wanted’ ads examining what employers were seeking prior to making a decision. What I found was that most employers wanted candidates to have both academic degrees and related experience. To me, a degree in Applied Management made obvious sense. I could simultaneously achieve the degree required by most employers while gaining the valuable experience they desired.

A MOOC, while fundamentally sound, could not offer that “piece of paper” for free. Thus, if I had to pay to receive a credential gained from a MOOC, I would essentially be taking an online course, which I had already decided against.

To me, MOOCs are a great value for those who have the desire to learn for the sake of learning alone. If I ever have the desire to discover knowledge in a new content area that does not necessarily relate to my career path, a MOOC will be my choice. However, when trying to utilize my knowledge for something more tangible in the workforce, I recommend the traditional classroom for the more palpable “piece of paper” at the end.

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