Swimming in a Sea of MOOCsMarianne Dombroski | Regional Vice President for Boston Reed, Ascend Learning
As a self-proclaimed lifelong learner and a more-than-casually-interested observer of new developments in education technology, I have in the past year eagerly signed up for three variations of a “meta-MOOC”. That is, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about MOOCs, a MOOC about online learning, and a MOOC about open educational resources. I am now a three-time MOOC dropout. But that’s another story.
Considering the moment at which I became aware of the free, open, online classes I eventually registered for, in each case I first heard through a connection or from someone whose updates I was following on social media. But what if I wanted to proactively search for a course? I supposed, prior to doing a little research, that I would have to visit each of the major MOOC platform websites to see what was being offered and when.
Coursera, Udacity, EdX, Canvas Network, Class2Go and CourseSites (by Blackboard) are just a handful of the most common platforms for today’s most popular MOOCs. But the rate at which educational institutions are offering MOOCs is exploding and, along with it, the number of platforms on which they are offered.
For the lifelong learner genuinely interested in learning new skills, building a body of work or acquiring credentials that will help land a job, searching all of these different sites to find the right fit isn’t a very productive use of time — and the available options are growing by the day! When time is perhaps the most precious resource in the quest for new knowledge, how does a person navigate the swelling sea of MOOCs?
Enter the MOOC search engines, aggregators and guides. In November 2012, TechCrunch dubbed one of these new resource sites a “Yelp for open online courses”  and that tagline seems appropriate. Here are three sites to start you on your journey:
CourseTalk, upon brief review, seems to have been the earliest of the sites to launch and the one that has attracted the most users to date. A self-proclaimed “online learning community,” its objective is to provide free reviews and ratings for open online courses from, as of this writing, eight providers. Users can sort courses by “popular,” “top-rated,” or “upcoming” and also drill down by area of study and sub-discipline. User reviews, a recommendation engine and social plug-ins contribute to the site’s functionality. The user interface is bare-bones, yet intuitive. If you are looking to take a course, but are not sure whether it’s worth your while to enroll, CourseTalk is a great place to start the process.
Knollop is still in beta, but already the look and feel of this site is relatively sleek and stylish. A brief questionnaire asks how many online courses you have found interesting or completed, how you find navigating Knollop and whether the reviews are useful. Knollop currently displays courses from 11 providers and requires users to access its app from a Facebook or Google+ account, driving the social aspect of its offering.
Finally, CourseBuffet feels like a newer site, in that there currently seems to be fewer users and reviews here than on the others. However, it provides seekers some additional criteria for selecting courses, such as level of difficulty, so the learner knows whether the course is at the 100-level (introductory) up to the 500-level (graduate work). Future enhancements around sharing and filtering are alluded to in the “About Us” section of the site, and it will be interesting to see how CourseBuffet plans to distinguish its capabilities from the others.
Also worth a mention are ClassCentral and Noodle. ClassCentral is firmly in the MOOC-aggregator camp of the previously mentioned services. Noodle, on the other hand, is on a mission to help users “find the perfect education opportunity” in a very broad sense, so it may be just a matter of time before MOOCs are included in its recommendations and resources.
As the field of open online education grows, there is not only a MOOC, but perhaps a MOOC-aggregator, for every learner! New courses begin each week, on multiple platforms, and the opportunities to learn are dizzying. The proliferation of search engines to make sense of all of the offerings certainly levels the playing field, expands access to all programs and will eventually help learners select courses based on other students’ reviews. Now if only there were a winning formula for ensuring those who register for MOOCs actually begin and complete the class.
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 Rip Empson. “CourseTalk Launches a Yelp For Open Online Courses And What This Means For Higher Education,” Tech Crunch, November 29, 2012, http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/29/coursetalk-launches-a-yelp-for-open-online-courses-and-what-this-means-for-higher-education/
Author Perspective: Educator