I recently took two massive open online courses (MOOCs) on Coursera, “Introduction to Finance” by Prof. Kaul of the U. of Michigan, and “Global Sustainable Energy” by Prof. Porter of the U. of Florida. I took the first course to get a better overview over the financial world as a business person, and I took the second course because I’m very interested in sustainable energy and would like to move my translation specialization in this direction. I can highly recommend both courses.
“Introduction to Finance” covered a variety of topics in a whirlwind, from mortgage calculations over a brief intro to accounting to stocks and bonds. Of course, none of these topics could be covered in-depth in the short amount of time, but it was just the right amount for a business person with a retirement account and interest in purchasing a home. While the format was very “traditional” (for an online course), video lectures with online assignments, Prof. Kaul’s ability to be highly engaging in a video with a bland background is simply amazing. Prof. Kaul is one of the best lecturers I’ve ever heard. The assignments were just the right difficulty, partly tricky, and forced you to actually learn the material. Overall, I highly recommend this course.
“Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future” also covered a variety of topics, whereby 3 of the topics, residential energy, renewable energy sources, and transportation were covered more in-depth by the students themselves in peer assessments/papers, which were then graded (anonymously) by other students. The course included videos, short and to the point, quizzes, and mandatory discussions in the forums, where the topics were covered first, with the peer assessments following up in-depth. I learned a lot, particularly while researching for the projects/peer assessments, and I think Prof. Porter used the online medium very wisely through the mix of videos that were partly shot at various outdoors locations and especially the peer assessments, my own and while grading the other students’ papers. I could have done without some of the mandatory discussions, simple because more often than not people posted random statements without references or links just to get credit. Nevertheless, the rest of the course far outweighed this slight drawback. Overall, I can definitely recommend this course as well.
That said, I would like to point out a potential drawback of MOOCs. In one case, I dropped a course I was enrolled in, because the instructor seemed to have his own agenda instead of presenting a balanced viewpoint on the topic. People tried to point this out in the discussion forums, but were quickly shut down. I then dropped the course after about 2 weeks of this. That, IMHO, is one of the dangers with MOOCs in general. Since they are free (or almost free), they need to be sponsored by somebody. And if that sponsor has their own agenda, it’s very easy to pick and choose the presented data to fit an agenda instead of presenting a balanced overview. And thousands of people, who are not scientifically trained to question data that they are presented with, walk off with incomplete or worse, very wrong ideas.
With this in mind, I still recommend MOOCs, simply because the quantity of courses offered online on every conceivable topic is so large that there are bound to be some excellent courses out there.