As you consider earning an online college degree, you might encounter an unfamiliar word: MOOC. MOOCs are a type of online college course, but they differ from the standard online degree program. Participating in a MOOC is no substitute for earning a degree if you want to advance your career prospects, but the experience may still help you in your online education.

How MOOCs Operate

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. MOOCs are generally free to enroll in (open), and there is often no cap on the number of participants (massive). Though the courses do not count toward earning a college degree, they are often taught by established professors and may be hosted by Ivy League schools.

MOOCs are different from regular online courses. Regular online courses are essentially Internet-based college courses that are similar to traditional courses in many respects. Students still pay tuition and fees, and their grades and course completion count toward a degree program. Online programs are accredited by the same organizations as traditional programs. Institutions limit the number of students in a class, and instructors are expected to provide feedback, such as grades, to each student enrolled in the class.

The Benefits of MOOCs for Online Students

Though MOOCs are free online courses, they won’t culminate in a degree that will impress prospective employers or help you land your dream job. As non-program courses, there are no credits to transfer. You may wonder if there are any benefits of taking part in a MOOC.

For current and prospective online students, there are a couple of ways in which taking a MOOC can indirectly help you achieve your goals. If you are a traditional student but are considering switching from on-campus courses to online ones, joining a MOOC is an opportunity to experiment with online learning without having to shell out the cost of tuition and fees. You can decide based on this course whether the experience of online college is the right choice for you .

MOOCs may also present current and prospective online students with the opportunity to explore new areas of study. Just because you have a personal interest in a subject doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to major in it or that you would enjoy studying it in a formal academic setting. If you participate in a MOOC in the area of study, you can decide whether or not you want to focus your college education on the discipline without having to invest any money first.

Lately, it seems that everyone is talking about MOOCs. The New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC,” and the popularity of these courses remains strong. MOOCs offer education for the sheer purpose of education, rather than for career advancement or a salary boost. MOOCs alone may not fulfill your educational goals, but taking them to experience the online learning atmosphere or explore your academic interest in a subject can allow you to start your online education with confidence.