If you’ve heard that you can take free online courses from traditional – and even Ivy League – universities, you probably wondered what the catch is. Such an opportunity sounds too good to be true. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs , are real, and they really are free. However, they’re probably not going to provide you with the kind of education you’re seeking if your goal is to enhance your career opportunities, because they don’t grant degrees. Before you decide to enroll in a MOOC rather than an online college degree program, you should learn more about the pros and the cons of these classes.

The Pros of MOOCs

MOOCs are free to enroll in, and anyone can participate. These courses make education for its own sake, rather than for the purpose of earning a degree, accessible to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Often, MOOCs incorporate various media into their course materials. Participants can watch video lectures and engage in interactive learning activities. Because students can access course materials at their leisure, struggling students can review earlier course materials at any time.

Discussion boards and forums allow MOOC students to interact with their peers across the world, who may come from very different educational, socioeconomic, and professional backgrounds. Because the student population is vast, students can share perspectives that may not emerge in a smaller class with a more homogenous makeup, like a class of full-time college students sharing the same major in the same geographical area. MOOCs are often taught by Ivy League professors, so although a course is free and open to all, participants can still expect it to provide credible information.

The Cons of MOOCs

MOOCs are accomplishing goals that traditional academic study can’t, but they aren’t ideal for every situation. For one thing, MOOCs currently available typically do not offer credit toward earning a degree, so they are of little help to students pursuing an education simply to earn a degree that will enhance their resumes. Because MOOCs are so massive – sometimes attracting tens of thousands of participants – students can expect very little, if any, personal interaction with an instructor. Although the growing popularity of MOOCs is praised as a success, data indicates that the courses themselves may not be so successful. More than 90 percent of participants in MOOCs never complete the course, according to The Wall Street Journal.

There’s no “catch” to taking free online courses in the form of MOOCs, but these classes aren’t a substitute for earning a degree. Currently, some MOOCs are experimenting with a system in which students pay for entry into the course but can earn credit that will count toward a college degree. In the meantime, though, students whose long-term goals include attaining a degree to impress prospective employers should still pursue accredited online degree programs. They may not be free, but there are plenty of types of financial aid available for students of online colleges.