Taking Online Courses? 6 Pitfalls Learners Should Avoid


MOOCs or Massively Online Open Courses are a subject of intense discussion in the academic as well as industry circles. They are being heralded as the ‘next big thing’ and ‘tools for democratizing education’ etc.

For the uninitiated, these are basically ‘Online Classes’ in their most basic forms. Over 6 million students/adults/learners are taking one or more of these online courses. The reach and range of people taking these courses speaks volumes for the initiative itself. Refer these reports for more data.


But while those numbers are staggering, one also needs to look at the downside. Enthusiasm generally peaks at the beginning of the course, but with the course moving forward in its traversal, the numbers of active learners keep going down.

Why is this so?

Having taken several of these MOOCs myself, I’ve realized a few basic things that me, in particular, and the other learners, in general, might be doing wrong.

Enrolling for too many courses at a time

The number of courses offered online, are overwhelming. Even with a strictly small set of subject interests, you might end up with a list of 20 or more courses to take.

For example, I have a passion for Finance and Behavioral Psychology. The first time I decided to take a course from Coursera, I ended up enrolling myself for 12 courses. The fact that its free, does not help much.

Guess how many I actually ended up taking? TWO.

And I finished: None.

Lack of Discipline /Self-Motivation /Interest

The very nature of these courses, demand a high level of discipline from the learners. While they offer the flexibility, in that, you can take these courses on your own time and of your own accord, it also means that you’ve to be disciplined enough for following it up, over the course duration. Lack of discipline will lead to the learner giving it up after a week or two.

To start with, the learner must have oodles of interest in the course itself and be motivated enough to spend 3-4 hours a week on the assignments and quizzes.

Neglecting the Assignments and Quizzes

While they are compulsory for a formal certificate of completion of the course, many learners tend to skip these, without realizing that they are absolutely essential components of the learning framework and help with better material retention.

Not using the Online Discussion Forums

Almost all the MOOCs have an associated discussions forum, where the learners from that course interact with each other to clarify their doubts, offer and receive help with assignments and collaborate over a project. This helps in creating the environment of an actual classroom and many learners swear by the high level of discussions that happen in these forums.

Lacking in basic technological skills

Definitely not a problem for the younger urban population, this might be only a slight problem for some of the adults. This is a problem with some of the MOOCs, where a slightly higher level of technological exposure is expected from the students.

Going at it alone

One of the major problems, in my opinion, is not having a ready-to-reach community at your disposal, to whom you can reach for guidance whenever you want. This is separate from the Discussion Forums and is more like a small Master Mind group that you should create, from among peers and colleagues or people from the same city.

Many Coursera courses have city-wide meetups where learners from a particular course can meet at a particular time and location and discuss their problems/strategies/tactics etc.

Since I started taking the courses I’ve tried my hand at 8 of them and successfully completed only two. These were the last two, after I successfully implemented my own learnings in the latest iteration. Trust me. The satisfaction and the learning high when you complete a course make it all worthwhile.

So, Happy MOOCing.

PS: I’m currently taking ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior’ by Dan Ariely on Coursera and next, intend to register for ‘Web Development’ on Udacity. Learners keen on these two courses are free to comment with their intention and I would love to collaborate with you.

Also, let us know which courses you are taking? Or have already taken? Which ones are your favorites? And if you have other tips which might be of help to the learners?

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