If there’s a stigma surrounding Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs), it’s that they’re for people who didn’t or don’t want to go to universities. A new study shows that, while there’s a bit of truth in that assumption, university graduates are supplementing their expensive education with online coursework.
Buried towards the end of interviewing.io’s recent blog post on “lessons learned from 3,000 technical interviews,” company co-founder Aline Lerner noted that MOOCs are utilized by those who haven’t gone to a traditional university (which we knew), but also that some courses are populated by people with four-year degrees. From the blog post (emphasis Lerner’s):
I was curious about the interplay between MOOCs and top schools, so I partitioned MOOC participants into people who had attended top schools vs. people who hadn’t. When I did that, something startling emerged. For people who attended top schools, completing Udacity or Coursera courses didn’t appear to matter. However, for people who did not, the effect was huge, so huge, in fact, that it dominated the board.
In addition, she added: “Interviewees who attended top schools performed significantly worse than interviewees who had not attended top schools but HAD taken a Udacity or Coursera course.”
Unpacking the MOOC
It would be easy to think Lerner is positing that MOOCs are good for supplanting traditional education, but that would be slightly off-track. In reality, the findings suggest there’s a noticeable gap in the educational system oftentimes filled by MOOCs.
This study shows that those who didn’t attend MIT, Stanford and similar top-tier schools perform better when they supplement their coursework with online courses. Lerner said that Udacity and Coursera were the most popular options for students, with the most popular courses focusing on algorithms or machine learning.
Lerner also suggested those who take MOOC courses are “abnormally driven,” whether they went to university or not.
Another important consideration when analyzing the study: these statistics and opinions relate to interviews, not necessarily performance within an actual job. Regardless of how we tend to feel about the technical interview process, it’s still specialized.
Another takeaway: algorithms are prime whiteboard fodder, and the whiteboard is still – for better or worse – an integral part of the technical interview process.
MOOCs also have an interesting track record. While there are tons of graduate success stories, some studies suggest the programs have a poor completion rate, and leave disillusioned students left high and dry. Though attractive, MOOCs are also for-profit, and we needn’t look past ITT to see how that can go very wrong.
All told, MOOCs are still finding their footing in an education system that many feel has left the average consumer high and dry. University tuition is expensive, and out of reach for many, even with scholarships. Paying a few hundred dollars per month is about as expensive as most tech-focused MOOCs get, which is in the price range of many students.
In its purest form, the study’s headline says it all: “What you do after graduation matters way more than where you went to school.” Whether you’ve graduated from MIT or a MOOC, proving your knowledge via open-source projects or publishing your own apps is always the best way to show you know how to apply that education you paid for.