Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are courses offered online for anyone to take, usually for free. The courses generally consist of short video lectures followed by short quiz questions, and are usually produced in collaboration with leading universities worldwide. All kinds of subjects are available to study – including most STEM subjects.


There are a whole range of MOOC providers, each with their own set up and advantages. Below is a short summary of those I would particularly recommend: offers free stand-alone courses at a range of levels (although I would generally say AS/A Level or first year degree) in a huge variety of subjects – including several STEM subjects (although they are generally broader courses rather than specialist ones). These courses can be taken any time at the learner’s pace. Pdf certificates are free but not offered by many courses, and the price of other certificates varies for each course.


Coursera is one of the more well-established MOOC providers, with links to many top universities worldwide. They offer a wide variety of courses, including many specialised STEM courses, in many languages. Courses are generally 6-10 weeks long and have recommended deadlines which for most courses you can change/ turn off according to your learning plan. The courses seem to be slightly more intensive than some alternatives, around 5-10 hours per week. They tend to be at a slightly higher level at around A level/ degree level standard (of course this varies significantly between courses). There is the option to take courses either on their own or as part of a ‘specialisation’ – a group of courses on a particular topic along with a project. There is the option to either gain a free ‘certificate of accomplishment’ for completing a course, or pay for a ‘verified certificate’ (various prices, certain courses only).


edX has many similarities to Coursera, including it’s links to top universities; variety of fairly intense, specialised courses at a fairly high level; and choice of certificate options. The certificates offered include free ‘honor code’ certificates (all courses) and ‘verified certificates’ (around $25, certain courses only). Their equivalent of Coursera’s specialisations is the ‘XSeries’ of courses. I particularly like the ability to change the video speed and download summary sheets, which makes studying much easier. One major disadvantage is the requirement to take weekly tests which cannot be done after the deadline – making it harder to go at your own pace. Also, their discussion forum is not particularly easy to use and doesn’t link into individual lectures.


FutureLearn offers a range of different STEM courses and has a particularly easy to use discussion function alongside each lecture, enabling easy communication with other learners or the educators themselves. The courses seem to require a sightly lower weekly time commitment than some other MOOCs, and tend to run from 2 to 10 weeks. Rather than being based on tests/ exams, the grading is instead just linked to how many of the lectures you watch. As with Coursera and edX, they usually start and end on a particular date. However, there is a lot more flexibility in pacing the course, since each ‘week’ can be taken in advance or after the suggested time (this may vary slightly between courses). The main disadvantage is the need to pay for ‘statements of participation’ (currently 24 pounds + postage), although unalike some other providers this fee includes a digital certificate too – which you can easily include on your LinkedIn profile.


Saylor Academy offers stand-alone courses which can be taken as ‘pathways’ (equivalent to a whole degree course for some subjects) with free (unverified) certificates of completion or the option to take an official exam to gain US college credit. However, they unfortunately don’t offer many STEM modules at a high level.

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What can I do in the first summer of my degree? – STEMBoost · December 26, 2020 at 9:28 pm

[…] Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great way to prepare for the next academic year. They are offered by universities worldwide and generally consist of a series of video lectures and quizes. Some MOOCs offer the opportunity to obtain a verified certificate for an additional fee, but you can also just audit most courses for free. If you are unsure about which modules to pick next year, want to get a headstart on your peers, or want an additional certificate to add to your CV these are a fantastic opportunity. Check out our article all about MOOCs here! […]

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