MOOCs For Professional Development: Pros and Cons

By Kris Slawinski

At the urging of a colleague, and for professional development purposes, I signed up for a Coursera class on patient safety titled “The Science of Safety in Healthcare.” The MOOC, or “massive open online course,” was five weeks long, had weekly lecture videos and notes that could be downloaded from the site at your convenience, offered a certification of completion with a passing grade, and best of all, it was free, which meant if I failed it or had to drop out there were no financial or institutional repercussions!

The cons included the fact that, due to the “massive” nature of a MOOC, assignments were peer-reviewed, meaning your grade would be determined by someone new to the field of study, possibly with limited English literacy. Although you could not raise your hand in class to ask a question, you could email the course directors, who had an online discussion board  open continuously throughout. The videos were sometimes difficult to download, and due to featured lecturers, could be difficult to watch. Though I found it challenging and stressful to find time for course work and assimilate the information, I did get my certificate of completion, as well as more knowledge about patient safety, and strategies for institutional change for implementation of patient safety initiatives.

I have since signed up for an eight week MOOC on human physiology, to begin in a few weeks, and hope to enroll in a physical diagnosis course when it is offered. I don’t expect to acquire the depth and breadth of knowledge I might if I could regularly attend our student lectures, but for a quick-and-dirty convenient crash course, this seems like a reasonable plan. It is also a tangible solution to the question on my annual performance review as to how I furthered my professional training over the past year.

For an in-depth discussion on the academic and economic pros and cons of MOOCs and online training, please see the article “Laptop U” by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker, May 20th, 2013. For more information on Coursera, please visit .