Meet MOOCs: How to Study English at the Best Universities in the Whole World

Have you ever dreamed of studying at Harvard, Cambridge or MIT?

Now you can!

Thanks to the internet and with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), you can take classes at the best universities in the world no matter where you live.

Today, you will learn what a MOOC is and how to learn English from a MOOC. You will also receive a list of recommended MOOCs from the world’s best universities.


Frequently Asked Questions About MOOCs

What is a MOOC?

As we noted earlier, the acronym MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course.”

These online courses are designed for open and unlimited participation, with access anywhere you can find an internet connection. They are called “massive” because massive (very large) numbers of students take these courses. They are very popular—for good reason.

If you have ever dreamed of attending one of the world’s most prestigious universities, you can achieve your dream (or some of it, at least) by attending a MOOC.

There are many world-renowned universities like MIT and Cambridge that offer a large selection of free, high-quality MOOCs for anyone to enjoy. Find more specific course information in the final section of this article.

How is a MOOC different from other online courses?

Often, a MOOC is open access, which means that all people with an internet connection can access and use the video lectures, readings, notes and other course content.

Likewise, MOOCs usually have an open structure, allowing students to move at their own pace. In many cases, MOOCs are free and accessible to anyone, unlike tuition-based online courses that are part of an official curriculum.

Who studies with MOOCs?

Because they are open courses, many different types of people participate in MOOCs. It is common for recent graduates to take a course in order to sharpen their skills before applying to jobs.

You will also find professionals who want to improve their skills in areas like foreign language, leadership, public speaking, writing, computer science and more.

Are there different types of MOOCs?

There is an enormous variety of MOOCs. Here is a description of three common MOOC types:

  • Transfer MOOC  This is probably what you imagine in an online course: A teacher-led course that has been reformatted into an online course. These include a combination of video lectures, PDFs of presentation, short quizzes and group discussion forums. Often, these are promoted or developed by an educational institution like a university and hosted by an online learning platform or third party software. Coursera is a familiar example of a transfer MOOC.
  • Synchronous and asynchronous MOOCs  These words describe when the course is available. Synchronous (or synch) MOOCs have an official start date and end date, and students must take the course at the time it is offered. Asynchronous MOOCs are more flexible, and students can enroll in the course at any time during the year.
  • Mini MOOC — While some MOOCs are designed to take place over the course of a typical college semester, a mini MOOC is designed to take less time to complete, anywhere from a few days to 12 weeks.

7 Quick Facts About English MOOCs

1. Most are free. However, some charge a fee to enroll in the program, or to take an assessment at the end for an official certificate.

2. In general, MOOCs offer a low-cost way to access high-quality educational content.

3. The majority of the time, MOOCs include videos and presentations.

4. Large portions of MOOCs are self-led. This means that the student decides when to begin, when to stop and how fast to go.

5. Most MOOCs experience high drop-out rates. This means that while many students enroll in the course, few students complete the course. MOOCs work best for learners who are highly self-motivated to complete the course.

6. Successful participation requires some computer skills, since the courses are taken on a computer with internet connection.

7. In most cases, MOOCs do not count towards an official degree or certification.

4 Tips for Success with English MOOCs

Learning online isn’t for everyone. MOOCs tend to experience high drop-out rates due to the fact that most of these online courses are self-led. Here are some tips to help you choose a course well and make the most effective use of your time.

Set a day and time to learn

When you sign up for an online course, if it is self-led you will need to establish your own consistent schedule to help you complete the course. Write down the days and times that you will study, and add them to your calendar to help you stay consistent.

Start with basics

Before you commit to something intensive, start by joining a course at a comfortable level. Choose a course that has a minimal time commitment (one or two hours a week) and minimal cost. This will allow you to experiment with online learning to see if it is right for you.

Participate in group discussions

In many MOOCs, group discussions or forums are a big part of the course. Even if it is not required, participating in the group discussion can help keep you engaged. You may even meet some new friends who are also learning English!

Reinforce your online learning with real-world experience

Stay motivated by joining an English conversation group. This will help you use the things you are learning in real-life applications, and it will keep you motivated to study each week.

You could also build your fluency with language learning programs—some can help you get used to realistic English in context. FluentU, for example, uses videos made by and for native English speakers to teach the language.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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4 Popular English MOOCs from Famous Universities

Many reputable universities now offer online English courses for free. Below, you will find a list of several famous universities, with a sample of English MOOCs that they offer.

1. English for the Workplace

This course helps you with the language you need to find a job and and function successfully at work.

Offered by: British Council

Duration: Two weeks

Hours per week: Four

Cost: Free

Prerequisites: The course is for students with a pre-intermediate English level (A2 on the CEFR).

2. Learning English for Academic Purposes: First Steps

Develop the academic English and study skills that you will need to continue learning English at a university level.

Offered by: The Open University

Duration: Six weeks

Hours per week: Four

Cost: Free

Prerequisites: The course is for students who will study in English at university and requires an English score of at least 5.5 on the IELTS.

3. Listening, Speaking, and Pronunciation

This course is designed for high-intermediate students who would like to develop better listening and speaking skills. The course focuses on speaking accurately and fluidly, becoming better at understanding spoken English and learning common English expressions.

Offered by: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Duration: As long as you want! There are 24 lectures to complete. The course recommends taking two lectures per week, but you can choose how fast or slow to proceed.

Hours per week: Three (two lectures per week)

Cost: Free to enroll, but students must purchase three books (available through Amazon) to complete all of the exercises.

Prerequisites: English level above intermediate.

4. How to Write an Essay

An introduction to academic writing, this course focuses on essay writing, correct written grammar and editing skills. Students learn vocabulary about grammar, as well as how to write effective sentences, introductions and conclusions.

Offered by: Berkeley University English MOOC

Duration: Five weeks

Hours per week: Five to six hours per week

Cost: Free, with the option to add a verified certificate for $49 USD

Prerequisites: Students should know enough English to be able to participate in an introductory level course at a university.

How to Find More English MOOCs Online

There are so many English MOOCs available online!

To search for more English language MOOCs online, you can try searching for the term English MOOC in a search engine like Google.

Another good way to find reputable, high-quality English MOOCs is through universities. Simply go to a university website and look for an online learning portal, university extension or a section with free online courses.

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.

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