Thoughts on MOOCs?

I’m considering taking some science MOOCs (massive open online courses). I’m not looking to get credit, just develop some background knowledge in preparation for medical school next fall.

I know there are a ton of free MOOCs out there, put on by institutions ranging from UC Berkeley to Yale. The organization I’m considering is called The cool thing about Saylor (at least from appearances) is that rather than give you a set of lectures from a single professor or place, Saylor compiles different modalities of resources, grouped into topical units, to create a more comprehensive curriculum. I’m looking at their BIO302: Human Anatomy and BIO304: Human Physiology courses (but Saylor offers other science courses as well, and courses in all kinds of subjects). For example, on these course pages, there are links to lectures from UC Berkeley, readings from Grey’s Anaomy online, YouTube videos, and assessments from McGraw-Hill’s Online Learning Center, among other things.

There is the saying that “you get what you pay for.” But there is also the saying that “you get out of something what you put into it.” So even though these courses are free, if you invest in them on your own, hopefully you get a good return. Hopefully.

Thoughts? Anyone have experience with science MOOCs? With in particular? If so, I’d love to hear about it.


I’ve “done” classes through Coursera and EdX. My goal in them is a familiarization of the material and not to actually hard memorize all of the facts (that’s why I’m going to pay to go to med school). They meet my purposes pretty well and allow me to “study” roughly on my own time. Both Coursera and EdX have options of watching classes outside of the course window, though you obviously can’t get certificates or credit through them. I’ve watched stuff on anatomy, physiology, immunology, and have some ethics, genetics, and others in my queue to hopefully eventually get to. Coursera has an iPad app if you choose to use that as well.

As a current M1, I wouldn’t bother unless you have some specific reason (best known to yourself :wink: for wanting structured remediation or advance prep in a particular area. Even if you attend lecture in person once you start school, believe me, you will soon have your fill of “online content.”

What I’d do instead is pick your favorite textbook in subject X, or have a prof recommend one, and read around for pleasure. For example, med school biochem is not hard per se. But it leaves you no room, or very little room at best, to see what Voet has to say about that particular ion channel. So do that now (or read journals, or whatever works for you).

Thank you both for your responses.

I guess my thought is that I’ve never had A&P, and I have heard that having some familiarity with those concepts and terminology is helpful going into medical school.

Does that ring true to you, EthelR?

Hmm…if you’ve really had no A&P at all, then yes, taking a look probably couldn’t hurt. I did a BSN before switching to medicine. Because this was part of an NP program, our A&P was taught by an actual Ph.D. physiologist. So, not that I remember the details, I have had some exposure. This has undoubtedly been helpful. (But not that helpful.)

With that in mind, I don’t think a MOOC could hurt. But before reinventing the wheel, so to speak, I personally would just try to get access to your med school’s fall syllabi for A&P. Most people do not have time to read the chapter once school starts. The problem is that if you DO read the chapter, you run the risk of missing or crowding out some easy thing featured on a slide.

Though not personally applicable to you (no A&P), Tufts has a lot of their med school stuff online at OCW:

I think MOOC’s are the best thing since sliced bread and I’d certainly have a far more difficulty time transitioning my career into CS/Computational Biology without them.

I’ve taken courses primarily through Cousera and received certifications from them too. The certification options appear to be depended on the courses you’ve enrolled in.

Hi there!!

Just to throw my two cents in on this (as I sit here staring at the phys I haven’t even properly LOOKED at and will probably spend all of christmas trying to synthesize…)

I think a bit more background in some classes would make things easier so if you have the time and are inclined I’d say go for it!!! Personally I would choose phys because I think anatomy is just SO memorization heavy that its hard to really commit the material to memory without the lab component and the pressure of testing and constant practice. Also, physio is more of a conceptual class so I suspect it will be most benaficial to have a bit of a foundation it… at least thats what would have been helpful for me

hope you are well


Thanks for your input, everyone. Lots of great feedback.

I had a couple of upper-level science electives (genetics and biochem) when I did my post-bac and am now taking a med term course to prep on some of the lingo. So I’ve had some additional material beyond the basic pre-reqs, although obviously in med school there’s much more. But I think I will at least go through some of the A&P material to familiarize myself with it so it’s not completely new to me next fall. The clock is ticking!

Update on my MOOCs experience so far:

I worked through part of the first unit of that Saylor anatomy course, and didn’t like it. So instead I’m watching some online videos – Dr. Marian Diamond from UC Berkeley. She is FANTASTIC. This little old lady who is incredibly passionate about anatomy and has a great dry sense of humor. Highly recommended. They are free and accessible on YouTube.

As for physiology, I’m listening to some podcasts to and from work. I went with a podcast from iTunes, “Biology 2110-2120,” by Dr. Gerald Cizadlo from College of St. Scholastica. Good stuff as well. He’s a very visual professor, in terms of explaining ways to visualize and think about the concepts he is teaching. It’s not been a big deal at all (so far) that it’s audio only and I can’t see the chalk board. This year-long physiology course is also free on iTunes.

As a side note, does anyone know if there is an open Biochemistry course somewhere? I’ve looked at MIT Open CourseWare and Coursera, but haven’t turned anything up.