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Advantages and Downsides

Online Diplomas Versus MOOCs:
Advantages and Downsides

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made online education more popular than ever. Whether you are looking to continue your studies after finishing school, or return to education after many years in the workforce, an online diploma is a great way to gain knowledge, skills, and useful qualifications.

However, there are many different types of online education, from massive open online courses (MOOCs) to online diplomas from well-respected institutions. You’ve likely seen the ads for MOOCs pop up on your social media feed and wondered what these courses are all about. Specifically, are MOOCs as valuable as an online diploma?

We’ll take a deep dive into MOOCs and online diplomas, and weigh up the pros and cons of each so that you can decide which type of course is right for you. Let’s start by defining each term.

online diploma

What are MOOCs?

MOOC stands for massive open online course. As you may have guessed from the word “massive”, in MOOCs there is virtually no cap on the number of students enrolled. In some cases, there are close to 100,000 students enrolled in a single course.

As these courses are ‘open,’ anyone from any corner of the globe can sign up for them and the instruction is fully online. Typically, these courses are one-sided: you watch videos or follow other course content, but there is little or no requirement for active participation from your end.

Having said that, good MOOCs are well-structured, taught by qualified instructors, and include materials such as course hand-outs, audio-visual materials, quizzes, and varied assessment patterns.

Recently, universities have begun incentivising MOOCs by allowing students to use them for study credits. MOOCs are a useful way to supplement other studies or flesh out your resume, though they won’t be treated with the same weight as a diploma or other formal qualification.


What are Online Diplomas?

An online diploma is very similar to a college degree, except that learning and assessment takes place mostly or entirely online. An online diploma from an accredited university will carry the same value as any in-person qualification.

Online diplomas allow you to gain skills, knowledge, and valuable qualifications while giving you the flexibility to study from anywhere, on your own schedule.

Therefore, they are ideal for:

  • Executives looking to further their education while continuing to work
  • Professionals looking to make a career change
  • Students who need to balance their studies with family or other personal commitments
  • Digital nomads wanting to further their studies and advance their career whilst staying location-independent

Renowned universities across the world now offer online diplomas in a range of subject areas, from Business Analytics to Strategic Management. You’ll be able to find reputable courses in essentially the same topics as in-person diplomas.

Key Differences Between Online Diplomas and MOOCs

MOOCs and online diplomas share several characteristics, offering flexible digital and location-independent learning options on your own schedule. However, there are also a number of key differences that have a direct impact on the overall learning experience, as well as the outcomes you can expect after completing the course.

Pace of Learning

When you opt for a MOOC, you can learn on your terms, at any pace you like. Even the assignments tend to be flexible, and you can complete the same course over a couple of weeks or a few months, depending on your availability and preferences.

Although online diplomas typically also allow you to study on your own schedule, you will need to meet certain deadlines for assignments and assessments. You can usually work in your own time and of course can always seek extensions and take more flexible options such as part-time study, but you’ll need to complete the course within a set time-frame, like a normal university programme.

Course Duration

MOOCs are designed as short courses. Irrespective of the subject, nearly all MOOCs can be completed within a few weeks. On the other hand, given the comprehensive and detailed nature of online diplomas, it will usually take learners anywhere between 12 and 24 months before they attain their final qualification.

Value of your Qualification

An online diploma is just as valuable as an in-person qualification at a university. These are in-depth, comprehensive courses that show potential employers that you have a level of knowledge on the subject, as well as the motivation and dedication to complete a long course.

Having a few MOOCs on your resume will show you have some specific knowledge on a particular topic, as well as some willingness to further your education, but they won’t be as valuable as a diploma.

Entry Requirements

MOOCs are open to everyone. You just have to pay the course fee, and you are good to go. 

Online diplomas have stricter entry requirements to ensure students are equipped for the more taxing learning requirements. For some online diplomas, learners might be required to provide evidence of previous education or take a test to meet the language requirements. On the other hand, many online diplomas only have high school education as a prerequisite, and offer alternative pathways for those who never finished high school.


Being longer, more in-depth, and more formal courses, online diplomas are typically much more expensive than MOOCs. Having said that, there are often scholarships and financing options for online diplomas, and your current employer may be happy to subsidise your studies for the valuable skills it will bring to the team.

Networking Potential

Beyond the knowledge and qualification you’ll gain through an online diploma, these courses also typically offer fantastic potential for networking. At institutions like EDHEC, you’ll connect with like-minded learners all over the world, with significant potential benefits for your future career. 

However, when taking a MOOC, you likely won’t have any contact with other learners.


The Advantages and Downsides of MOOCs

MOOCs can have a range of benefits, but they also come with their drawbacks and may not be suitable for all online learners.

The key advantages of MOOCs are:

  • MOOCs have a short duration, so they don’t require a long-term commitment
  • They give learners the opportunity to personalize their education
  • Most MOOC assignments are peer-evaluated, which many learners find less intimidating
  • You can usually decide the pace of the course
  • They are generally affordable
  • They can add value to your resume or be a stepping stone to more formal education

The main downsides of MOOCs are:

  • MOOCs cannot provide intensive and in-depth knowledge of a particular subject
  • They are not as credible as online diplomas
  • Learners cannot interact directly with the course instructors or network with their peers
  • There is little scope for learners to get their work assessed by course instructors and so receive valuable feedback
  • Student dropout rates are high


The Advantages and Downsides of an Online Diploma

Just like MOOCs, online diplomas also have their own set of pros and cons.

The benefits of online diplomas include:

  • Well-trained instructors from leading universities offer online diplomas
  • These comprehensive and in-depth courses are very credible and valuable
  • You can get top-notch education from anywhere and on your own schedule
  • Most online diplomas allow you to access the resources of the university offering the course
  • You can interact directly with the course instructors and get their feedback on your work
  • They usually offer a range of networking opportunities
  • They thoroughly prepare you for a job, career transition, or further education

The key disadvantages of online diplomas are:

  • Entry requirements can be quite strict for some courses
  • Some online diplomas can be expensive
  • They require a long-term commitment to the course


MOOCs vs Online Diplomas: Which is Better?

If you want to further your education and advance your career, you’re likely wondering whether you should pursue an online diploma or a MOOC. There is a lot of terminology in the education sector that can be confusing to learners, and make it difficult to choose the right course for you.

One is not necessarily better than the other. Rather, there are some important differences between the two types of courses, and each has their own pros and cons. It depends what you’re looking for and your expectations for online learning. MOOCs can be a great way to dip your toes in the water before committing to an online diploma that will give you a very valuable qualification.