Main image of article Bootcamp or MOOC? Here's How to Choose

In addition to our day-to-day jobs, many of us want (or are being asked) to learn a new skill. There are many ways of going about this, but in tech, the options are often easily distilled into two categories: bootcamps, and Massive Open Online Learning (MOOC) courses. Which is right for you? While they seem similar on the surface, there are distinct differences between the two. Each will teach you new disciplines in different ways. Which you choose may have a lasting effect on your wallet and your career path. Before starting a new course, it’s best to consider how you learn best. A quick inventory of your life is also necessary. None of it is easy, but we’ll walk you through the main steps.

How You Learn

The way you learn might be the most important factor in whether you choose a bootcamp or MOOC. It’s something often overlooked. If you do best when under pressure, a bootcamp will likely be your best choice. The truncated timeframe means you have to pack in a lot of learning and tinkering; most bootcamps are little more than ten days, and promise to get you from absolute zero to shipping apps in that time. MOOCs are best suited for those who enjoy a more deliberate pace. If you learn a bit slowly, like to revisit topics, and/or prefer to explore a newly learned skill in depth, an online course may prove better for you. Such courses are also a bit more solo, whereas bootcamps typically center on team projects. While most MOOCs have online communities, finding a co-learning group can be difficult; Udacity has an in-person Connect program to compliment its mentor service (for example), but it's not available in most geographies. Depending on the company running the program, there are often several ways to go about learning concepts, too. Reputable bootcamps such as Big Nerd Ranch have books to go along with their coursework, so you can either watch an instructor or just dive right into the text. As online courses go, Ray Wenderlich’s various tutorials have accompanying books, as well. Most proper MOOCs rely on video. [caption id="attachment_138950" align="aligncenter" width="5333"] Tech workers remote Online learning is leisurely[/caption]

Time Off

Have you ever had an employer bristle when you ask for time off? It's a sinking feeling, made worse if you want to use that time to improve yourself. The inability to take time off may prevent you from joining a bootcamp. Most require you to immerse yourself at a lab (or ranch!) for days or weeks, without coming up for air unless you’re eating or sleeping. There’s no ‘let me check in on work’ at these camps; you’re there to learn, not observe. The average length of a bootcamp is about three months, which is less ‘time off’ and more ‘sabbatical.’ MOOCs tend to be more free-form and work with your schedule, and you can take classes anywhere. They’re also designed to take longer. While a bootcamp beats you up for a week or so, MOOCs break things up into digestible slices you digest over time. Some even throttle how fast you can matriculate through the system, so there’s no weekend warrior-ing your way through it.

Cash Rules

Studies suggest that most of us have very little in our savings accounts. Some 70 percent have less than $1,000 in the bank, and 34 percent possess absolutely no savings at all. Without so much as a safety net, can you really afford that new course? Bootcamps are almost always expensive. Really expensive. A study from Course Report says a typical 12-week course will run you $11,451. A quick nosing around the internet shows that $10,000-plus price points are typical. A three-month course might cost more than you make at your current position. That means debt. Credit cards charge big percentage rates, and personal loans for that amount can be hard to secure unless your credit is impressive. On the flip side, MOOCs are much more affordable. Typically around $200-400 per month, online courses are usually engineered to take 12 months or less. Whether or not you proceed at a leisurely pace, $4,800 is a lot better than $11,451. Udacity even offers incentives for those who graduate their courses, which could drive the cost down to about $600 total (or less!).

Both are Good Choices

Stack Overflow’s 2017 Developer Survey shows that most respondents have a formal education (i.e., a degree from an accredited four-year university). Only 31 percent of developers think that level of education is important; some 32 percent say it’s either of little importance or has no bearing, while 27 percent are ambivalent. The Stack Overflow 2016 survey is even more enlightening: A whopping 69 percent of developers said they were at least partly self-taught. With any program, you get out what you put in. Knowing what to expect of yourself is also important, and helps maximize the value you get from any program. Learning never ends, so your choice here is just one of many important steps along the way.