Should Employers Take Massive Open Online Courses Seriously?

The popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people, is increasing at a rapid rate.

“A MOOC aims for unlimited participation and open access via the Web,” said Robert “Bob” Mann, a product manager for business technology at Robert Half in the article titled Why You Should Sign Up for a MOOC Now . “It is not uncommon for thousands to participate in a single course, and often a certificate is included in the program or offered for a modest fee.”

These courses are a great way for professionals of all ages and backgrounds to learn new skills and take classes online, for free. MOOC’s are attractive for a number of reasons, cost and access being among the top reasons. However, they do not qualify for college credit, even though the course is similar to that of an online class.

“When we think of education, we think of college students, dormitories, lecture halls and college classes, but MOOCs have changed this traditional way of looking at education,” said Ruchira Kirsiri in a 2013 article titled Who Should Take A MOOC?: 9 Types of Lifelong Learners Who Can Benefit.

Added Kirsiri: “It’s the new kid on the block, taking the education world by somewhat of a storm.”

That being said, have MOOC’s impacted the way recruiters, hiring managers and business owners recruit and select candidates? While reaching out to 5 different recruiters in a variety of fields across the country, the answer, at this point, was no – not yet.

Said one national IT recruiter: “I can tell you in the IT space that education is not that much of a big deal – most clients want to see experience. I tend to see education only playing a part when the client is hiring someone as a full time employee and they are required to meet some educational levels (such as a bachelor’s degree).”

Others simply replied they weren’t familiar with MOOC’s, or that they were more inclined to pick a candidate based on their work experience and skills gained through previous jobs. But that doesn’t mean that won’t change in the near future. Remember when recruiters were hesitant to post job openings online? That changed once employers learned of the value from this new opportunity. Technology is changing and so is how we learn.

Some employers have already noticed how they can benefit from MOOC’s.  Some of the leading providers of MOOC’s are Coursera.org, edX.org, and Udacity.com. Combined, these three MOOC providers have over 4 million registered users. Mann stated in his blog that it was recently reported that Udacity has teamed up with technology firms to form the Open Education Alliance, an industry-wide alliance of employers and educators in the service of students throughout the world. The purpose of the alliance is to provide students around the globe with relevant courses and skills to pursue technology careers. In addition to Google and Nvidia, industry partners include Intuit, AT&T, AutoDesk and Cloudera, said Mann.

At this point, it seems most employers just aren’t sure of the value of an MOOC and/or how to analyze its impact on a candidate when reviewing a resume. Laurie Pickard discussed this in an article titled How Employers Can Assess MOOC’s On a Resume. Pickard pointed out she has taken about a dozen business-related MOOC’s as part of a project to do the equivalent of an MBA using free and low-cost courses and has come to this conclusion:

“I am a big believer in the potential of MOOCs for furthering educational and career goals,” said Pickard. “Nonetheless, not all MOOC course work should be considered equally valuable or impressive.”

Pickard said she found MOOCs “vary substantially in terms of both level of difficulty and practical application.”

Some provided little value add, with no more preparation for the world of work because she took the course. But she did find value in many courses, including those related to accounting and financial analysis. Pickard says while an employer may not know how to interpret the true value of an MOOC, especially when a job seeker places it on a resume, she urges employers to consider the fact that completing an MOOC  shows risk-taking, creativity and self-direction. Those are all traits an employer would want and are similar to a job seeker completing any traditional college course, training class or more familiar online learning tool, such as through Lynda.com.

That being said, it might not be enough to help a candidate leapfrog the competition when final hiring decisions are made. However, as employers learn more about MOOC’s, it could be another avenue to explore when seeking learning opportunities. Employers who become familiar with MOOC may find training opportunities for current staff that can be done online, eliminating the need – and costs – of traveling to a weeklong training through traditional classroom settings, for example. The employee can learn on their own time and take courses that can help them in their current job, benefitting both the employer and job seeker while saving money in the process.

MOOC’s are growing in popularity and as they do, so will employers knowledge of the true value they add to a candidate. Technology is changing, the way professionals learn is changing and just maybe, the way recruiters, hiring managers and employers view MOOC’s will change too. It’s not there yet – but don’t be surprised if that changes soon.

As an employer, recruiter or small business owner, what experiences do you have with MOOC and how has it impacted your hiring decisions? Will you look at these more closely once you learn more? Share your thoughts below.

Matt Krumrie

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via resumesbymatt.com, connect with him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/mattkrumrie/) and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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