Why Massive Open Online Courses Matter to Recruiters

The world of education, training, and professional development is being disrupted by MOOCs.

In case you’re not familiar with that acronym, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. Although they have been around for years, MOOCs have recently been heralded as the future of learning.

As the name suggests, a MOOC is first and foremost an online course. What makes MOOCs different from other online offerings is the fact that they are “open” — meaning that anyone can enroll, typically free of charge — and that each course tends to have hundreds to thousands of participants. For example, Stanford recently had 160,000 students enroll in its “Introduction to AI” MOOC.

These courses offer a free and easily accessible way for people to learn new skills or upgrade existing ones. As such, recruiters need to be aware of MOOCs because they will soon start to show up on resumes. Should you come across a resume that includes one or several MOOCs,  understand what that means. When evaluating the credibility of MOOCs on a resume there are several things to consider:

First, who is offering the course?

There are several prominent MOOC platforms. The best known — edX, Udacity, and Coursera — are associated with a host of major universities. This university affiliation means that the MOOCs offered through these platforms oftentimes feature the same content and the same instructors as the courses offered at the universities themselves.

Other MOOC platforms, like Udemy, allow anyone to create and offer a course. These MOOCs are frequently taught by seasoned practitioners rather than tenured professors and, therefore, are more practical and less academic. An example would be “Learn Python the Hard Way” as opposed to “Ideas of the 20th Century.”

By familiarizing yourself with the leading MOOC platforms, you can better assess, at a glance, the value of the MOOC listed in relation to the open job position at hand.

Second, what was the content of the course?

When evaluating a MOOC on a resume, the content of the course should be in some way associated with the position for which the candidate is applying. The content of MOOCs listed on a resume should reflect the candidate’s career goals and, ideally, highlight the practical, technical skills the course helped them acquire. For example, taking an introduction to artificial intelligence course may indicate a certain level of intellectual curiosity, but such courses do not help a candidate become a more effective database administrator or application developer.

Recruiters should pay close attention to the specific skills the candidate was seeking to develop through a MOOC and question if these skills fit the requirements of the job at hand.

Finally, what does participation in a MOOC say about the candidate?

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MOOCs can cover a variety of topics, some of which can be rather esoteric. For this reason, the fact that a candidate participated in a MOOC at all, whether or not the focus of the MOOC was a practical skill, suggests that the candidate is intellectually curious.

MOOCs can also indicate a significant level of motivation and initiative on the part of the candidate. The decision to enroll and complete the coursework is, after all, entirely up to them. In addition, some courses require that students have already achieved a certain level of proficiency as a prerequisite of participation; therefore, acceptance into a MOOC may serve as an indicator of a candidate’s skill level.

MOOCs also tend to have a relatively high attrition rate. Although the data varies, the consensus seems to be that completion rates of MOOCs hovers around 10 percent. If a candidate completed all the MOOC courses they listed on their resume, this can be a good indicator of how diligent and goal-oriented he or she may be.

It’s hard to ignore the hype surrounding MOOCs. It is equally undeniable that online education, especially in the form of MOOCs, can present job seekers with real opportunities to improve their marketable skills. Recruiters will benefit from educating themselves about this new form of online education, and understanding how MOOCs can provide additional insight into a candidate’s capabilities, qualifications, and drive to learn.

Matt Grant
Matt Grant has a PhD from Cornell and more than 15 years experience in corporate training and marketing communications. Prior to joining Aquent, he was managing editor at MarketingProfs.com where he hosted the Marketing Smarts podcast and designed online courses for MarketingProfs University.