A version of this post originally appeared on SkilledUp Trends and Insights.



Should you go for certificates and badges or try to build a portfolio of your work? What type of signal will be most valuable in the job market? How can you turn MOOC learning into a salary increase?

If you are an employer, how can you use the MOOC revolution to benefit your business?

If you are a regular reader, then you know that I’m extremely interested in how MOOCs will create value in the market - not just in the sense of people enjoying free courses, but quantifiable, bottom-line value. I’ve written about the potential for MOOCs to change the value equation within the higher education industry itself. Now I’m turning my attention to another market -  mid-career professionals and the companies that employ them.

Having taken over a dozen business MOOCs, I am positive that what I have learned in my MOOC courses is turning me into a more productive worker. In some ways my MOOC education is even better than my previous undergraduate and graduate work. Or it may just be that I am better as a learner; I am much more focused on education that I can use to create value at work,  and I have a clearer understanding of what skills and knowledge I need to acquire in order to become a better professional. I would guess that many other MOOC users feel the same. After all, the majority of us already have degrees, and the average student age is in the 30s.  

I’m convinced that MOOCs are creating value. But the question remains - who will capture that value?

What follows is my attempt to lay out the various ways employers and employees might find value - the quantifiable kind - from MOOCs and other forms of free education.  MOOCs are still longer on potential than they are on proven value creation. The good news is that there is still time to get in on the ground floor of a movement that could change how education translates into the world of work.


How to Turn MOOC Coursework into a Salary Increase

1. Build the experience line on your resume.

Probably the most straightforward way MOOC education can create value for a mid-career learner is if you’re able to put some new skills into practice in your current job. Ultimately, you should be able to leverage your new responsibilities to either be promoted within your organization, or to get a higher paying position in another organization.


2. Acquire credentials recognized in the market.

So far, no MOOC-related credential has emerged as dominant in the job market. Certificates from single courses - Coursera Statements of Accomplishment, edX Verified Certificates, and the like - don’t present a clear pathway to career advancement. More promisingly, the MOOC providers are increasingly grouping courses into certificate programs - Coursera Specializations, edX XSeries, etc. - and they face competition from companies like Degreed that plan to create independent credentials for a broad range of subjects. All of these credentials are in their early stages, so we’ll have to wait and see which - if any - become a strong signal in the job market.

Udacity’s Nanodegree program has made the most headway in paving the MOOC-to-employment pathway.  Of course, it’s easier to provide a credential for a narrow skill set (e.g. Ruby on Rails) than for a broad one (e.g. leadership).  I expect that, following Udacity’s lead, technology credentials from sites like Code Academy, Thinkful, and others will be the first to provide job seekers with tangible advantages.  But credentials for other skills - even soft skills - are sure to follow.


3. Build a portfolio that makes the case for your professional abilities.  

In the absence of credentials with proven market value, a portfolio can be a good way to demonstrate your chops in a particular area. Some people are even claiming that portfolios are preferred over resumes by a growing number of employers. Again, coders and programmers are leading the way, with many sites that allow them to showcase their work. For the rest of us, sites like Accredible, SlideShare, and even LinkedIn might be good forums in which to provide evidence of one’s abilities, though I’m not convinced that employers will prefer such labor-intensive recruitment methods over an easy signal like a degree from a reputable institution. I’d love to hear from anyone who can prove me wrong about that! The portfolio approach is of course my chosen method for turning my No-Pay MBA into a professional credential.



How MOOCs Can Create Value for Employers


1. Use MOOCs as training for current employees.


The most obvious way for employers to reap value from free and inexpensive online courses is to replace a more expensive training programs, to supplement existing training programs, or to put in place a training program where none existed before. Even my employer, USAID, which has plenty of resources to create its own courses, is encouraging employees to take MOOCs that are relevant to the work we do. Companies that don’t already produce their own training materials stand to benefit the most from implementing a free or low-cost training program using MOOCs or other online courses.

As with all training programs, the goal is to make the company’s current workforce more productive.  If my experience is any indication, MOOCs are capable of doing this.


2. Encourage self-directed MOOC learning among employees.

Even if your company doesn’t want to spend the effort to implement a formal training, it may be a good idea to encourage self-directed MOOC learning among employees. Individuals are in fact more likely to know what skills they need to become better at their jobs. Giving permission for employees to spend some of their at-work time on personal learning can also increase job satisfaction.


3. Recruit via MOOC.

If employers partner with MOOC providers, they can get employees who have been educated in a way that directly matches what the employer is seeking. In this way, MOOCs have the potential to overcome the mismatch between traditional higher education and the needs of employers. As Harvard professor Clayton Christensen put it in a recent article in the Boston Globe,

“Many colleges and universities resist the idea of training students for jobs. Yet it is employers who are truly the ultimate consumers of degree-holders. If alternative education providers, by partnering or collaborating with employers, are able to deliver prospective job candidates who are as just as qualified — and in some cases, better suited — for the opportunities at hand, companies will begin to validate these learning pathways.”

Larger companies may be able to work with MOOC providers to create courses or learning pathways that directly match their needs, such as AT&T has done with Udacity. But smaller companies may also be able to identify courses or course series that provide the specific training that is most applicable to the job. Identifying people who succeed in those courses or course series could be a powerful form of recruitment.  


4. Encourage hiring managers to consider resumes with non-traditional forms of education.

What will you or your hiring manager do when a resume comes across your desk that has a MOOC education line? Okay, I’m biased, but I see a huge opportunity for employers who are willing to take a risk on hiring people whose training is MOOC-based or otherwise self-directed.  Trust me, I’m not the only one who is using free online education to increase my professional abilities. Now - before anyone has figured out how to credential this type of education, and before it has an established market value - is the time to snap up these entrepreneurial individuals.


Make no mistake: MOOCs are still longer on potential than they are on proven value creation. The good news is that there is still time to get in on the ground floor of a movement that could bring efficiency to talent recruitment, talent development and talent retention. Wouldn’t you or your business benefit from being part of it?



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