Why Recruiters Need to Know About Massive, Open Online Courses

MOOCs (Massive, Open Online Courses) have arrived en force to the shores of the UK and savvy in-house recruiters and HR professionals need to be aware of what these are and the benefits they can bring.

MOOCs are a phenomenon borne out of the need to offer distance learning, with the moniker being coined in 2008 when this teaching methodology came of age with a course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, which attracted thousands of students who accessed the content through RSS. The course was free of charge, which largely remains the premise of MOOCs today. While the delivery of lectures has advanced and matured in line with technology, the huge enthusiasm and demand for these courses has remained constant.

These online courses are most popular in the USA, where top universities such as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Berkeley, to name a few prestigious flagship institutions of higher education, operate their own programmes. Indeed, all three have collaborated to create a platform called edX, where other universities have joined them to offer a wide range of courses. Unbelievably, a MOOC master’s is now available, and rather than being the parody the name suggests, this degree is a highly regarded and sought-after qualification.

In 2012, the UK’s Open University launched a British MOOC provider, Furturelearn, which innovatively included provision of MOOCs from non-university partners including the British Museum, the British Council and the British Library. And though the 26 university partners involved with Furturelearn might not include the heavy-hitters such as Oxford and Cambridge quite yet, there is plenty of red brick representation.

So what is it about MOOCs that has any relevance to HR professionals? Well, this disruptive innovation in education should be of interest on two levels.

Firstly, the courses on offer are wide-ranging and varied, so offer immense learning opportunities (and remember a Harvard course is as easily accessible to a student in the UK as it is to one in Boston). An organisation that can offer the chance to access this kind of knowledge transfer will appeal to younger employees who have a compulsion to stay ahead of curve, as well as responding to the older workforce who are anxious to stay relevant in a fast-moving, information-led workplace. In many ways, MOOCs provide real solutions to manage both the Baby Boomers and Generation X that are part of the makeup of businesses in the 21st century. Our blog post How Recruiters Can Win the Generation Game explores the complexities of a multi-generational workforce, their approaches to work and expectations, of which continued upskilling and learning is a key component.

The second important aspect of MOOCs, and the one that will make them of particular interest to recruitment specialists, is that many MOOC providers offer portals whereby recruiters can access student resumes. Bearing in mind that MOOC graduates consist of new and older students, the depth of potential is huge, especially around passive candidate recruitment. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter have already embraced MOOC providers as part of their recruitment process to great success – especially to uncover high-performing candidates with niche STEM skills.

There is ample opportunity to incorporate the popularity of MOOCs into a wider recruitment strategy – be this around screening, providing bespoke courses developed by an organisation in tandem to a MOOC provider or as discussed, to attract and engage highly motivated, well-educated candidates outside of graduate and apprenticeship schemes. So our advice when it comes to developing a recruitment strategy is definitely: MOOC before you leap.