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What can MOOC learning do for your career?

Millions worldwide are now learning through Massive Open Online Courses.

Okay, I admit it. I did my fair share of procrastinating during university.

Luckily, the university I attended had a TV channel that broadcast certain courses on the upper cable dial in our area. So if I skipped … I mean, missed a class for some totally valid reason, I could just watch it later on TV. If students couldn't watch that particular class, they could also borrow a VHS tape of it (remember those?) from the university library and watch it in a VCR.

About two decades later, learning has left VCRs and hit the Web. Today almost anyone, from Kindergarten and university students to business professionals and curious hobbyists, can sign up for virtual classes called massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Most MOOCs consist of video lectures, tests, assignments, student discussion forums and final exams, all administered online.

How it all started

Here’s some cool little Canadian trivia — some consider Manitoba to be the birthplace of the MOOC. In 2008, a course called "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge" was offered to 25 in-class students at the University of Manitoba and online (for free) to 2,300 members of the general public.

MOOCs really became a global phenomenon in 2011, when more than 160,000 people around the world signed up for an online course in artificial intelligence offered by California-based Stanford University.

Since then, MOOCs have expanded beyond traditional academic curriculum to offer courses specifically for working professionals. Here’s a look at how businesses can take advantage of the online learning trend.

Where to find MOOCs

Some MOOCs are offered by colleges and universities, while others are offered by corporations.

For example, major IT vendor SAP SE launched openSAP in 2013, a series of online courses focused mainly on tech-related content. Most of the courses teach how to use, or become certified in, specific SAP products and services. But other courses are more generalized (i.e. on topics like digital transformation) and are taught by instructors who are not affiliated with SAP.

Other MOOCs are provided by private companies like Udacity. Originally an offshoot of that famous 2011 Stanford AI course, Udacity is now a for-profit corporation offering mainly IT-oriented courses.

Even private sector MOOCs like Udacity, however, get a lot of their content from academic institutions. For example, the University of Toronto offers various MOOCs on private sector MOOC platforms like Coursera and Udacity.

Where they’re headed

Despite being a fairly recent trend, MOOCs have seen dramatic growth. In 2016, Frost & Sullivan predicted the global MOOC market would grow to $8.5 billion by 2022, an astounding 425 per cent growth rate between 2016 to 2022.

According to Class Central, a non-profit site that curates MOOC information, research and news, 23 million people worldwide registered for a MOOC for the first time ever in 2016. The same site notes that between 2011 and 2016, a cumulative total of 58 million people had registered for at least one MOOC, and 6,850 MOOC courses were created by more than 700 universities.

Are MOOCs worth it?

MOOCs have some obvious advantages over traditional training and education models. You can take the courses anywhere there’s Internet service, even on your mobile devices. Plus many courses are free or substantially cheaper than university classes. In 2014, Udacity launched a master’s degree in computer science in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology that cost just $7,000 USD.

Many MOOCs have flexible deadlines for starting and completing courses, tests and assignments — giving students the ability to attend while working part-time or full-time. Likewise, you can take any MOOC without moving, unlike attending a college or university out of town. Since MOOC course content is online, it can often be refreshed quickly and frequently, keeping it up-to-date with industry trends.

Can MOOCs help your career? There’s some evidence they can. According to a 2015 global survey of 52,000 people who had completed at least one MOOC course, 72 per cent said it resulted in some sort of career benefit such as finding a new job, starting their own business, enhancing their current job skills, being promoted or getting a raise.

Everchanging MOOCs

Just over five years since their initial rise, MOOCs are evolving pretty rapidly. One change is the move from ‘free to fee.’ Although almost all MOOCs started out as free, most providers now charge for things like grading assignments or issuing certifications.

Speaking of certifications, Class Central researchers say the number of MOOCs that ultimately lead to a certification of some kind grew by a whopping 150 per cent in 2016. While that shift is partly a way for providers to generate revenue, Class Central also says “the aim of these credentials is to signify a level of competence for high-demand skills.”

So as the number of MOOCs grows, credentials and certifications will at least give graduates a way to differentiate themselves and the quality of the courses they completed.

A current MOOC trend of particular interest to businesses is corporate customization. One example is Coursera For Business, an enterprise division of Coursera that helps companies “hand-pick courses to create customized programs aligned with (their) exact needs,” according to its website. Fees range from $100 USD for one course per person to $400 USD for up to six courses per person.

Whether you want to learn English from Harry Potter or get a 'Nanodegree' in self-driving cars, there’s probably a MOOC for that. All you have to do is go online and get started.

Up Next: Along with additional education, volunteer experience can be a great way to beef up your resume.

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Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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