Using MOOCs to Upgrade Skills

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec 2012

Providers of free online courses are officially in the headhunting business, bringing in revenue by selling to employers information about high-performing students who might be a good fit for open jobs.

Each college offering a course through Coursera is also given the chance to opt out of the service—meaning that if a college declines, then no students in its courses can participate in the matchmaking system.

“We’re more like a headhunter,” said Mr. Thrun. “We go through our database and find people that seem to be good matches for the openings from these companies.” Udacity says companies using its job-matching program include Google, Amazon, Facebook, and several tech start-ups.

In the case of one computer-science course offered through Udacity, the online students took the same quizzes and tests as a group of students enrolled at Stanford University at the same time. The top 411 students all came from the thousands of students who took the course online, with the strongest-performing Stanford student ranking 412th in the final standings, said Mr. Thrun. (That Stanford student earned a 98-percent score in the course.)

“There are a huge number of people out there who are extremely skilled but happen not to have the Stanford degree,” said Mr. Thrun.

Coursera gives students the option to show employers information about them only if they complete a given course.

Softer Skills

Both Coursera and Udacity show employers more than just student grades. They also highlight students who frequently help others in discussion forums.

Mr. Thrun, of Udacity, said those “softer skills” are often more useful to employers than raw academic performance.

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