Online Education Exciting Employers and Rewarding Employees

While the focus on online education is dominated by discussions about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), employers are increasingly excited by the opportunities online education can provide for their employees and business.

The power of online learning to make courses more accessible, flexible and affordable allows employers to use the latest technology to develop courses and experiences specifically for their needs. Working directly with online education providers, employers can improve their recruitment process, widen the skill base for their business and reward employees with learning opportunities.

The potential of this approach is illustrated in the creation of competency-based online programs by Capella University which this week received Federal endorsement, and in April this year the Department of Education approved federal funding for an online program for the first time. Backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the College for America program from Southern New Hampshire University is aimed at working adults who gain access via their employers. The course consists of assessment for 120 competencies – such as ‘using logic, reasoning and analysis – to address a business problem. Proving the 120 competencies allows the student to progress towards an associate degree.

The use of MOOC technology is also allowing some colleges in the US to slash their costs to students for traditional online courses. For example, the Georgia Institute of Technology has recently launched an accredited online master’s degree in Computer Science for less than $7k, a fraction of the cost for a regular, online master’s course. Backed with funding from AT&T the course will use elements of Udacity’s MOOC course – for example video lectures – but will also include other features that clearly differentiate it from a regular MOOC. These include stronger university/student links as well as ensuring enrolled students get their assessments marked by academics, rather than by peer appraisal (the way MOOC assessments are currently evaluated to keep the courses free to access).

This ‘blended learning’ option, using some elements of the free MOOC course but boosted with other elements valued by universities, students and employers alike, is seen as a significant step in the future evolution of MOOCs in general. The AT&T funded example will provide the company with a reservoir of suitably qualified future employees as well as building strong links between AT&T and the University. With the course also carrying weight with other employers in the sector, the University and students receive longer term benefits too.

These initiatives provide affordable, accessible, practical online qualifications and go someway to addressing employers’ views that universities often produce graduates with the ‘wrong’ qualifications or don’t reward valuable, existing business skills with a qualification. Due to the cost-effective nature of using online technology, employers are now seeing a way to work more closely with universities to get the skills they need without having to break the bank.