Back to school online

By Li Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-17 18:28:01

More job seekers beefing up resumes with MOOC certificates to woo employers

Zhao Lei, 22, never expected he would be offered his dream internship through a chance encounter with a stranger, but his lucky day came while studying at a Shanghai library where he met a young man who shared the same interests.

"We both began talking about functional programming and [programming language] Scala," recalled Zhao. As their conversation continued, both found out they were fans of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. As the latest form of interactive education, MOOCs offer free access to some of the world's most exclusive and elite universities.

As Zhao told his new friend about his 14 MOOC certificates in programming and other fields in information technology (IT), the stranger showed interest and shared his own admiration for the MOOC movement. He then made a surprising revelation by confessing he owned an IT company, adding he would be delighted to offer Zhao an internship.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement has grown in the business world, but many employers only value MOOC certificates as beneficial for job seekers applying for entry-level positions. Photo: IC

Impressing the boss

According to a survey released in January by Duke University and nonprofit research organization RTI International, many employers in the US are still unfamiliar with MOOCs. Those who know of the courses generally view them as useful for recruiting, hiring and training employees, the survey found.

The survey questioned 400 North Carolina employers and human resources professionals from 103 organizations. Although only 31 percent of respondents had heard of MOOCs at the time of the survey, most were receptive to the possible use of MOOCs in recruiting and hiring decisions after learning what they were all about. They were especially positive toward their potential use in professional development training.

MOOCs fever has been rapidly spreading in China over the past five years. According to Li Ping, administrator of, a website founded in 2013 as a platform for about 180 MOOCs from Coursera and edX, the website registers more than 2,000 new users daily.

Lin Qing, founder of IT company Shanghai Starworking Network Technology, was the man who chatted with Zhao on his lucky day at the library. He became one of the first Chinese MOOC users in 2012 when he signed up for a class on Scala.

"I took a few lessons and found it was a wonderful place to enhance my personal ability, but I didn't stick it out to get a certificate. I'm my own boss, after all, and there's no need to prove myself," joked Lin. "But for job seekers, I think MOOC certificates are proof of their learning ability and attitude."

Lin's company was founded in 2001 as a small startup focusing on developing business management software. Starting his company from scratch in Shanghai, a city with fierce business competition, Lin said his company initially lacked the reputation and economic ability to hire top talents.

As a result, Lin values ability and personality in his potential employees more than their educational background. "With so many MOOC certificates in his hand, I thought [Zhao] must have a great self-learning ability and enthusiasm towards the industry," said Lin. "Even if one has never been in university or only has MOOC certificates in IT-related courses, I will give them a chance to work at my company."

But MOOC certificates are of little importance for senior positions, most of which still depend on applicants' traditional educational background and work experience.

Dong Min, co-founder of IT headhunting and consultancy company Offercome, told Metropolitan that few candidates she deals with bother listing MOOC certificates on their resumes.

"Maybe MOOC certificates are favored by employers who want to recruit employees for entry-level positions, but our clients predominantly need executive-level staff. They usually set strict criteria by listing a university degree and more professional qualifications as prerequisites," she said.

Some job seekers list MOOC certificates on their resume to demonstrate their professional ability and commitment in completing courses offered by top universities around the world. Photos: CFP, IC

Stronger and more flexible

Huang Mou, product manager of MOOC College on popular science website Guokr, wrote an article for, a website dedicated to Internet startups, which claimed MOOCs' two main aims are to enhance the competitiveness of graduating students and provide a pathway for people to work in an industry outside their major or expertise.

Li Tianyu, 28, is a graduate student majoring in financial engineering at Baruch College under City University of New York. He has accumulated 22 MOOC certificates in financial- and IT-related courses on Coursera and Udacity.

Li Tianyu lists his certificates on his resume and profile on professional social networking website LinkedIn as he achieves them in the belief he can attract more like-minded friends and perhaps impress a future employer.

"Most of my MOOC certificates are related to my major, which is a comprehensive major requiring students to be familiar with finance, mathematics and programming," said Li Tianyu.

Recently, he has been channeling his efforts into a Functional Programming Principles in Scala course recommended to him by a friend working in Silicon Valley.

"It is fun, even though it's a little difficult for me. A lot of scientific companies are using this, so I want to master it," said Li Tianyu, who previously studied 10 MOOCs simultaneously.

Li Dong, 24, graduated from the Nanjing College of Information Technology in Jiangsu Province a few years ago as a visual communication art and design major, but now he is seeking a career pivot into the IT industry. His last job was in computerized numerical control, but now he wants to work in website development.

"My dream job is in artificial intelligence or an embedded system," said Li Dong, who is currently registered in several MOOCs through a website affiliated with Netease that provides MOOCs from 39 Chinese universities.

"Although the courses I'm studying now are all very basic, they are necessary to my future development and career," he said.

No comparison to classrooms

Like other past forms of online education, MOOCs have attracted criticism over their content and pedagogical value. Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said online education represents "retrogress, not progress."

"We have been encouraging new forms of education, which feature discussion and interaction, which are different from the traditional cramming method of learning," said Xiong. "MOOCs are the same as other forms of online education. There is limited interaction between students and teachers, which is a major weakness."

Xiong also noted that traditional attitudes toward education in China, such as valuing one's ability based solely on their degrees or qualifications from traditional educational institutions, poses the main obstacle to MOOCs.

"MOOC certificates are considered 'informal' to some employers, so I think the goal of people getting MOOC certificates should be about enhancing their ability rather than adding glory to their resume and diploma," Xiong said.

Li Ping said in the terms of professionalism, MOOCs are unlikely to ever replace traditional education providers, such as colleges and universities. A four-year university course still carries the most weight in employers' eyes, he said.

"However, MOOCs can allow a person to have a good understanding of an unfamiliar major in only several weeks," added Li Ping. "Aside from introductory courses, MOOCs also offer profound and professional courses. But it is essentially a provider of 'knowledge points' rather than acting as a 'knowledge system.'"

For MOOC learners, perhaps the biggest reward of their courses is the certificate that comes upon graduation, especially if it is from a prestigious university.

"Tsinghua University used to offer a MOOC called Financial Analyses and Decisions, which issued certificates to graduates," said Li Ping. "Many graduates considered the certificates as precious, with some traveling to Beijing from other provinces to receive them."

Future hopes

On the acceptability of MOOC certificates, Li Ping hopes course producers as well as the whole education sector should focus more on improving efficiency, assessment accuracy and professional authority, which will naturally lift the reputation and value of education to all.

Coursera has begun offering paid certificates. Although courses are free, graduates must pay up to $100 for some courses if they want to receive their certificate.

Regardless of whether employers accept MOOC certificates or not, Li Ping said their value is gradually increasing as proven by the growing popularity of paid MOOC courses in the US.

"When MOOC certificates become a part of every job seeker's resume, employers will pay more attention to them," added Li Ping.

As for the future of MOOCs in China, Li Ping estimated it will take at least another five years before the courses go from being a novelty to employers to something that separates a job seeker from their competition.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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