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For some jobs, companies are looking for specific credentials that MOOCs can provide, and not necessarily a degree.

When Luis Ochoa wanted to make the leap from investment banking analyst to corporate strategist, he didn’t follow the usual path of getting a master’s of business administration degree. Instead, the Stanford University graduate took a few free strategy and financial accounting classes on Coursera, one of the major providers of so-called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which have grown in popularity globally over the past few years.

“I gained a foundation with those courses that helped me transition into corporate strategy” at Oppenheimer Funds, the 29-year-old New Yorker said. “Now, I’m not interested in an MBA because I’m where I want to be.”

Like Ochoa, a growing number of people are hoping MOOCs will be a ticket to a new job or promotion —without the cost and time required to secure a traditional university degree. The challenge is to increase employers’ awareness and appreciation of the value of online courses. “We still get questions from companies about how good MOOCs are, but we’re finding that businesses are more and more willing to consider them to help fill skill gaps,” said Sebastian Thrun, chief executive of the MOOC platform Udacity, based in Mountain View, California. “For some jobs, companies are looking for specific credentials that MOOCs can provide, and not necessarily a degree.”

A Bainbridge Strategy Consulting study of US human-resource professionals found that only about a third were aware of MOOCs, while about half of the managers and directors in a global survey by CarringtonCrisp said they are “uncertain of what a MOOC offers.”

“There’s a generation gap between those doing recruiting and the younger people taking online courses,” said Andrew Crisp, director of CarringtonCrisp, a London-based higher education market research firm.  “The older people in companies got their degrees 10 or more years ago and have limited comprehension of the changes taking place in higher education.”

Global reach

MOOCs are appealing because they are typically free of charge and available to anyone in the world with a computer and internet connection. Schools across the globe, including Stanford University, Princeton University, University of London, University of Melbourne, Universita Bocconi and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, are creating MOOCs.

The online courses feature videos of lectures with discussion forums for interaction with the teacher and other students. Some offer certificates of completion or achievement for a small fee, and some companies are packaging several related courses in business or technology to create a sort of mini-degree with affordable tuition.

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