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Do Free Online Classes Improve Employability?

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 10/7/2013

There are numerous free classes you can take online, allowing professionals to build their skills in practical subjects. But will an employer view a certificate from a free class the same way they may view a degree from a paid university?

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    Can Free Online Classes Improve Your Employability? Furthering one’s education is a great way to advance a career, whether it’s by taking a few computer classes or working toward a college degree in economics. Today’s technology, through the advent of free online classes, is allowing many people the opportunity to improve their employability skills.

    Not everyone can afford to get a college degree or even take a few extra classes to brush up on his or her work skills. Free online classes let them to do this without the hassle of being on campus at an assigned time or without spending a fortune in tuition and fees. But just how valuable is this type of learning?

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    How Valuable Are Free Classes?

    Today’s job market is more competitive than ever with hundreds of people vying for the same few available positions. Those who are already employed are looking for ways to get ahead. Taking classes online and advancing your education can show employers that you take your job seriously. Workers or potential employees can receive a certification or take continuing education courses in a variety of subjects, which can help them become more employable.

    These classes, commonly called Massive Online Open Courses, are offered by various colleges and universities through an educational provider. They are free or have very low instructional fees and can enroll up to hundreds or sometimes thousands of students at a time. These classes can make workers more attractive to their employers and put a few new qualifications under their belts.

    While MOOCs typically cannot give a person a degree, they do teach real-world skills that employers want. They also provide free additional training to employees that in the past was offered by and paid for by an employer. However, a certificate from a respected college shows employers you are employable and have usable job skills and training. It also proves that you are self-reliant, and are looking to improve yourself. This just may give you the competitive edge you need to snag the job or promotion you really want.1

    Types of Free Online Learning Classes

    There are thousands of free online classes that individuals can take to gain employability skills. They are managed through educational providers such as Coursea or edX and are available to nearly anyone. Most of these courses are not counted for college credit toward a degree, although that is changing on some levels. Students can study a variety of fields including mathematics, the sciences, computer science, information technology and business.

    They are taught in open access, interactive environments. Students receive standard course material, just as though they would in a college classroom. The curriculum usually includes quizzes, tests, textbook readings and videos. Instructors, assistants and students interact with the students through online forums.

    How Employers View Free Online Learning

    Anything that helps a person increase his or her employability can be viewed as a good thing. After all, the more someone knows how to do his or her job, the more productive he will be, right? Not necessarily. Taking a typing course or a class on how to use Excel are definitely job-related as they can help one perform better in the workplace or even land an entry-level position where those skills are utilized.

    But free online classes alone such as chemistry, mathematics or even computer science, taken without having an accompanying degree, will typically not help you land a prestigious job in those fields. That’s because many larger corporations want employees to have degrees from reputable schools. Many employers don’t seem to trust the new educational provider sites. It doesn’t matter if the school behind the provider is Stanford or MIT. Employers prefer a four-year degree and the on-campus experience.2

    The Bottom Line: Does It Work?

    It depends on the school and the subject. Make sure you consider a few things before diving into the coursework, such as the reputation and accreditation of the school offering the classes. Is the course rigorous? Will you be writing a paper or producing a final project you can reference on your resume? At the end of the day, if you can write computer code and prove it to your employer, chances are they will not care where you learned it. However, you might have a more difficult time proving your knowledge in economics, philosophy or law that you have gained from free courses.