The “great resignation” has left a lot of people with time on their hands. And while this time may be a welcome respite from the daily grind, most folks will need to get back to work eventually. For many, this period is a time of reflection and a chance to pursue a new career.
But how do you make the switch? And even if you plan to return to the same field, how do you show that you have kept current with the changes and trends that affected most industries during the pandemic?
Traditionally, the answer to these questions has been to go back to school. But rising tuition costs over the past few decades, and the time commitment of traditional degree programs, makes this route prohibitively expensive for a lot of people.
That’s where short online courses in business, technology and other fields come in. Over the past 10 years, these courses from providers such as Udemy, Coursera and edX have become more popular, and approximately 75% of learners who take them report gaining career benefits from completing them.
As a researcher and practicioner who develops these education technologies, I also study the behaviors that make online learners successful. Here are four key actions that studies have shown will help online learners make the most of a short online course to reap the career benefits they desire.
1. Identify the goal
Learners who begin a course with a clear idea of what they want to get out of it are more likely to complete their course and earn a certificate. A goal may be, for example, to learn a new skill, gain more knowledge about a topic, improve job performance, get a new job or advance in a current one.
In my study of over 4,000 learners who completed an online course in business topics, I found that learners who enrolled in their course with the intention of improving their job performance, starting their own business or getting a new role were more likely to experience career benefits than those who enrolled only because they wanted to learn something new about the topic.
2. Rewatch videos and retake tests
Among the same sample of over 4,000 people taking online courses, I also found that learning behaviors associated with persistence – such as watching more videos or retaking tests – were shown to be more strongly associated with perceived career benefits than social behaviors like forum posts, comments and views – or even grades.
In fact, the same study showed that grades don’t have any correlation to whether or not a person gains career benefits as long as they eventually pass the course. The lesson here is to try and try again. Taking a course that is challenging may prove to be more useful than one a learner can breeze through.
3. Finish the course
Many short courses are now only four or five weeks long, with fewer than three hours of time required per week. Learners who complete their online courses are more likely to learn something new, improve performance, get a raise or new job or start a new business. They can also receive a digital certificate or badge they can post on social media channels to inform potential employers that they have successfully passed the course.
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4. Choose the brand wisely
Currently, I am working on a broader study to confirm that hiring managers feel that “nondegree credentials” like certificates from online courses improve a candidate’s resume, particularly if the potential employee does not have work experience in the field.
These same hiring managers value the reputation of the institution that offers the course over the specific credential that is earned from it – a badge vs. a certificate, for example. In my survey to hiring managers, the results of which have not yet been published, a majority responded that they prefer nondegree credentials from academically distinguished universities over credit-bearing certificates from for-profit institutions.
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Fortunately, many highly recognizable, academically selective universities and companies now offer these short courses for low or no cost. It’s easy to learn data analytics from IBM, business strategy from Darden, machine learning from Stanford and many more topics from top schools, such as Python, computer science, robotics, economics of health care and even the science of happiness from University of Michigan, Harvard, Penn and Yale. If a learner recognizes the name of the institution offering the course, chances are hiring managers will too.
While short online courses have not lived up to the hype 10 years ago that they would disrupt higher education, they are helping millions of learners around the globe try new fields and learn skills to advance their careers.