Few organizations are aware of—or using—the online learning forums.

A recent study by Duke University and RTI International found that the majority of employers (69 percent) have never heard of massive open online communities (MOOCs). The study, which surveyed 398 employers in North Carolina, is the first to evaluate employers' knowledge of, experience with, and attitudes toward MOOCs.

Most survey respondents—including those who had the concept of MOOCs explained to them for the first time—indicated that they consider MOOCs a valuable tool for recruiting, hiring, and professional development. However, few of them reported using MOOCs for these reasons.

Only one of the surveyed organizations was using the technology for recruitment. "The main MOOC providers only started pilot recruiting programs as recently as 2012," says Keith Whitfield, vice provost for academic affairs at Duke University, "and by January 2014, edX and Udacity [two well-known MOOC providers] announced that they had abandoned these programs, with edX suggesting that they learned 'Existing HR departments want to go for traditional degree programs and filter out nontraditional candidates.'"


However, 73 percent of survey respondents indicated that job applicants who took job-related MOOCs would be perceived positively in hiring decisions. Some commented that taking job-related MOOCs would be a sign that a job candidate was motivated and invested in her professional development.

Seven percent of surveyed employers already were using MOOCs for training. Five percent were considering doing so, and 71 percent said they could see their organizations using MOOCs for training in the future. Many respondents said that MOOCs could be used to train employees on highly specialized or technical skills for which they could not develop courses.

Whitfield says that if there were more evidence of the benefits of MOOCs for recruiting and training, employers would be more likely to use them. "MOOCs will also become more attractive to employers if their content, length, and features are designed with employees in mind. There is so much content now available through MOOCs that we foresee more employers taking that content and repurposing it to meet their needs."