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What is a Mooc? A Free Way to Hone In-Demand Skills for the Workplace


What is a Mooc? A Free Way to Hone In-Demand Skills for the Workplace

The acronym kind of sounds like the name of your aunt’s old dachshund, but MOOC stands for massive open online courses. These open educational resources are having a huge impact on continuous learning.

You can register for a computer science course in IBM cybersecurity or a philosophy course from the University of Pennsylvania. You can enroll in free online courses about video games or climate science. Yeah, free. Really.

The right Massive Open Online Course can lend your career a competitive edge. But where should you start? There are thousands of university courses out there, even graduate level courses, taught through online platforms. While the subject matter in a history course might beckon to you, a class in social networking may be better for professional development. But not all of the more interesting MOOCs are technical.

“[Hard skills] are always going to change if they’re overly technical,” said Ben Brooks, CEO of Pilot, a New York-based career improvement company. That’s why he champions soft skills.

In a 2019 CareerBuilder survey, 80% of employers said soft skills would be equally or more important than hard skills when hiring.

We’ve compiled a list of some courses in soft skills available through online learning. They are important to master, in high demand and applicable to any industry, according to Brooks.

Pick Your Massive Open Online Course from This Top 5 List

Before we get started, here’s a primer on the MOOCs we’ve chosen:

  • Each course is done entirely in an online learning platform.
  • Not all courses are completely autonomous or self-paced. Many require student engagement in discussion forums.
  • After enrolling in your online course, you’ll be placed into a group with other students and assigned a teaching assistant for additional guidance.
  • With the exception of Duolingo, which is less a class and more a collection of gamified study materials, the free online courses have suggested start dates and syllabi to keep you on track.
  • Online class materials are typically broken up into weekly sections. Take notes because each section has a quiz at the end.
  • Don’t sweat it if you need to take extra time. There’s no penalty if you work at your own pace.

While the online class is free to take, the certification costs range from free to $200. But don’t worry if you lack the cash. Many MOOC providers offer financial aid options. Most certificates will end up being free after financial aid; some will be discounted up to 90%.

Below, we’ve paired each of these soft skills with a related MOOC. All of the free online courses offer certificates upon completion. Some are traditional university courses, which will also give you academic credit.

1. Emotional Intelligence

Taught by the expert faculty of the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work” is all about building trust, cooperation, empathy and conflict resolution skills.

Combined, these skills make up your emotional intelligence, or “EQ.”

But it’s not just about being a better co-worker. Learning your EQ through this free online course can also help you learn more about yourself by increasing self-awareness and stress management.

Course: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work

Provider: edX

Estimated completion time: 8 hours

Bragging rights: Course certificate

2. Multicultural Literacy

People of color make up over one-third of the workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But just being in a diverse environment doesn’t mean you have the proper skills to navigate it. It requires a lot of self-awareness and effort.

Experts on diversity and multiculturalism lead “Cross-Cultural Competency,” a course from the University of West Florida’s Innovation Institute. This course tackles issues that crop up in the workplace due to cultural differences and gives learners the tools to solve those problems through shared cultural understanding.

Course:  Cross-Cultural Competency

Provider: University of West Florida

Estimated completion time: 10 to 15 hours

Bragging rights: Course badge

3. Storytelling and Communication

Storytelling is in our DNA, but not everyone is good at it.

Think of it this way: Even if you’re the most qualified job candidate, not being able to articulate your skills and accomplishments will hold you back professionally.

“A recruiter, or more likely a machine, is going to determine if you’re roughly qualified. That’ll get you an interview, but that won’t get you a job,” Brooks said. “It’s all about the stories and narrative you have.”

We tell stories all the time in emails, meetings and presentations. With “Storytelling in the Workplace,” you’ll be able to better sell yourself to employers and also spice up day-to-day workplace communication.

Andrea Hickerson, associate professor at the School of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, will teach you how to hone your voice to best connect with various audiences.

Course: Storytelling in the Workplace

Provider: edX

Estimated completion time: 12 to 18 hours

Bragging rights: Course certificate

4. Personal Branding and Social Media Literacy

Figuring out how to use social media is one thing, but leveraging those platforms to create an online persona that will land you a job is another.

“It’s critical to have a personal brand,” Colner said. “That goes for everyone in business today.”

Through Coursera, the University of Virginia offers “Introduction to Personal Branding,” a course that helps you navigate the cluttered social media world. It helps with everything from crafting a mission statement for your personal brand to maintaining your presence on at least three social media platforms.

Even if personal branding doesn’t appeal to you, holistic social media skills are essential, Colner said.

People may think they know all of what social media entails, “but they’re not getting the full picture,” Colner said. “It’s important to see how all these pieces fit together. That’s what a [certification] program can help with.”

Course: Introduction to Personal Branding

Provider: Coursera

Estimated completion time: Roughly 7 hours

Bragging rights: course certificate

5. Second Language Learning

Learning a second language can be super practical. Bilingual workers earn 5% to 20% more than their monolingual counterparts, according to

And as the job market continues to globalize, nothing says “나를 고용해요! (Hire me!)” like second-language skills.

Duolingo, a free platform for language learners, has more than 150 million users worldwide. The website offers courses in Spanish, French, Chinese and many others (even High Valyrian and Klingon). Lessons are broken down into segments using a combination of gamified exercises, discussion questions and leaderboards to keep you motivated.

Course: Languages offered include Spanish, French, Chinese and Korean

Provider: Duolingo

Estimated completion time: Learning a language is a lifetime endeavor.

Bragging rights: Language certification (in beta)

Display Your Massive Open Online Course Cred

If none of those offer online classes that fit your timeline, there are several MOOC platforms to choose from that always have upcoming courses. Top universities and other course providers offer many courses through distance education that can benefit working professionals.

Once you’ve mastered each skill, don’t just throw a few new bullet points on your resume and move on. If you completed a course with one of the leading universities, include that with any other degrees in the higher education section of your resume. Attach the certification to your LinkedIn profile.

“At the end of the day, people look at your resume for about seven seconds,” Brooks said. “LinkedIn or your online portfolio is so much more important than a resume.”

These MOOC certifications aren’t only useful on the job hunt. They’re valuable in current jobs and overall career development, too. That’s because certifications show employers initiative and ambition, according to Robin Colner, who she leads her own certification program in digital and social media.

“It shows a desire and an understanding of the marketplace, which every employer wants,” Colner said. In this new age of remote work, it also shows you know how to adapt to online learning environments.

Adam Hardy is a former staff writer at Codetic. 

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