Big Changes in Higher Education: Is Your Company Benefiting?

November 16, 2017

Higher education

Increasingly, education innovators are targeting the market for “professional learners,” working professionals who have no intention of going back to school for a full-fledged degree program but who need to build new skills for career advancement. Much of the discussion of massive open online courses (MOOCs), boot camps, and online training programs has focused on how individuals can use these resources to further their careers.

Those who manage others should also be thinking about how new educational opportunities and learning pathways can benefit their companies. Most job listings today specify the type of four-year or professional degree that the successful applicant will have. That may be about to change. Rather than screening applicants based on which university they graduated from 5, 10, 15, or more years ago, HR professionals may soon be asking candidates what self-directed learning opportunities they have pursued recently.

Building skills through self-directed learning

Here are three ways your company can (and should) take advantage of the changes afoot in higher education:

Offer new training opportunities to employees. With the incredible breadth and depth of educational content now available through MOOCs and other online courses, companies would be remiss not to offer employees the chance to boost their skills. MOOC platforms such as Coursera and edX offer multicourse certificate programs on business topics including data analysis, supply chain management, entrepreneurship, leadership, and many others.

Millennials, in particular, crave growth opportunities. Fail to provide them, and your company can expect to see top talent move elsewhere.

Think outside the degree. Not everyone in an organization needs to have a four-year or professional degree in what they practice. In many situations, professional training such as a coding boot camp, a nanodegree from Udacity, or even a few short courses might be enough to prepare someone to take on a new role.

Professionals who are able to succeed in self-directed learning have a lot of offer to companies. Almost by definition, they are flexible, motivated, and seek creative solutions to problems. In some emerging fields, university training lags behind the needs of the workplace. TechRepublic recently reported that 59% of working data scientists learned their skills on their own or by MOOC, not in degree programs. By being open to nontraditional educational backgrounds, your company can avoid overlooking talented applicants who don’t fit the mold.

Boost your own skills as a manager. Many people have observed that good management is as much an art as a science. As with other art forms, management techniques studied in a classroom aren’t enough to make one a great manager. Achieving greatness requires continual practice, learning, and reflection over an extended time period.

A degree program offers a one-time infusion of knowledge. A better way to study management would involve short courses and training programs dispersed throughout one’s career. MOOCs and other online training courses make this approach possible and accessible for managers who may or may not have an MBA background.

All kinds of businesses are poised to benefit from the explosion of new learning programs, whether by training their current employees or recruiting from among the ranks of self-directed learners. Managers are wise to stay on top of these trends.

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About The Author

Laurie Pickard is the author of Don’t Pay for Your MBA: The Faster, Cheaper, Better Way to Get the Business Education You Need (AMACOM, November 2017). She used massive open online courses to replicate the MBA at a fraction of the typical B-school price tag. Pickard's “No-Pay MBA” project ( has appeared in the Financial Times, Poets & Quants, Fortune, Entrepreneur, CNNMoney, and the Wall Street Journal.

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