Zenith_MSP_Image“Sesame Street”: the first Massive Open Online Course

In the five decades since “Sesame Street” first went on the air, it’s become the subject of thousands of scientific and educational studies, all of them concluding that television can be a positive influence that fosters development and critical thinking — not the mindless opiate of the masses others believe it to be. And in a June 2015 study performed by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), economists discovered much more:

“It was introduced in 1969 as an educational, early childhood program with the explicit goal of preparing preschool age children for school entry. Millions of children watched a typical episode in its early years. Well-designed studies at its inception provided evidence that watching the show generated an immediate and sizeable increase in test scores.”

The most fascinating finding in the report is that “Sesame Street” is so effective, it could virtually replace preschool altogether. Children who regularly watch the program boast:

  • Literacy scores by age four nearly 70 percent higher than non-viewers
  • Social skills 40 percent better than non-viewers
  • A 127 percent increase in dietary health, particularly interest in eating vegetables

Beyond that, “Sesame Street” is incredibly inexpensive to produce, yet widely distributed. And in that way, economists at the NBER believe the show can be considered America’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). For years, education leaders have anticipated that MOOCs will transform higher learning from an expensive and somewhat exclusionary privilege into a low-cost, on-demand experience. More importantly, over the past four years, staffing industry experts have found that MOOCs could become the tools that give recruiters and MSPs the edge they need to engage, retain and develop the brightest new crop of STEM talent.

Virtual learning in the digital age

There was a brief moment in the life of the original MOOCs when some pundits were ready to pronounce them dead. Yet as 2013 came to a close, Silicon Valley startup Udacity — one of the first MOOCs to offer free web-based college courses — changed the game by announcing its transition to focusing on vocational training. Investors rallied. The popular MOOC Lynda.com nabbed $186 million in a single round of fundraising. This April, LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com in a transaction estimated at $1.5 billion. This addition allows LinkedIn to expand its platform and its value to both employers and talent. It’s no longer a site where people network, recruit or search for work. Now, members can broaden their abilities through an online learning environment that teaches business, language, technology and creative skills — all essential in this globalized economy.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his organization’s use of Udacity will widen “the pipeline of STEM-trained talent.” Starbucks famously announced its plan to provide online education to employees through Arizona State University’s MOOC technology. And noted industry thought leader Jeanne Meister, co-author of the best-seller The 2020 Workplace, called MOOCs an essential element of the “social media playbook” that workforce leaders must put into action or risk being “left behind.”

Staffing experts have amassed enough proof to validate the demand. Employers believe MOOCs hold benefits beyond enhancing technical skills. Because talent voluntarily engage in these platforms to master or refine in-demand skill sets, they also demonstrate crucial soft skills that employers seek in well-rounded professionals: self-motivation, an active push for ongoing improvement, adaptability and initiative.

MOOCs as recruiting channels

Companies such as LinkedIn saw the recruiting potential of MOOCs last year. LinkedIn partnered with Coursera, edX, Lynda, Pearson, Skillsoft, Udacity and Udemy to create a system where talent who complete an online class receive an email with a certification field that includes details of the course. This information can automatically populate the individual’s LinkedIn profile for prospective employers to see. The potential for recruiters and staffing curators reaches far beyond that.

MOOCs, already a major source for training and continued development, are poised to become the next frontier in sourcing, engaging and hiring talent with brand-name online certifications and degrees.

Sourcing. Yes, you can source through an MOOC. Udacity, for instance, allows recruiters to access the resumes of students enrolled in the program. According to data from Bersin by Deloitte, over 350 industry leading companies (e.g., Google, Amazon, Twitter) have paid Udacity to help them match high-ranked students with open job profiles. Many courses, in lieu of face-to-face campus settings, include live online forums to facilitate interactions and collaboration. Savvy staffing professionals can capitalize on these systems to directly engage prospective candidates and evaluate their qualifications or abilities.

Engaging. Enterprising organizations are taking the advantages of MOOCs to new heights by developing their own internal courses. Specialized classes for individual businesses deliver a powerful way to entice talent. People looking to work at specific companies will naturally be more inclined to complete courses tailored to those organizations.

As Kevin Wheeler observed in his article for LinkedIn: “A staffing firm for the creative industry, Aquent has already started offering free classes using MOOCs to attract candidates and develop their skills before placing them. This has increased their supply, ensures the quality, and is a selling point to hiring managers.”

Screening. Vetting candidates, performing background checks, verifying education and other screening processes can be cumbersome. Staffing professionals and MSPs know all too well that hiccups in timely onboarding often arise from delays in receiving screening results. Because MOOC course completion data and degree information can be automated to sites like LinkedIn, or easily accessed, the pre-screening process is greatly expedited.

More recruiters are beginning to take MOOC degrees seriously. Current studies indicate that the knowledge acquired from online learning is no less valuable, comprehensive or relevant. Like traditional college courses, online platforms require interactive peer and instructor discussions, homework, group projects and collaboration. Graduation rates in brick-and-mortar universities have fallen. Students who finish an MOOC with a degree demonstrate aptitude, resolve, follow-through and commitment.

Marketability and transferrable skills. As we’ve seen from countless studies of the millennial workforce, today’s younger talent crave roles that expose them to ongoing skills development, mentorship and new avenues for learning. Retention for this generation of talent often comes down to having access to such opportunities. Formal in-house training is expensive, which is why companies turn to MSPs and staffing curators. Still, retention for staffing professionals can be as critical.

When high-performing workers are coming off assignments, you want to present them with opportunities at other clients. These candidates are already screened and vetted, which creates a strong pool from which to draw for new projects. Access to MOOCs allows them to continue perfecting and augmenting their skills, making your talent more marketable for placement in future assignments.

New approaches for a new world

While industry analysts differ on the causes of the workforce crisis, they tend to agree that one exists. There are more people leaving the workforce than entering it. And this is particularly evident as older generations reach retirement age. When they depart, they will take a vast amount of knowledge and experience with them. As the nature of work changes rapidly, we need to accommodate new ways of performing, interacting, collaborating and developing.

By embracing MOOCs, we can cultivate a fresh crop of superior workers who are learning and evolving at their own pace. This is one way future staffing curators can offer the best talent. We can measure their progress, bring new insights and perspectives to our clients, connect with experts, and continue to pioneer exciting and innovative ways to supply the best talent to the world’s best businesses.