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“The contribution of MOOCs to upskilling the labor force”

Valentina Goglio (Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin, Turin, Italy)
Sonia Bertolini (Department of Cultures, Politics and Society, University of Turin, Turin, Italy)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 7 May 2021

Issue publication date: 28 July 2021




The study aims to investigate whether participation to massive open online courses (MOOCs) may lead to labor market returns and through which mechanisms such relative advantage may take place. Indeed, despite high figures of registered users, empirical studies on occupational returns are limited and MOOCs may represent a viable, cost-efficient example of lifelong learning practice to respond to the demand of a better skilled workforce for the fourth industrial revolution.


The study is based on qualitative empirical material constituted by a set of 21 qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted in 2019 among learners who registered in MOOCs provided by European higher education institutions.


Interviews return a situation in which MOOCs are beneficial for work: learners appreciate the new knowledge and skills they can access, with time flexibility and low entry cost. However, MOOCs positive contribution is not at everyone’s reach: self-selection issues tend to further advantage individuals with high levels of education and individual resources. Moreover, MOOCs can increase the risk of a shift of responsibility for training to the employees and qualify as a lower tier type of qualification, reinforcing social closure mechanisms based on educational credentials.


The study contributes to the empirical analysis of MOOCs economic returns empirically, by providing original qualitative material. Second, it contributes theoretically by bridging literature on economic and occupational returns to education on one side and literature on digital technologies in education on the other, providing new insights on the potentials and limits of MOOCs as a new form of lifelong learning.



The authors thank the Joint Research Center of the European Commission (Seville), in particular, Yves Punie and Jonatan Castano-Munoz for their support in accessing MOOC Knowledge database and in recruiting interviewees. The authors thank Antonella Rizzello for her contribution to the data collection.

This project has received funding from the H2020-MSCA-IF-2016 program under grant agreement No 750242. The work reflects only the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


Goglio, V. and Bertolini, S. (2021), "“The contribution of MOOCs to upskilling the labor force”", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 561-574.



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