2021 Guide to Online Human Resources Certificates and Courses

Human resources can be a rewarding profession, with HR jobs in many workplaces. One possible path to a career in HR is to earn HR certificates and take HR courses online. Online HR certificates and courses may also help HR professionals who wish to continue their education to become a more attractive candidate to potential employers or to better recruit, manage and retain employees at their current workplace.

Read on to see why online HR courses can provide a possible avenue for professionals to obtain the skills and credentials that may help an HR career.

Can You Study Human Resources Online?

Yes, it is possible to study human resources online. Usually, entry-level HR jobs require a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related major, such as business. Some higher-level HR positions may require a master’s degree in human resources or business administration. Many universities offer these degrees online, in addition to more traditional programs.

There are also shorter courses that train students to obtain certificates in human resources. In addition to multiple colleges and universities that offer their own certificate programs, the two best-known professional associations that offer human resources certification are the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), which each have guidelines for obtaining their HR certificates regardless of your educational background. Not only can you study online to obtain these HR certificates, but both also allow you to take their test online through remote proctoring. 

Topics in HR Online Courses

Online HR courses teach topics such as business management, talent planning and acquisition, learning and development, and employee and labor relations. HR laws are subject to change, and to obtain an HR certificate it is important to know the human resources-related laws in place at the time of your exam.

Online Human Resource Management Certificates and Courses

If you are new to human resources, you may want to take a generalized HR course that provides a broad overview of the day-to-day skills required to be an HR professional. These courses will teach you about:

  • Laws and statutes governing HR
  • HR systems
  • Recruiting and onboarding employees
  • Managing employee performance
  • Managing employee well-being
  • Managing professional development
  • Employee retention
  • Strategic human resources

Specialized Online Human Resource Management Certificates and Courses

You can also take more specific courses in human resources. For instance, a course on strategic human resources management might include:

  • Models for strategic HR
  • HR diagnostics
  • Implementing HR strategy
  • Managing risk and lawsuits
  • Aligning talent and organizational goals
  • Retention
  • Succession

A course on labor law may cover:

  • Comprehensive primers on laws affecting labor management in your country and region
  • Legally managing dismissals
  • Fair labor practices
  • Staff dispute resolution techniques
  • Unionization issues

Courses on training and development might cover:

  • Legislation about training and development
  • Training assessments
  • In-office education
  • Training methodologies and designs
  • Evaluating training and development

Is an HR Course or Certificate Worth It?

Whether you’re new to human resources or an old pro, online HR courses can be a useful tool to jumpstart your career or to make you a more competitive candidate for a raise or promotion. With higher credentials, there are higher titles, including HR specialist—a position with annual median pay of $61,920 in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—and human resource manager, a career with a median income of $116,720 per year, or $56.11 per hour.

Human Resources Certificate vs. Master’s in Human Resources

Most human resources manager positions do not require a master’s degree in human resources, and for those that do, on-the-job experience and certificates in relevant HR subject areas may be able to serve as a substitution. Still, a master’s in human resources undoubtedly looks good on an HR resume, and it can be appealing for aspiring human resources professionals who did not study HR in their undergraduate education. 

Some differences between human resource certificate courses and master’s in human resources include:

  • A master’s program usually takes about two years to complete, while a single online certificate course can be completed in a matter of weeks.
  • Master’s programs in human resources cover much more material than a single HR certificate course because they are essentially many courses. Because of this, master’s programs are usually more expensive, though scholarships and financial aid are often available. 
  • There are usually prerequisites for applying to master’s programs, including a bachelor’s degree and a standardized test such as the GRE or GMAT. Certificate programs usually do not have prerequisites.
  • If a master’s program has in-person classes, there may be better networking opportunities than in an online master’s program or online human resources course.

Human Resources Management Certificate vs. MBA

Many of the differences between a human resources management certificate and a Master of Business Administration are similar to the differences between a human resources management certificate and a master’s in human resources. However, there is one major difference. An MBA education will have a much broader field of study, compared to more specific and tailored human resources courses. Depending on your goals, this can be good or bad. Though some MBAs will offer a concentration in human resources, even these programs will likely cover a greater array of business management issues than an HR-specific online course. This might be useful for some human resources professionals—for instance, those who wish to lead human resources at multinational corporations. 

Benefits of an Online HR Certificate or Short Course Program

Online short courses for human resources are flexible, have a lower barrier to entry and can be ideal for busy professionals. Other benefits include:

Easily Refresh your resume

If you are looking for a new job within the field of human resources, an online HR course demonstrates you are willing to grow and learn on your own time, outside the workplace. That can be a sign to prospective employers that you are committed to and serious about the profession.

Provide new value to your company

If you are already a human resources worker, a necessary part of your field is staying up to date on labor laws and regulations. Classes can help you stay current on the practical implications of these laws. They can also strengthen your skills and give you new resources for dealing with issues that arise in your organization.

Prepare for a new field

If you have never worked in human resources, online HR certificates are a way to get your foot in the door. In your classes, you could meet new professionals, gain access to career services and opportunities and learn skills you can use to stand out from other entry-level HR professionals.

Last Updated August 2020