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18M Learners, 70K Reviews: Class Central’s 2020 Year in Review

Class Central just turned nine! Here’s a recap of some of this year’s main developments.

Class Central Over the Years

Class Central just turned nine. This website started as a side project that I built for myself and launched over Thanksgiving weekend 2011.

2020 will go down as Class Central’s biggest year. And it will likely be a few years before we can match these numbers. Of all the people who ever used Class Central, 40% did so for the first time this year.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in online education. MOOC providers, in particular, have seen drastic growth.

We had something to do with that.

On March 15, 2020, I noticed a big rise in Class Central’s number of visitors. Since then, 16 million learners (and maybe even a few celebrities) visited Class Central to look for courses, sending 9.6 million clicks to MOOC providers.

2020 was a busy year for us. Among others, we expanded our catalog, refreshed our logo, rebranded our publication, started an internal study group, and introduced new ways to record your learning and curate learning resources. For a recap of some changes that took place this year, keep reading.

(For last year’s recap, follow the link: Class Central’s 2019 Year in Review.)

Class Central Year in Review

By the Numbers

2020 All Time
Unique Visitors 18M 42M
Follows 10.2M 27.2M
Bookmarks 3M 10.4M
Registrations 800K 2.3M
Reviews 70K 140K

The table above clearly shows the pandemic’s wide impact. As we near the end of 2020, much of that boost has faded. But our numbers remain higher than before the pandemic.

Media Coverage

As Seen In

We were blown away by the amount of media coverage we got in 2020. One instance even took down our servers for a few minutes. This happened when Good Morning America mentioned Class Central’s collection of 450 Ivy League online courses. The 30-second clip brought over half a million visitors to Class Central within 24 hours.

I was also interviewed by Yahoo! Finance and CNBC, making my first TV appearance! Finally, we were featured in The New York Times.

Our New Logo: The Class Central Chalkboard

Class CEntral Logo

This one wasn’t exactly planned, but we’d been mulling over the idea of refreshing our logo for some time. After several false starts, we finally found something we liked: versatile, modern, evocative, and gentler on the eyes than our previous bright blue logo.

Class Central Old Logo

You can read the story behind the new logo here.

The Report by Class Central: New Name, Cleaner Design

The Report Screenshot

Since 2012, Class Central’s Report (previously MOOCReport) has served as a publication of record of the MOOC industry. It’s where we publish news and analysis about MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. Over time, we’ve established ourselves as an authority.

This rebranding, along with our improved design, reflects our ambition of extending our coverage beyond MOOCs and to online education at large.

By the end of 2020, we’ll have published over 900 articles with over 15 million pageviews. Here are our top articles published in 2020:

  1. For a Limited Time, Coursera Offers Free Certificates for 115 Courses — 2.9M views.
  2. Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus — 890K views.
  3. 50+ Free Online Courses and Conferences about Coronavirus — 94K views.
  4. Microsoft Makes 250+ Hours of LinkedIn Learning Available for Free — 76K views.
  5. The 100 Most Popular Courses During the Pandemic — 58K views.

Unsurprisingly, all the top articles are related to needs and opportunities prompted by the pandemic.

When quarantine measures went into effect across the world in mid-March, two of our older articles received lots of attention and went viral on Facebook:

These articles received a lot of attention back when they were first published. The pandemic amplified this by several orders of huge magnitude.

Team

Recently, the creator of the programming language PHP tweeted that PHP’s new version is significantly better because it has less of his code. This applies to Class Central too. 😅

The pandemic boost allowed us to hire two senior engineers. Originally, I wrote most of Class Central’s backend code. So a good chunk of their time was spent undoing my handiwork and getting our tech stack up to speed. We managed to get a fair bit done. (See the Product Updates section below.)

We also made several notable improvements behind the scenes, like increasing our email deliverability from 50% to 99% and developing our internal data management tools.

Remote Study Group

This year, members of Class Central’s team formed a remote study group to take online courses together. Initially, we were a group of four. Now, we’re seven. So far, we’ve finished three courses and are taking our fourth.

Something interesting was that several times, we were able to rope in other team members as “guest speakers.” For instance, when we took The Truth about Cats and Dogs, one of our colleagues shared his amazing experience volunteering for an animal shelter.

We’ve documented our study group’s experience in The Report:

  1. Learning Excel with a Remote Study Group
  2. The Study Group’s Second Adventure: The Truth About Cats and Dogs
  3. The Study Group on The Journey of Writing and Scripts in Egypt

Product Updates

Learning Paths with Class Central Lists

At the end of 2018, we launched Custom Lists: the ability for learners to create their own course collections. In 2020, we expanded the feature.

Lists Screenshot

Now, Lists allow learners to create learning paths and compile courses. And not just courses, but any online resource — be it articles, videos, books… Users can mix and match as they wish. All they need is a link.

Profile Page and User Handles

To allow learners to document both their traditional and alternative education, we made our Transcripts/Education tab more flexible. Under the hood, the new Profile is just a special Class Central List. All learning is valuable, so we wanted learners to be able to document it, no matter the source.

To get an idea of what lists can allow you to do, check out the Education profiles of some of Class Central’s team members: @dhawal, @ruima, @pat, and @suparn.

Profile Page Screenshot

You’ll also notice above that we’ve introduced user handles. We’ve always allowed public profiles, but adding handles allows more personalization and encourages learners to share their profiles and educational journeys.

Homepage

We refreshed our homepage to reflect Class Central’s breadth. It showcases our:

  • Extensive catalog of 15K online courses.
  • Course rankings, powered by 120K+ learner reviews.
  • The Report articles, covering online education at large.
  • Growth over time, via a live stats dashboard.

Homepage Screenshot

Course Page

We improved our course pages incrementally by tweaking the interface and reorganizing page elements. This included simplifying the sidebar and making our calls to action more visible using color. We also changed our rating stars from yellow to blue to better reflect our brand.

Course Page Screenshot

Catalog Expansion: Degrees & Microcredentials

One of our ongoing goals is to expand Class Central’s catalog. In 2020, we added online degrees and microcredentials from Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, and Udacity.

Zeitgeist

zeit·geist noun

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

Searches

Class Central users generally prefer browsing the catalog over using the search bar. Only 3.6% of them use search. But they’re really engaged, spending on average 11 minutes per session. This resulted in 1.6 million searches and 250K keywords (with 23K queried at least 5 times).

Here are the top 25 search keywords:

python, english, psychology, law, spanish
marketing, free, french, harvard, excel
writing, art, korean, business, architecture
music, finance, yale, photography, fashion
nutrition, german, java, accounting, history

Most Popular Courses

In 2020, courses on Class Central were bookmarked 3.2 million times. These are the 25 most-bookmarked courses. The top bookmarked course got 70K bookmarks, while #25 got 20K.

  1. Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects from University of California, San Diego ★★★★★(16148)
  2. How to Succeed at: Interviews from The University of Sheffield ★★★★★(343)
  3. A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment from Indian School of Business ★★★★★(488)
  4. Presentation skills: Designing Presentation Slides from Tomsk State University ★★★★★(525)
  5. Presentation skills: Speechwriting and Storytelling from Tomsk State University ★★★★★(282)
  6. Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) from University of Michigan ★★★★★(25117)
  7. Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential from McMaster University ★★★★★(5703)
  8. An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python (Part 1) from Rice University ★★★★★(3268)
  9. Python Data Structures from University of Michigan ★★★★★(9780)
  10. Learning How To Learn for Youth from Arizona State University ★★★★★(552)
  11. Justice from Harvard University ★★★★★(41)
  12. Viruses & How to Beat Them: Cells, Immunity, Vaccines from Tel Aviv University ★★★★★(26)
  13. Understanding IELTS: Writing from British Council ★★★★★(435)
  14. Six Sigma: Analyze, Improve, Control from Technische Universität München (Technical University of Munich) ★★★★★(366)
  15. Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance from Monash University ★★★★★(171)
  16. Understanding IELTS: Speaking from British Council ★★★★★(548)
  17. Elements of AI from University of Helsinki ★★★★★(576)
  18. Understanding IELTS: Listening from British Council ★★★★★(871)
  19. Six Sigma: Define and Measure from Technische Universität München (Technical University of Munich) ★★★★★(544)
  20. The Science of the Solar System from California Institute of Technology ★★★★★(45)
  21. Understanding IELTS: Reading from British Council ★★★★★(704)
  22. Preventing Dementia from University of Tasmania ★★★★★(4675)
  23. Computing in Python II: Control Structures from Georgia Institute of Technology ★★★★★(40)
  24. Quantum Mechanics for Everyone from Georgetown University ★★★★★(72)
  25. Introduction to Programming with MATLAB from Vanderbilt University ★★★★★(208)

Most Followed

Class Central’s Follow button enables learners to customize their experience by following universities, subjects, and course providers.

In 2020, our users followed 10.2 million items. Below are the 25 most followed items. The top item got 200K follows, while #25 got 90K.

  1. Harvard University
  2. Personal Development
  3. Business
  4. Stanford University
  5. Coursera
  6. Computer Science
  7. Art & Design
  8. Management & Leadership
  9. Self Improvement
  10. Humanities
  11. Communication Skills
  12. Health & Medicine
  13. Foreign Language
  14. Marketing
  15. Grammar & Writing
  16. Entrepreneurship
  17. Programming
  18. Psychology
  19. Social Sciences
  20. University of Pennsylvania
  21. Data Science
  22. edX
  23. Education & Teaching
  24. Project Management
  25. Finance

2021

In 2020, we made a number of improvements across the board: technology, design, product, and writing. All these were possible because of the progress we made as a team.

In last year’s review, I mentioned that after years of running Class Central with a skeleton crew of 2-3 people, “2019 finally makes me feel like Class Central is a company.”

Earlier, I might have handled too many aspects. Over time, I learned to delegate. And as a team, we got into the rhythm of working remotely across many time zones, striking an appropriate balance between synchronous and asynchronous work, and finding how to communicate just the right amount.

Every month, it felt like we managed to get more done than the previous month. We’ve had latent ideas for years. In 2020, we’ve been able to lay the groundwork and gain clarity on how to bring those ideas into reality in 2021 and beyond.

Dhawal Shah Profile Image

Dhawal Shah

Dhawal is the founder and CEO of Class Central.

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