What started out as a weekend side project ten years ago has now been used by over 50 million learners worldwide.
In October 2011, Stanford began to offer 3 of their courses online for free. This marked the birth of the modern MOOC movement. As more of these courses were being announced, over Thanksgiving weekend 2011, I built a one-page website to keep track of them.
Thus, Class Central was born, with a list of 16 online courses.
Class Central’s goal is to make online education work for everyone. The Class Central team primarily consists of learners from around the world. Since we take online courses ourselves, we know that building a catalog is just the first step.
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.
The pandemic boost helped us take a step toward building an ecosystem of learning tools and services. In 2021, we continued to expand our catalog, we enabled on-platform learning via Classroom, and we launched Cohorts, a social layer for open courses.
Keep reading to find all about Class Central’s 2021.
By the Numbers
2020 was Class Central’s biggest year: 40% of the people that have ever visited Class Central did so in 2020. This was due to the boost provided by the pandemic.
So we knew 2021 wasn’t going to be as big as 2020. But the pullback turned out to be bigger than we imagined because Class Central was impacted by changes to Google’s algorithm (or core updates) in July.
Class Central’s started out by aggregating MOOCs or free university online courses. But in 2021, we expanded our catalog beyond MOOCs.
The Class Central catalog lists 50k online courses. This is thrice the number of courses we had in 2020. Besides providers like Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn, we also list courses from providers like Udemy, Skillshare, and LinkedIn Learning.
To achieve this expansion, we had to invest in improving our infrastructure. We built a classifier that maps courses to our handbuilt subject taxonomy.
But automation is never perfect, and we rely on manual processes to ensure quality. An internal dashboard (shown above) helped us drastically improve the speed of these processes.
Finally, we redesigned our catalog pages to improve the user experience, adding new filters like “level” and “duration”.
Class Central Classroom
At Class Central, we’re big fans of free and open education.
But as we started expanding our catalog to include paid offerings, we felt that we needed to provide reasonable free alternatives. For this, we turned to what is perhaps the world’s biggest online learning platform: YouTube.
We began curating YouTube playlists and encapsulated these playlists into a Classroom Experience: learners can now watch the videos on Class Central, and it automatically tracks and saves your progress.
Currently, we have curated around 3000 educational playlists.
Class Central Lists Update
After launching our Lists and Education Profile feature last summer, we revisited the project to add more powerful management tools.
The upgrade included an overhaul of the data structure and API that powers the backend, which allowed us to improve the user experience. Learners can now create lists with multi-level sections, descriptions, images, and documents.
Class Central users generally prefer browsing the catalog over using the search bar. Only 5% of them use search. This resulted in 800k searches.
Here are the top 25 search keywords:
harvard, python, english, marketing, psychology
law, excel, java, stock market, c
french, data science, writing, spanish, finance
machine learning, business, architecture, digital marketing, art,
Sql, music, korean, ingles, fashion
Most Popular Courses
In 2021, courses on Class Central were bookmarked 1.4 million times. These are the 25 most-bookmarked courses. The top bookmarked course got 8.3K bookmarks, while #25 got 4.8K.
In 2021, we saw the early steps of a Class Central learning ecosystem with Cohorts, Classroom, and Lists. In 2022, we want to flesh out this ecosystem further and make the different components of the ecosystem play better with each other.
Dhawal is the CEO of Class Central, the most popular search engine and review site for online courses and MOOCs. He has completed over a dozen MOOCs and has written over 200 articles about the MOOC space, including contributions to TechCrunch, EdSurge, Quartz, and VentureBeat.