Starting nine years ago, massive open online course (MOOC) providers began releasing online degree programs, in partnership with universities. This trend started out slowly, but has been gaining momentum.
The first MOOC-based degree, the Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) from Georgia Tech via Udacity, was announced back in 2013. It took two years for the next one (the iMBA from the University of Illinois via Coursera) to be announced in 2015. By early 2017 at least 9 master’s degrees were available through MOOC platforms. Then in 2018, things really took off. Now, mid 2021, there are no fewer than 70 degrees you can complete online, through a MOOC platform.
MOOC-based degrees vs. traditional degrees
MOOC-based degrees offer a number of advantages, including lower cost as compared to other online and on-campus degrees, flexibility, and pay as you go pricing. Class Central’s Dhawal Shah summarized the differences between MOOC-based degrees and other kinds of online degrees in an article for EdSurge.
Another benefit for both prospective students and learners with no intention of enrolling in the full degree program is that many courses which are part of the degree are free to take. That means you can preview parts of the content before committing to anything (A full list of MOOCs that are part of degree programs and other for-credit offerings can be found on Class Central here).
It is also worth noting that all of these degrees are fully accredited and recognized. In most cases, the final degree doesn’t in any way indicate that the credential was earned online.
The list of MOOC-based degrees
Below, we’ve listed all 72 of the MOOC-based degrees that are currently available:
Looking at these degrees in aggregate, here are a few summary statistics:
Platforms: Among MOOC platforms, Coursera leads the pack with 32 degree programs, including 3 bachelor’s degrees. FutureLearn is close behind with 27 degree programs, also including 4 bachelor’s. EdX currently offers 13 master’s degrees. Udacity continues to offer one legacy degree program, the OMSCS from Georgia Tech, which was the first MOOC-based degree ever to be offered.
Costs: Oftentimes, MOOC-based degrees are cheaper than both on-campus and online alternatives. (Both the OMSCS from Georgia Tech and the iMBA are good examples of the cost savings.) However, most MOOC-based degrees still run between $10,000 and $22,000, and some cost more than that. The most expensive MOOC-based master’s degree is the Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan on Coursera. Students who are not resident in Michigan can expect to pay more than $44,000 during two years of study.
Type of degree: Most MOOC-based degrees are master’s degrees. However, there are now 7 MOOC-based bachelor’s degrees, 3 degrees offered by Coursera and 4 by Futurelearn.
Universities: 27 universities account for all of the degrees on this list. Of those, 11 are US-American universities, 5 are Australian, 5 are British, 1 is French, 1 is Columbian, 1 is Argentinian, 1 is Brazilian, 1 is Indian, and 1 is Russian. Coventry University in the UK offers the most degrees (between 15 and 18, depending on how you count). After that, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Deakin University in Australia offer the second most degrees, with 5 master’s degree programs each.
Trial courses: All the online degree programs on this list offer ways to try-before-you-buy (or try-before-you-apply). These are labeled differently on the different platforms (e.g. taster courses on FutureLearn, Specializations on Coursera), but all essentially consist of MOOC coursework you can complete for free or at low cost before enrolling in a degree program.
Computer Science and Engineering Master’s Degrees
Announced with much fanfare in 2013, Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) through Udacity was the first degree you could earn on a MOOC platform. The tuition fee has since then increased from $402 per three-credit hour to $510, but it is still one of the most cost effective (and most popular) master’s degrees in computer science on the market. Enrollment for spring semester 2020 is 9,500+ students, making the OMSCS one of the largest computer science degree programs in the world.
For several years, the OMSCS was the only degree of its kind on the market. However, there are now 12 MOOC-based master’s degrees in computer science. Launched in 2018, the Master of Computer and Information Technology from the University of Pennsylvania’s and Coursera is the first MOOC-based degree to be offered by an Ivy League university. Another first-of-its-kind degree, the Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder, was announced in 2018.
Business degrees abound on the MOOC platforms. The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign launched the first MOOC-based MBA in 2015 on Coursera. The iMBA costs around $22,000 and according to students is highly interactive, with live global classrooms, team projects, and personal contact with top professors. The University of Illinois’s second degree program, a master’s in accounting (the iMSA) is similarly priced and is even more prestigious; the on-campus program is #3 on US News & World Report’s ranking of graduate programs in accounting.
Another business offering on Coursera, the MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, comes from HEC Paris, one of Europe’s highest ranked business schools. Coventry University offers 5 different versions of its MOOC-based MBA program on the FutureLearn platform, with focus areas including healthcare, artificial intelligence, cyber security management, and sustainable tourism.
Costing more than double the price of the OMS Analytics, the University of Illinois’s Master of Computer Science in Data Science is nonetheless a cost effective way to earn a degree from a top-5 computer science school (as compared to on-campus study). Like other MOOC-based degrees from the University of Illinois, this one is made up of Coursera Specializations that are accessible by anyone. Two of these Specializations, those on Data Visualization and Cloud Computing, are already available.
Public Health, Social Sciences and Public Sector Management Master’s Degrees
Like most courses on MOOC platforms, most degree programs are in the areas of computer science, data science, business, and related fields. However, several MOOC universities and MOOC platforms offer degrees that fall outside of these subjects, mostly in public health, social sciences, and public management related fields. One university that has moved aggressively into online degrees, Coventry University in the UK, even offers a nursing degree you can earn online.
The advent of MOOC-based bachelor’s degrees is so recent that only 7 of them currently exist, and the coursework for these degrees isn’t yet fully developed. The University of London offers a Bachelor of Science Computer Science through the Coursera platform at a total cost of less than $20,000. The Bachelor of Arts from Australia’s University of Newcastle on FutureLearn is more like an on-campus BA program, in that students can choose from a number of majors and minors (though from a more limited catalog than what is offered on campus). The whole degree is composed of 24 FutureLearn Programs. Each of these costs $3,220, though fees for Australian students may be less.