The Report by Class Central

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Analysis

By The Numbers: MOOCs in 2021

A decade has gone by since MOOCs’ popularization. They’ve now reached 220M learners. Here are the stats.

2021 By the Numbers

Ten years ago, over 300k learners were taking the 3 free Stanford courses that kicked off the modern MOOC movement. I was one of those learners.

Now, a decade later, MOOCs have reached 220 million learners, excluding China1. In 2021, providers launched over 3100 courses and 500 microcredentials.

In 2021, 40M new learners signed up for at least one MOOC, compared to 60M (fueled by the pandemic) in 2020.

Here’s how the top MOOC providers look in terms of users and offerings:

Provider offerings
Learners Courses Microcredentials Degrees
Coursera 97 million 6,0003 910 34
edX 42 million 3,550 480 13
FutureLearn 2,4 17 million 1,400 180 22
Swayam 2 22 million 1,465 0 0

For Class Central‘s complete analysis, keep reading. For our previous years’ analyses, follow the links:

Courses

Growth of MOOCs

By the end of 2021, 19.4K MOOCs will be announced or launched by around 950 universities worldwide. In 2021 alone, around 3.1K courses were added.

Online Degrees

Online degrees
2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Coursera 4 11 16 25 34
edX 1 9 10 13 13
FutureLearn 4 18 23 28 22

2021 was the slowest year since MOOC providers began offering online degrees. Only Coursera added new degrees, while FutureLearn delisted a few.

EdX did announce a Masters in Public Health from Boston University, but it will start in 2023. Here is a complete list of MOOC-based online degrees.

Microcredentials

Microcredential types
Type Provider 2018 2019 2020 2021
Specializations Coursera 310 400 570 820
Professional Certificate Coursera 0 13 26 55
MasterTrack Coursera 3 6 18 22
University Certificates Coursera 0 0 0 16
Professional Certificate edX 89 123 176 265
MicroMasters edX 51 56 67 57
XSeries edX 29 40 40 52
Professional Education edX 62 73 94 97
MicroBachelors edX 0 0 8 12
Nanodegrees Udacity 35 40 73 82
Programs FutureLearn 23 32 36 15
Microcredentials FutureLearn 0 0 32 52
Academic Certificates4 FutureLearn 14 17 18 16
ExpertTrack FutureLearn 0 0 0 96
Programs Kadenze 19 20 20 19

In 2021, around 500 microcredentials were added. The largest growth came from Coursera Specializations: around 250 new were introduced. Note that the Coursera Specialization numbers are inflated because Coursera launches each translation as a separate Specialization.

FutureLearn launched ExpertTrack in 2021, which are similar to Coursera Specializations. And in just a year, they’ve launched almost 100 of them.

A trend we noticed is that many of the microcredentials launched in 2021 are from companies rather than universities. For instance, companies account for two thirds of ExpertTracks.

Another recent addition are University Certificates from Coursera, which are cohort-based and have live sessions. Many of these haven’t gone live yet.

Subjects

2021 Course Distribution by Subject

The distribution of courses across different subjects has been relatively stable over the years, with business and technology courses accounting for 40% of all the courses.


[1] We decided to leave China out of our analysis because, as we learned more about Chinese online education, we realized that the metrics we’d like to present are: (1) sometimes unavailable, (2) sometimes available but impossible to validate to the extent we’d like, (3) sometimes reflect a view too narrow to adequately capture the overall state of MOOCs in China.

[2] For platforms with session-based courses, we counted the total number of distinct courses offered in 2021.

[3] This doesn’t include Coursera Project Network courses, since they tend to offer a light-weight learning experience compared to academic or professional Coursera courses.

[4] Graduate and postgraduate certificates are listed under microcredentials instead of under degrees.

Dhawal Shah Profile Image

Dhawal Shah

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.

Comments 1

  1. Maite

    Hi, Dhawal!

    Thanks for all your work. It’s absolutely awesome! I’m doing a report in lMOOCs and I have a couple of questions. I would be grateful if you could help.

    1. Can you tell me where do you integrate lMOOCs (language MOOCs)? Are they within “Humanities” category?
    2. Do you know if it exists further documentation about language MOOCs? For example, most offered languages, top platforms, etc.

    Thank you very much!

    Maite

    Reply

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