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By the Numbers: MOOCs During the Pandemic

2020 Web Traffic

The ongoing pandemic has increased interest in online education. MOOC providers, in particular, have all seen drastic growth, which reminded me of the Year of the MOOC.

On March 15th, Class Central noticed a big rise in learners visiting our website. Since then, 15 million learners (and maybe even a few celebrities) visited Class Central to look for courses, sending 8.5 million clicks to MOOC providers.

This is more than twice the number of people who visited Class Central in 2019. We also found that these users were more engaged than before, possibly due to many people finding themselves with extra time during quarantine.

In this article, I will share stats and numbers collected from different providers and Class Central. I will also update the article when new information is available.

In addition to this, we are keeping track of this in our continuously updating lists:

  1. MOOC Providers Response to the Pandemic
  2. Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus
  3. 50+ Free Online Courses about COVID-19
  4. List of Digital Learning Conferences

Our complete coverage of MOOCs during the pandemic can be found here: https://www.classcentral.com/report/tag/coronavirus/

New Registered Learners

Registered Users in 2019, 2020 , and Total for Top MOOC Providers

The top three MOOC providers (Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn) registered as many new users in April as in the whole of 2019.

Over the years, the providers have become better at monetization, but in terms of new registered users they had hit a growth wall, adding a similar number of users in both 2019 and 2018.

The pandemic broke through that wall. Around 25-30% of their total registered users on these platforms came after the pandemic.

Coursera added the largest number of new learners, receiving 35 million enrollments between mid-March and end of July.

Coursera Learner Stats During the Pandemic. 16 million new users, 35 million enrollments

Here are some other MOOC provider stats we know of:

  • Edraak, the non-profit Arabic MOOC platform backed by Queen Rania Foundation received 1 million new learners in 2020
  • ThaiMOOC, the official MOOC platform of Thailand received 286k new learners in 2020. The total registered user base is 570k. The platform launched in 2016.

Visitors

August 16th Rank¹
Sessions (in millions)²
Coursera #210 (+234) 70.13 (↑160%)
edX #653(+520) 21.85 (↑73%)
FutureLearn #2455 (+3,743) 7.8 (↑174%)
Class Central #8309 (+8872) 2.65 (↑205%)

1. Based on Alexa Ranking. Numbers in parentheses point to the change in ranking since March 14th.

2. Number of sessions in July and percent change from February. Based on SimilarWeb data.

April was the biggest month for all the MOOC providers. At its peak, the MOOC platforms received almost three times the February 2020 traffic.

This boosted edX into the top 1000 websites in the world, according to Alexa rankings.

Though the visitors are slowly coming down, they are still higher than what they were pre-pandemic. Coursera was able to maintain momentum by initiatives like offering free certificates for 115 courses and giving free access to their catalog to college students and unemployed workers around the world via Coursera for Campus and Coursera for Government.

Interests

Pre-Pandemic Follows Post-Pandemic Follows
Computer Science 336k Personal Development 167k
Programming 290k Business 167k
Business 276k Art & Design 117k
Personal Development 257k Management & Leadership 115k
Management & Leadership 240k Self Improvement 113k
Data Science 235k Humanities 112k
Artificial Intelligence 208k Computer Science 110k
Information Technology 192k Communication Skills 107k
Career Development 189k Health & Medicine 106k
Entrepreneurship 188k Foreign Language 106k

The chart above shows the top 10 subjects by follows, pre-pandemic and post pandemic.

This is based on our Follow button for education, where you can follow a subject, university, or provider. Class Central then sends you recommendations and updates on new courses. Currently, we have more than 25 million follows on Class Central.

Pre-pandemic, technology related subjects were popular, with the entire top 10 being career focused. Post-pandemic, there is a spike in interest in soft skills and general interest topics.

Personal Development is currently the number one subject, with Self Improvement and Communication Skills making it to the top 10, as well as Art & Design, Humanities, and Language learning. Unsurprisingly, Health & Medicine is also a top 10 subject.

To see which courses learners have registered for, see Class Central’s The 100 Most Popular Courses During the Pandemic.

Geography

Class Central Traffic By Location During the Pandemic

The global nature of the pandemic also brought learners from around the world to Class Central.

The top three cities are as follows:

  1. Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Lagos, Nigeria
  3. Mumbai, India

In my opinion, MOOCs post pandemic have reached a broader population with wider interests.

Class Central Top Articles

On March 15, one of the first things to go viral on Facebook was our collection of 450 Ivy League online courses. It generated over 1 million likes, shares, and comments on Facebook.

Overall, the post generated over 13 million views combined, on Class Central as well as other publications like FreeCodeCamp News where it was cross-published.

Of the top four, two were older articles that got picked up and went viral on social media, while two were published in response to the new opportunities for learning created by the pandemic.

Here is the full list of articles:

Comments
2

  1. Avatar

    Kate

    Thanks for an interesting article! Where did you get the stats of the registered users of the top three MOOC providers? And is an official list of top online course providers available somewhere?

    Reply
    • Dhawal Shah

      Dhawal Shah

      For FutureLearn and edX, I asked them directly. For Coursera, they have mentioned the cumulative numbers on their website and I had last years registration numbers. So I was able to calculate their 2020 numbers.

      Reply

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