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MOOCWatch 23: Pandemic Brings MOOCs Back in the Spotlight

The ongoing pandemic has increased interest in online education — MOOC providers, in particular, have all seen drastic growth, similar to the Year of the MOOC (2012).

MOOCWatch 23 Illustration

On March 15th, Class Central noticed a big rise in traffic. Since then, over 9 million learners (and maybe even a few celebrities) visited Class Central to look for courses, sending 5.5 million clicks to the MOOC providers themselves.

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.

Coursera had over 10 million course enrollments over 30 days, a whopping 644% increase compared to last year. And edX became one of the world’s top 1000 websites.

April 30th Rank¹
Sessions (in millions)²
Coursera #287 (+157) 45 (↑67%)
edX #663 (+510) 19.2 (↑52%)
FutureLearn #3,009 (+3189) 6.15 (↑116%)
Class Central #4,693 (+12,488) 4.4 (↑406%)
Federica #285,183 (+495,214) 0.18 (↑200%)
MiriadaX #45,692 (+33,412) 0.73 (↑52%)
Swayam #10,556 (+959) 3.2 (↓27%)

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

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

In this special issue of MOOCWatch, we bring you exclusive Class Central coverage on the ongoing situation. We are keeping track of this in four lists that we’re continuously updating:

  1. MOOC Providers Response to the Pandemic
  2. Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus
  3. 30+ Courses and Conferences about COVID-19
  4. List of Digital Learning Conferences Going Virtual

In non-pandemic news, we also published a list of the 100 most popular courses based on enrollments. Five courses have over 1 million enrollments, with Harvard’s CS50 just crossing 2 million!

Top Stories

The 100 Most Popular Online Courses of All Time (2020) via Class Central
Instead of ranking courses by reviews, we ranked this list by the number of students who enrolled in the course.

Udacity Makes it Harder for Learners to Cancel Free Trials via Class Central
In response to coronavirus, the $1B e-learning startup Udacity started offering one-month free trials with a “cancel anytime” policy. But a month later, they’re dragging their feet to process cancellations, resulting in undue charges for learners.

Massive List of MOOC-based Microcredentials via Class Central
Recently, microcredentials have become part of Class Central’s catalog. You can find them the same way as you find courses. Here is a list of the different types of microcredentials broken down by provider.

Microcredential Distribution by Subject


To help learners who may be taking an online course for the first time, we have published (or in some cases, updated) several course lists.

Wait, there is more! Check out our Subjects page for a comprehensive catalog of thousands of free online courses from the world’s top universities.

MOOC Providers Response to the Pandemic via Class Central
A comprehensive look at how different MOOC providers (including from China) have been responding to the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article as new announcements and stats are shared.

Coursera for Campus Stats

Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus via Class Central
Many providers have responded to the pandemic by offering learning content for free or at a heavily discounted price. Some providers, like HBS Online, who tried to offer free courses but were overwhelmed by the demand, had to close applications within 48 hours.

The article has over 250k views and we have spent over 25 hours updating the list, which has grown to 50+ providers.

30+ Courses and Conferences about COVID-19 via Class Central
Another way providers are responding to the pandemic is by creating courses that teach about COVID-19. We have collected ~30 courses from institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and the World Health Organization (WHO). All are free to enroll and some even provide free certificates.

List of Digital Learning Conferences Going Virtual via Class Central
Many of the digital-learning conferences and events that we published earlier this year have been cancelled or moved online. We are maintaining a list of such conferences here.

Coursera Free Certificates via Class Central
Coursera announced that they would be offering free certificates for 85 of their courses till the end of May. Now, they have extended the date to the end of July. This article has been immensely popular, receiving over 1.5 million views.

Schools out in China via Class Central
On February 7, 2020, the Ministry of Education (MOE) issued instructions to facilitate the transition to online teaching in higher education, enabling students to resume their studies remotely by offering 24,000 online courses from over 20 online platforms free of charge.

Interview with XuetangX CEO by Xue Jiayi
XuentagX, launched in late 2013, was China’s first MOOC platform. Last year they released an all-in-one platform where students can learn from MOOCs, interact with their teachers, and connect with other students. This allowed them to react swiftly to Chinese universities’ need to switch to online learning, which resulted in their traffic growing 22x.

Datacamp Pandemic Stats via LinkedIn
Datacamp co-founder shares some numbers on how the pandemic has led to an increase in platform usage.

upGrad Pandemic Stats via Business Insider India
Indian EdTech startup Upgrad has seen a 50% increase in learners at the end of March.

How a Popular Programming MOOC Differs on Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn via Class Central
Class Central’s residential MOOC expert Pat has completed 100+ courses. For this article, she took Dr. Chuck’s popular Python programming on three different platforms and compared them.

Programming for Everybody: Provider Comparison
Coursera edX FutureLearn
Length 7 weeks 6 weeks 6 weeks
Cost $49 per month $49 (one-time fee) $74 (one-time fee)
Ease of Use Okay Cumbersome Best
Forums Cumbersome Cumbersome Best
Mentor Activity High Low High
Behind Paywall Quizzes, coding tests Quizzes, coding tests Quizzes

Latin America’s Largest MOOC Provider is Up for Sale via Class Central
MiríadaX, the world’s largest Spanish-language MOOC platform, is looking for a buyer. In 2017, Telefónica became the sole owner of the platform. This article came out before the pandemic; given the popularity of online education, it’s quite possible Telefónica changed their mind.

edX Breaks into the Top 1000 Sites

EdX Breaks Into World’s Top-1000 Websites via Class Central
As people find themselves at home and with time on their hands, many have turned to online learning. As a result, all top MOOC platforms have been growing, which has reflected in their Alexa Rank.

Surging Interest in Online Education via Class Central
Published in late March, this article takes an early look at the increasing interest various online education platforms were receiving as the pandemic took hold.

MOOCWatch is a digest of information related to MOOCs meant for professors and administrators, or others who are involved in education and want to stay up-to-date in the MOOC space. In addition to broad coverage, MOOCWatch also contains unique data, such as course popularity rankings, sourced from Class Central. Tell your colleagues about MOOCWatch and subscribe here.

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.

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