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The MOOC Juggernaut: Year 2

Dhawal Shah

Class Central has been aggregating MOOCs since Nov 2011. The numbers below are based on this data.

Quick stats:
150+ universities, 900+ courses announced, 1000+ instructors. 8 million students.

For the first time in history courses that were limited to a few number of people are now open to the entire world. This trend was kickstarted on October 10th, 2011 [1]  when three free online courses from Stanford University professors went live. Each of them had 100,000+ student sign-ups. Since then these free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have reached an estimated audience of over 8 million participants [2]. In two years we have gone from no courses to over 900 total announced courses from more than 150 universities. Startups from around the world are gearing up to offer MOOCS and have attracted over $150 million in funding [3].


The first wave of MOOCs were overwhelmingly concentrated in Computer Science/Engineering. We were starting to see diverse subjects emerge, and now there are MOOCs for a wide variety of topics. Significantly, the Humanities subject area (though comprised of numerous sub-categories) has edged out Computer Science/Engineering to become the largest category. One particular fast-growing category is Education and Teaching which has seen many courses geared towards teacher professional development.


A year ago at this point there were essentially four major providers: Coursera, Udacity, edX, & NovoEd (formerly Venture Lab), all of which are U.S.-based. Since then a lot of new providers have emerged, many of them from other parts of the world.




Latin America

Class Central Zeitgeist


We have captured over 28,000 different search terms by Class Central visitors, which gives some indication of areas of interest to prospective learners.

The Top 5 searches on Class Central:
python, java, statistics, music, programming

These account for 5% of all searches. Though this represents a concentration in computer science (at least for Class Central visitors), the large number of search terms indicates a wide diversity of interests with respect to online classes.


Most popular courses (in order):

  1. Introduction to Databases | Coursera
  2. University Spanish Level 1 | Instreamia
  3. Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence | Coursera
  4. English Composition I | Canvas Network
  5. Introduction to Finance | Coursera
  6. Introduction to Computational Finance and Financial Econometrics | Coursera
  7. Algorithms, Part I | Coursera
  8. 6.00x: Introduction to Computer Science and Programming | edX
  9. An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python | Coursera
  10. Art Appreciation | Canvas Network

We can see that most of these courses are introductory in nature, and about half of them are on Coursera. This is consistent with the trends we see overall for course and provider popularity.


In summary, Year 2 of the MOOC Juggernaut looks like a continuation of the same rapid uptake of MOOCs that we saw in it’s first year in terms of courses and students. It’s scope has progressed smoothly beyond computer science-related topics, such that they represent less than a fifth of subject areas. Additionally, a new wave of providers are arising from around the world, giving teachers and students more platform and format options. It looks like MOOCs have steered past niche and are well on their way to becoming mainstream.


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[1] The first MOOC was offered in 2008 by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, but the current trend was initiated by Stanford professors.
[2] Rough educated guess. Coursera has crossed 5 million users. edX crossed 1 million in June 2013 and Udacity, though it hasn’t made its numbers public, should be well above 1 million students.
[3] Coursera, edX, & Udacity account for 143 million dollars and 60% of the courses.

    Comments 4

    1. Avatar

      Andres Solis

      go MOOCs!!

    2. Avatar


      which is the first ever MOOC?

      • Avatar


        I think it was the AI class that Sebastian Thrun with his colleague first offered by Stanford.

    3. Avatar


      I remember when the creation of edX was first announced. I couldn’t believe that Harvard was going to offer a free college-level course. It is amazing how much MOOCs have grown in two short years. Any thoughts on where MOOCs and online learning will be in the next two years?


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