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Class Central’s Zeitgeist: A Year in MOOCs — 2015

How are thousands of other learners engaging with online learning? We delve into the internal stats on Class Central users to break down the latest meta behind online learning …

This article is just one in our 2015 MOOC Roundup Series. Find the whole series of articles here, and discover everything MOOCs in 2015 — from the most popular classes, to overviews on developments in MOOC platforms, to looking at the MOOC-future.

zeit·geist noun
the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. 

2015 was a big year for Class Central. Class Central launched as a side project in November 2011. It’s more than four years old now, and it’s almost as old as the modern MOOC movement, which began with three courses from Stanford in October 2011. And, as with MOOCs, more people have used Class Central in 2015 than in the previous three years combined. Close to two million students used Class Central in 2015 to help them decide which online course they wanted to take next.

These students wrote more than 7,000 reviews, added courses 200,000 times to MOOC Tracker, and ran 250,000 searches. Those numbers are just from 2015, and these activities provide a strong and unique data set which captures a student’s intent. Like Google, we have decided to release a zeitgeist and give our readers (that’s you!) a sense of what students around the world are looking at.

These students wrote  7k+ reviews, added courses 200k+ times to MOOC Tracker, and ran 250k+ searches. 



Class Central is primarily a discovery platform — students prefer to browse rather than search. Our Subjects page (built using an online course taxonomy, which we open-sourced earlier this year enables) a student to browse courses based on their interests.

Only 6% of students end up using the search functionality, but between them those students still ran over 250,000 searches using 60,000 search terms. The top 25 search keywords are below. These account for 13% of all searches.

python, java, writing, statistics, english, computer science, machine learning, healthcare, data science, marketing, accounting, c, android. big data, finance, excel, psychology, spanish, music, project management, photography, javascript, programming, sql, french. 

Best Free Online Courses in 2015

2,200 courses were offered for the first time in 2015. After analyzing more than 7,000 reviews written by Class Central users, we were able to rank the courses (by the bayesian average of their ratings) and we have created a list of the best free online courses for 2015.

1A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment via Indian School of Business & Coursera ★★★★★ (124 ratings)
2Introduction to Programming with MATLAB via Vanderbilt University & Coursera ★★★★★ (82 ratings)
3The Great Poems Series: Unbinding Prometheus via OpenLearning ★★★★★ (17 ratings)
4Marketing in a Digital World via University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Coursera ★★★★★ (107 ratings)
5Fractals and Scaling via Santa Fe Institute and Complexity Explorer ★★★★★ (13 ratings)
6What is a Mind? via University of Cape Town via FutureLearn ★★★★★ (17 ratings)
7Algorithms for DNA Sequencing via Johns Hopkins University and Coursera ★★★★★ (13 ratings)
8. Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance via Monash University and FutureLearn ★★★★★ (14 ratings)
9Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) via University of Michigan and Coursera ★★★★★ (10 ratings)
10CS100.1x: Introduction to Big Data with Apache Spark via University of California, Berkeley and edX  ★★★★★ (31 ratings)

For more details, read our post on Best Online Courses of 2015.

Top Universities

We’ve ranked universities the same way that we’d ranked courses, and we came up with some interesting results.

We used the course ratings of a course to represent their university, and then we took a bayesian average. We filtered out universities with less than 5 courses or 10 ratings.

1. Santa Fe Institute
2. Monash University
3. Case Western Reserve University
4. San Jose State University
5. Australian National University
6. Yale University
7. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
8. University of Melbourne
9. University of Queensland
10. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

This list looks very different compared to the Best Global Universities Rankings that U.S. News publishes every year. Four universities in Class Central’s list are from Australia! It has a long way to go, but online education has the potential to enable lesser-known universities from around the world to compete on an equal footing with top tier universities.

This article is just one in our 2015 MOOC Roundup Series. Find the whole series of articles here, and discover everything MOOCs in 2015 — from the most popular classes, to overviews on developments in MOOC platforms, to looking at the MOOC-future.

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 4

  1. Peter Mellow

    One correction to your article. FOUR of the “universities in Class Central’s list are from Australia”. Monash, ANU, The University of Melbourne and UQ. Great article! Merry Christmas!

    • classcentral

      Thanks! Corrected.

  2. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    Thanks billion Class Central .
    These are most valuable knowledges and statistics.
    We hope people will understand one day what is good online .

  3. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    I used to provide information regarding MOOCs 2 years ago by my http://www.mg-akademi.org. Now it is obsolete .
    Class Central is doing a fantastic job. Thanks billion really .


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