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Class Central’s Zeitgeist: A Year in MOOCs — 2016

The top MOOC universities, MOOC search terms, and more in 2016.

This article is just one in our 2016 MOOC Roundup Series. Find the whole series of articles here, and discover everything MOOCs in 2016 — 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. 

2016 was a breakthrough year for Class Central. We turned five years old, became the #1 search engine for online courses and, more importantly, we are on the verge of achieving self-sustainability. More people used Class Central in 2016 than in the previous four years combined.

For a complete breakdown of how Class Central did in 2016, read Class Central’s 2016: Year in Review.

Close to three million students used Class Central in 2016 to help them decide which online course they wanted to take.

These students wrote more than 8,000 reviews, added courses 400,000 times to MOOC Tracker, and ran 270,000 searches.

Those numbers are just from 2016, and these activities provide a strong and unique data set that 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.


Class Central is primarily a discovery platform — students prefer to browse rather than search on our site. 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 4.5% of students end up using the search functionality, but between them those students still ran over 270,000 searches using 70,000 search terms. The top 25 search keywords are below. These account for 12% of all searches.

python, java, machine learning, writing, english, statistics, data science, image processing, c, excel, psychology, big data, spanish, marketing, french, accounting, project management, finance, android, music, javascript, sql, law, photography, german 

Best Free Online Courses in 2016

Around 2,600 courses were offered for the first time in 2016. After analyzing more than 8,000 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 2016.

  1. Coding in your Classroom, Now! from University of Urbino via EMMA
  2. Tsinghua Chinese: Start Talking with 1.3 Billion People from Tsinghua University via edX
  3. The Nature of Code from Processing Foundation via Kadenze
  4. Introduction to Agent-based Modeling from Santa Fe Institute via Complexity Explorer
  5.  The 3D Printing Revolution from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Coursera
  6. Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation from University of Cape Town via Coursera
  7. Preparing to Manage Human Resources from University of Minnesota via Coursera
  8. Creative Applications of Deep Learning with TensorFlow via Kadenze
  9. Teaching for Change: An African Philosophical Approach from Stellenbosch University via FutureLearn
  10. Stanford Introduction to Food and Health from Stanford University via Coursera

Top Universities

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

We used the course ratings of a course to represent its university, and then we took a Bayesian average. We filtered out universities with less than 5 courses or less than 50 ratings.

  1. Santa Fe Institute.
  2. University of Cape Town.
  3. Vanderbilt University.
  4. University of Michigan.
  5. University of Groningen.
  6. Duke University.
  7. Leiden University.
  8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  9. Harvard University.
  10. Yale University.

Most Followed

Earlier in the year we launched a Follow button for Education. It’s a Twitter-like Follow button that enables learners to customize their Class Central experience by following universities, subjects, and course providers. We are on track to reach 1.5 million cumulative follows by the end of this year.

Here are the top followed items on Class Central:

  1. Harvard University — 36,296 followers.
  2. Coursera  — 34,943 followers.
  3. Stanford University — 33,221 followers.
  4. Computer Science — 32,252 followers.
  5. Business and Management — 28,182 followers.
  6. MIT — 25,550 followers.
  7. Programming — 25,469 followers.
  8. edX — 23,847 followers.
  9. Personal Development — 22,067 followers.
  10. Data Science and Big Data — 21,524 followers.
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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