Image: Coursera

Rindlisbacher, C. (2020) The 100 Most Popular Courses During the Pandemic Class Central MOOC Report, 29 June

Shah, D. (2020) 50+ UGC Approved Online Degrees from India’s Top Universities Class Central MOOC Report, 12 July

Shah, D. (2020) By the Numbers: MOOCs During the Pandemic Class Central MOOC Report, 16 August

Ledwon, H. (2020) Eight Countries Offer Online Degrees Class Central Research, 7 September

Class Central is a course aggregator: ‘Class Central is a listing of online courses. We aggregate courses from many providers to make it easy to find the best courses on almost any subject, wherever they exist.’ However, these are nearly all MOOCs offered through Coursera, EdX and FutureLearn, although some are increasingly being incorporated into credit programs.

Class Central also does some interesting research. These four articles between them provide a good summary of what happened in the MOOC world during Covid-19.

Massive expansion of MOOCs

Class Central reported 12 million MOOC learners from the period March 15-June 29. In one month (March 15- April 15) Class Central received more traffic than they received in the whole of 2019. These users were also more engaged. – clicks to the provider increased significantly, 4.4m vs 2.5m. Registrations increased from 355,000 in the whole of 2019 to 380,000 in the one month March 15-April 15. 

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.

The three most popular courses were

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

Class Central also reported more than one million new learners for Edraak, the non-profit Arabic MOOC platform backed by Queen Rania Foundation, and ThaiMOOC, the official MOOC platform of Thailand, received 286k new learners in 2020. The total registered user base is 570k. 

In terms of overall numbers between March 15 and May 15, the USA led with 3.7 million enrolments, followed by India (1.6 million), the U.K. (900,000) and Canada (665,000). Toronto alone accounted for over 100,000 enrolments. Note that China is not included in these figures (Coursera pulled out of China in 2016, and now China has several of its own MOOC platforms and providers).

New online degrees

Like many other developing countries, India’s national accreditation agency did not previously recognise online degrees. That has now changed and this decision is highly significant for other countries (such as Nigeria) that still do not recognise online learning.

India’s online degrees were made possible by regulations approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) back in 2018. Early this year, UGC published a list of 37 programs from 7 Indian universities that have been approved for online delivery. In July (2020) IIT Madras, India’s top technical institute, announced an online BSc in Programming and Data Science. To be accredited the programs must come from India’s top universities, as recognised by the UGC.

Class Central reported that the following countries offered online degrees:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • India
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

However, the list is very much incomplete (as the author recognises). It does not include the many countries with open universities, such as South Africa (UNISA), Thailand (Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University), the Philippines (OU of the Philippines), Spain UOC and UNED), or Pakistan (Alam Iqbal Open University), nor the many countries worldwide where campus-based universities also offer fully online degrees (such as Universidad de Guadalajara in Mexico, or several universities in Russia).

I suspect that this list is based partly on those countries where institutions have recognised MOOCs for partial credit. However, MOOCs are far too narrow a lense through which to examine fully online degrees or even free, open degrees.


It would be interesting to know the motivation for this upsurge of interest in MOOCs. Is it because people had more time on their hands but did not want to commit to a longer and more expensive commitment to learning, or is it because people were concerned about upskilling because they had been made unemployed by Covid-19? Are people hoping to gain credit for these courses or are they true continuing education students, interested in the topic for its own sake? Probably a mixture of all these, but it would be good to know more about the reasons for the Covid-19 expansion of MOOCs following a couple of years of stagnation.

Also I still have the nagging concern about how open MOOCs really are these days, where Coursera can talk of acquiring $200 million in revenue in 2020, and free certificates are an exception to their general business model.

Nevertheless, the concept of open (if not free) online learning is showing it has staying power, and has proved particularly valuable during the Covid-19 crisis.



  1. Interesting, indeed, Tony. I wonder if one possible reason could be that being at the point of intersection between culture, education, and entertainment, MOOCs are mutating from educational products to edutainment products due to the current lockdown context and need to feel productive. Thanks for sharing!

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