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MOOCs Gain Pickup, Respond to COVID-19

computer and tablet with mooc on screen

MOOCs — massive open online courses — have become a major part of the online learning conversation with the advent of school closures due to coronavirus. Class Central, a site that tracks and catalogs the online learning platform segment, reported a "surge" of attention on MOOCs beginning on March 15, a date when "social distancing" became part of the common language.

For example, Coursera received over 10 million course enrollments in a 30-day period, an increase of 644 percent year over year, according to Class Central Founder Dhawal Shah. The company rose from position 444 in Alexa website rankings to spot number 287 between March 15 and April 30; it ran 45 million sessions, an increase of 67 percent during the month of March over the month of February. EdX joined Alexa's top-1,000 website ranking, moving up 510 spots to land at position 663; edX ran 19.2 million sessions in March, a rise of 52 percent over February.

Shah noted that the MOOC providers have responded to the pandemic in three broad ways:

  • By opening up catalog access to campus students;
  • By launching free courses about COVID-19; and
  • By offering free certificates for particular courses.

For example, edX introduced a "Remote Access Program" to allow its institutional partners to give their students access to edX's entire catalog. Some 60 partners have ended up taking advantage, according to Shah. Then in April, the organization expanded that to all universities through the edX Online Campus. That's limited to 5,000 course enrollments in specific programs for each school and is currently available only through June 30, 2020.

Coursera announced that later in 2020 it would launch Live2Coursera, allowing integration of live lectures delivered through Zoom into a private course. The recordings would be added automatically to instructors' courses as they teach, enabling them to "build a library of content" for reuse in the future. The company has already released CourseMatch, which uses machine learning to automatically match a university's on-campus courses to those available on Coursera, enabling institutions to make students aware of those online learning opportunities.

UK-based FutureLearn recently launched FutureLearn Campus, which allows its university partners to provide access to students to the "online short courses" they deliver through the platform. That was later expanded to all short courses and made available until at least September 2020.

Additional detail about MOOC provider responses to COVID-19 is available on Class Central.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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