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MOOC Enrollment Explodes in 2020

According to a new report by Class Central, a company that tracks massive open online courses, of all learners who have registered for MOOCs throughout their history, a third did so last year. Coursera, the largest MOOC operator, added nearly four times the number of new registered users, exploding from 8 million in 2019 to 31 million in 2020 — a rise of 387 percent. Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central, estimated that Coursera's total number of users is currently 76 million.

The second largest MOOC organization, edX, doubled in size, expanding from 5 million new registered users in 2019 to 10 million in 2020. Shah put the total user base at 35 million.

UK-based Future Learn nearly met Coursera's pace of growth, adding 5 million new registered users in 2020, compared to 1.3 million in 2019, a boost of 384 percent. The total user base was estimated to be about 15 million.

As Shah explained, when quarantine measures went into effect last spring and "millions suddenly found themselves with free time on their hands," many people turned to online courses. And their interests had changed. Whereas topics in technology, business and career development dominated pre-COVID-19, during the pandemic learners focused on wider interests: Art and design, self-improvement, the humanities, communication skills, health & medicine and foreign languages surfaced in the top 10 subjects.

The most popular course during the pandemic has been Yale University's The Science of Well-Being, with more than 2.5 million enrollments in 2020. Shah estimated that a fifth of the 100 most popular courses launched in 2020 were directly related to COVID-19. At the top of the charts: COVID-19 Contact Tracing, presented by Johns Hopkins University, followed by Harvard University's Mechanical Ventilation for COVID-19.

Shah's full findings are openly available on the Class Central website.

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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