MOOCs at the Four-Year Mark

Posted By Eliana Osborn on January 22, 2016 at 11:04 am
MOOCs at the Four-Year Mark

Since Stanford University rolled out Massive Open Online Courses back in 2011, a lot has changed.  What seemed like a wacky idea for only the tech savvy has morphed into major business all around the world. Using end of year data from 2015, Ed Surge, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Class Central have presented a view of where MOOCs are after four years.

Enrollment is up big time

17 million students signed up for a MOOC class in 2014.  In 2015, that number climbed to 35 million.  Total student users from 2011-13 combined are less than just last year’s tally.  2015 students could choose from 4,200 courses from more than 550 different schools.  While some courses are available in 16 languages, 75% of MOOCs are in English.

Better data available

Professor Anthony Robbins of Pennsylvania State University taught a Coursera section in 2013 with 49,000 students enrolled.  Writing about it for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Robbins used his geography focus to create a visual representation of where his students were located.  31% of the students were from the United States and 70% of the total were male.

The map Robbins made shows levels of engagement across the globe, not just enrollment.  For example, at least 10 students were in enrolled in Anchorage, Alaska, but this city shows up as red, indicating extremely low or no engagement.  Looking at the world this way, an instructor can see cultures, languages, and areas where students are not having optimal course experiences.  With surveys and further research, much can be learned about what isn’t working and how the MOOC can be improved.

Best classes aren’t from top universities

Big-name U.S. private universities offer MOOCs but they aren’t the classes that get the highest reviews.  Six of the top ten colleges offering at least 5 classes in America are Santa Fe Institute, Case Western Reserve, San Jose State, Yale, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wharton School.

The top-rated course? That’s one called A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment from Coursera and Indian School of Business. Coursera is the biggest MOOC provider with a 35.8% market share, followed by edX at 18%.

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Ed Surge reports, “The percentage of Computer Science and Programming courses grew more than 10 percent. This growth in technical and business courses has correlated with a decrease in the humanities and social science courses, but overall there is still a healthy balance of technical and non-technical courses.” Business and management classes make up the biggest share, nearly 17%, with science and social science next in line, respectively, over and under 11%.

Credentials and credits

The biggest shift in MOOCs last year was in how students show others that they’ve successfully completed a class.  Some providers are creating credentials while some are making college credit available.  These changes are an indication of the different reasons people enroll in MOOCs: business advancement, remediation, personal improvement, or working toward a degree.  Some providers are even reaching into the high school market by providing college preparation-type classes.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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