Most Popular MOOCs Of All-Time


Two years ago, academics painted a gloomy future where empty campuses would outnumber shuttered Blockbuster stores. Back then, MOOCs had raced into the mainstream. From Sydney to Seville, students could log in and take the same classes as Wharton MBAs – for free, no less. The doomsayers prophesized a world where big schools would swallow the small ones or credentials would replace degrees. Of course, professors would teach a watered-down curriculum in front of green screens.

Turns out, MOOCs didn’t replace the brick-and-mortar or online experience. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any critic who sees MOOCs as disruptors, let alone threats.  They are valuable advertorials to some, a means to pique students’ interest about a school’s curriculum. For others, they are an easy way to master the basics, say a more interactive version of a textbook. For MOOC providers, they are a revenue stream with built-in repeat business.

Source: Class-Central

Source: Class-Central


Just because MOOCs are no longer the “shiny new thing” doesn’t mean they’ve lost any popularity. Quite the opposite according to Class-Central, a top educational site for finding the most accurate data on new and upcoming MOOCs in all disciplines. In a recent column in EdSurge, Dhawal Shah, the firm’s Founder and CEO, shared a startling number. According to Class-Central research, the number of students who signed up for at least one MOOC course doubled – from roughly 17 million in 2014 to over 35 million in 2015. Even more, the number of MOOCs grew by 42% in 2015, from 2,600 last year to 4,200 today – with over 550 educational institutions now offering MOOCs.

So where is the action these days? According to Shah, “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.” And this trend is reinforced by student searches on the Class-Central website, where business-related terms like “statistics,”  “data science,” “marketing,” “accounting,” “big data,” “finance,” “Excel,” and “project management” are among the 25 most-searched keywords.

Generally, MOOC providers are hesitant to share details on student enrollments, which can tip the market off to financials. As a result, it is difficult to rank MOOCs. However, Class-Central has a way to measure the popularity of MOOCs. For one, the company has been around since 2011, the same time when MOOCs began to emerge as a force. Since that time, Class-Central has been tracking several key data points, most notably the number of potential students who sign up for more information on particular courses (“Interested Users”). Not to mention, Class-Central is a storehouse for user reviews on courses, along with individual course ratings. Obviously, older courses have a built-in advantage here, where their head start (i.e. more sessions) equates to more information requests. At the same time, this benefit is negated by user review scores, a strong predicator to how a course will fare over time.


Before we delve into the most popular MOOCs all-time, it helps to look at 2015 courses. Here, the most popular course, according to Class-Central’s metrics, is Coursera’s “A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment,” which is taught by Dr. Rajagopal Raghunathan (aka “Dr. Happy-Smarts”) at the Indian School of Business. How good is the class? It has a five star rating from the 154 students who reviewed the course in 2015. Roshini Kanchan actually took it twice, arguing that “there is so much information packed into the course that a second round seems imperative.” For others, the course, which focuses on finding meaning and fulfillment, is a life changer. Subramani Sarode, in a Class-Central review, joked about earning an MBA (“Moving Beautifully Towards Awareness”) in the course. And an anonymous reviewer called it “one of the best courses I’ve had anywhere (including courses for the PhD I obtained in clinical psychology).”

Dr. Happy Smart

Dr. Happy Smart

However, it is the teaching – the structure and delivery of the content – that sets “A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment” apart according to Billie Bivens. “This engaging and often profound course takes the wisdom of many great teachers, researchers, and philosophers and put these truths into an accessible, logical and workable program to create increased personal happiness and meaning. Professor Raj is intelligent and caring, but what makes the difference…is [Raghunathan ]’s authenticity and humanity. The world is blessed to have him at this time. Professor Raj brings together the “intellectuals” with the “believers” and perhaps transforms each camp into the other.”

Although Raghunathan teaches in the business department, his course isn’t technically considered a business course. In fact, among Class-Central’s top 10 courses overall, just one business MOOC – “Marketing in a Digital World” – ranks among the ten best-reviewed of 2015. It averaged 4.64 out of 5 stars among 107 user reviews (despite running its first section in the fall of 2015). What’s the secret behind this course? It includes a heavy workload while building a sense of community according to a Class-Central review by Vinisha Bhambhani. “Unlike other Coursera courses that I have taken this one has a much more involvement by students in terms of participating in assignments (2 per module) along with the regular quizzes (also 3 per module),” she writes. “The assignments are designed in a way that provoke you to dig deeper into the case and bring out your thoughts and ideas to the table which is then reviewed by peers who also give great feedback. The learning community is greatly involved and this makes the learning even more fun.”

Looking at 2015 business MOOCs, the University of California-Irvine’s “Project Management: The Basics For Success” ranks just below “Marketing in a Digital World” in terms of interested users (516 vs. 525 requests for information respectively). However, this project management course elicited far less enthusiasm, generating 97 fewer reviews and a slightly lower average review score (4.64) than digital marketing. That said, Irvine placed four courses in the top five for interested users in 2015, including “Fundamentals of Management,” “The Art of Negotiation,” and “Work Smarter, Not Harder: Time Management for Personal & Professional Productivity.” The “Work Smarter” course also produced the third-highest number of reviews (19) with Class-Central among business MOOCs in 2015, just a shade below the University of Illinois’ Digital Analytics For Marketing Professionals (20 with a 4.3 average reviewer score).

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