The MOOC landscape has grown to include 9,400 courses, more than 500 MOOC-based credentials, and more than a dozen graduate degrees. The total number of MOOCs available to register for at any point of time is larger than ever, thanks to tweaks in the scheduling policy by MOOC providers.
However, for the first time, we are seeing a slowdown in the number of new learners, a direct result of a shift in priorities towards users who are willing to pay. According to data gathered by Class Central, around 23 million new learners signed up for their first MOOC in 2017, similar to the 23 million new learners who registered for a MOOC in 2016. The total number of MOOC learners is now 81 million.
Here is a list of the top five MOOC providers by registered users:
- Coursera: 30 million users
- edX: 14 million users
- XuetangX: 9.3 million users
- Udacity: 8 million users
- FutureLearn: 7.1 million users
Though growth in new learners has stalled, the number of paying users has increased. Coursera saw paying users rise by 70 percent this year. Meanwhile, Udacity reports more than 50,000 paying students enrolled in its Nanodegree programs.
As the MOOC platforms continue their quest for sustainable revenue models, MOOC providers have begun charging not just for certificates and other credentials, but for access to content. The big MOOC providers now have a product at every price point—from free to million-dollar licensing deals with employers. Efforts over the years in online degree programs and corporate-training products are showing results. The total potential revenue just from students currently enrolled in online degree programs offered by major MOOC platforms nows exceeds $65 million.
The pace at which new courses are being added has increased slightly (this might also be attributed to the fact that many providers are offering shorters courses, and bundling them as part of sequences). To date, more than 800 universities around the world have launched at least one MOOC. The number of MOOCs announced stands at 9,400, up from 6,850 last year.
MOOCs Showing Up on Campus
Up to now, efforts to offer college credit for MOOCs have been targeted towards students who are enrolled in on-campus degree programs at the institutions that produced the MOOCs. Now, for the first time, we are seeing examples in which on-campus students have the option to earn credit from MOOCs, even from colleges and universities other than the one they attend.
In the US, for a certain course at Georgia Tech and MIT, students were given a choice: enroll in the traditional on-campus course, or sign up for a parallel version of the class that would be completely online. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, TU Delft ran a pilot to let their students earn credit from MOOCs offered on edX by other universities, via a Virtual Exchange program. At the end of 2017, TU Delft signed an agreement with 8 other universities. Now, students from this group of universities can earn credit for MOOCs offered anywhere in the system. The universities participating in this program are: the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Wageningen University and Research, Rice University, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Leiden University.
More than 500 MOOC based credentials are now available. Coursera’s Specializations lead the pack with over 250 credentials; followed by edX with around 170 credentials split across 4 types: MicroMasters, Xseries, Professional Certificate, and Professional Education. XuetangX also launched 8 “micro-degrees”. Many (if not the majority) of the new courses that were launched in 2017 are part of credentials. A few of the longer courses originally launched in 2012 and 2013 have also been split up into multiple courses and re-launched under a credential.
Online graduate degrees are a lucrative monetization opportunity for MOOC providers. Initial results from these MOOC-based degree programs have been good. The Online Masters of Science in Computer Science (Udacity and Georgia Tech) has around 6,000 students enrolled. The iMBA (Coursera and the University of Illinois) has over 800 enrolled students, while the Online Masters in Analytics (edX and Georgia Tech), announced at the beginning of 2017, has 650 students enrolled. A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation tells us that the potential revenue to be earned from these three degrees is greater than $65 million, based on the current number of enrolled students.
Coursera plans to launch 15-20 degrees by 2019, while FutureLearn has announced that they will launch 50 degrees in partnership with Coventry University. XuetangX, also announced their announced three online Master’s degrees with Zhengzhou University.
Overall, the distribution of courses across subjects has remained quite similar to last year, with the exception of Technology courses (Computer Science, Programming, and Data Science). This category grew by two and a half percent. Business and Technology courses make up almost 40 percent of all courses. Not surprisingly, these are the categories of courses that have been easiest for MOOC providers to monetize. The target audience for these courses is a group former CEO of Coursera Rick Levin has called “professional lifelong learners”.
Over half a decade since their debut, MOOCs may finally have found their footing and a sustainable revenue model. No, they didn’t disrupt universities, but they may have changed how working professionals access continued learning and career-advancement opportunities. The tiered monetization models enables MOOC providers and universities to monetize efficiently. The credibility and quality of the the lower tiers is boosted if the same courses are available to earn credits or count towards degrees.
And who knows, 2017 could just have been the year MOOCs became big business.
Correction Note: The number of users claimed by Udacity was initially listed as 5 million. The company says the number was 8 million as of the date of publication. We revised the figure, which changed the rankings of the top 5 MOOC providers.