MOOCs in 2014: Breaking Down the Numbers

column | MOOCs

MOOCs in 2014: Breaking Down the Numbers

By Dhawal Shah (Columnist)     Dec 26, 2014

MOOCs in 2014: Breaking Down the Numbers

In November 2011 I was taking one of the first MOOCs from Stanford. At that time, many new MOOCs were being announced and I started Class Central as a way to keep track of them and figure out what I should take next. The website gathers course listings through provider sites, social media, and tips from MOOC providers and users. The figures below are based on these data.

At TechCrunch Disrupt this year, Coursera Co-Founder Daphne Koller claimed that 2014 is the year MOOCs will come of age. An ecosystem has now developed around MOOCs: hundreds of people employed full-time (the big three--Coursera, Udacity and edX--employ more than a hundred people each), thousands of people involved in the creation of MOOCs, many millions in funding, and, importantly, millions in revenue.

400+ universities. 2400+ courses. 16-18 million students.

This year, the number of universities offering MOOCs has doubled to cross 400 universities, with a doubling of the number of cumulative courses offered, to 2400. 22 of the top 25 US universities in US News World Report rankings are now offering courses online for free.


In 2013, Coursera offered nearly half of all MOOCs, but in 2014 its share has shrunk to a third. It is still twice as large as the runner-up, edX, which doubled its share in the last year (and now has close to 400 courses on its platform). There were no major providers launched in 2014.

MiriadaX became the first non-U.S. MOOC provider to cross 1 million registered users, tapping into the large Spanish-speaking market worldwide. UK based provider FutureLearn with 800K registered users should be the next provider to cross a million users.

Up-to date numbers can be found on our provider listing page.


The subject distribution of MOOCs in 2014 is consistent with last year, with the top three subjects remaining the same: Humanities, Computer Science & Programming, and Business & Management. There has been some debate whether MOOCs can be as useful for teaching humanities and non-technical subjects as it is for computer science and math. Though this still is an open question, from the standpoint of course offerings, there is a healthy balance of technical and non-technical subjects.


Courses are currently being offered in 13 different languages, although 80% of courses are taught in English. Spanish is the next biggest language with 8.5% of the courses, mostly due to Miriada X (a consortium of nearly 30 universities in Spain and Latin America) followed by French and Chinese.

Top Searches

When learners search for MOOCs, there is a great deal of diversity in what they are looking for. Among the 40,000 search terms used, the Top 20 (below) account for only 12.6% of them. A glance at the Top 20 do indicate that learners are searching both for topics that may help them in their education or careers as well as personal interests:

python, healthcare, java, finance, android, english, statistics, marketing, music, writing, psychology, accounting, design, spanish, programming, law, photography, big data, history

Top Courses

The ten most popular courses of 2014, as indicated by student interest are as follows:

  1. Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship | Coursera
  2. Introduction to Statistics | Udacity
  3. Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects | Cousera
  4. Introduction to Computer Science | Udacity
  5. Principles of Project Management | Open2Study
  6. CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science | edX
  7. Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence | Coursera
  8. Introduction to Finance | Coursera
  9. Strategic Management | Open2Study
  10. R Programming | Cousera

We can see that there is less diversity in the top individual courses than in searches, perhaps reflecting the available content that has been produced up to this point. This data is based on user intent collected by Class Central’s MOOC Tracker.

Trends in 2014

There have been some key developments this past year in the MOOC space:

  • MOOC providers roll out their own credentials: Each of the Big 3 MOOC providers introduced their own credentials for paid courses: Udacity’s Nanodegrees, Coursera’s Specializations and edX’s Xseries. MOOCs are also offered in conjunction with universities, like edX’s collaboration with professional education programs and NovoEd’s with Stanford’s School of Business. A few universities experimented with directly offering credits for MOOCs, like Penn State, the University of Oklahoma and some European universities.
  • Upping the production quality: In an interview with, Marc Andreessen noted that MOOC “production values are pretty low”. However, this isn’t necessarily true--some have been very well-designed, and the bar has been raised, as more effort has gone into improving production quality. Universities, seeing both large markets and big uncertainties in the online learning world, have organized and staffed centralized departments to support professors creating these courses, like Harvard’s in-house course production studio.
  • Institutions choose Open edX for DIY: Open edX quickly seems to have become the de facto platform for organizations and groups who are looking to host their own MOOCs. It has been adopted by several organizations in diverse regions of the world, including Jordan, Japan, France, China, India and the US.
  • A trend towards ‘Always On’ availability: MOOCs started out, and for the most part still parallel college classroom courses with a start date, end date, and specific deadlines for assignments/homeworks. Udacity was the first provider to abandon the traditional college course structure of due dates and deadlines and adopt a self-paced model, back in 2012--users can sign up and complete the courses at their own pace, which gets closer to the model used by Udemy and Coursera now offers 27 on-demand courses, which allow sharing of individual lecture videos. FutureLearn also has plans to make all the content of their courses open. The challenge will be in providing the interaction and/or assistance most MOOC-takers expect via discussion forums or other methods.

2014: A Year for MOOC Maturation

We have seen strong development of the MOOC ecosystem this year. MOOC providers are finding better footing in developing their business models. They will likely tune them and bring in even more revenues. Universities are jumping on the online bandwagon and investing in online course development. They will be eager to leverage this content (via virtual and blended learning) in their own campuses and continuing education curricula. Instructors and students are continuing to offer and take MOOCs in growing numbers. We may start to see more new courses cover the same or overlapping content and production values rise, and thus more options and choices for student learners, and as a result, more “winners” and “losers” among MOOC course offerings going forward.

Thanks to Charlie Chung for contributing to this story.

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