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MOOCs: Trends and Momentum

  • January 23, 2017|
  • 1 year ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solution Architect

In part one of this three-part series, I explored the current state of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), their providers and the use cases in this shifting platform. What’s clear is that MOOCs are still hot and evolving to meet the market. Here are some of the latest trends surrounding Massive Open Online Courses.

New Language Options Help MOOCs Go Global

MOOCs are being offered in record numbers in languages beyond English, making them accessible to a huge previously untapped market. From Estonian to Basque, courses are now being offered in more than a dozen languages of a wide variety. Providers such as France’s FUN and Spain’s Miriada X are examples of non-English MOOC platforms contributing to this growth. Coursera also significantly expanded its non-English courses in 2015, especially in China, where it launched a major new push of Chinese content.

From High School to College

While MOOCs are big in higher ed, we are also seeing an increase in high school-level course programming and content. For example, edX created and built the High School Initiative. FutureLearn’s entry to high school-level content is a suite known as Going to University, which preps high schoolers for college. Additionally, Advanced Placement course MOOCs are also being rolled out in big numbers for those hungry for a taste of the university experience.

Niche MOOCs and Badging

Niche MOOCs are now being developed—and making money. Currently there are more than 100 credentials available from MOOC providers, many in specialized areas of learning. Coursera’s Specializations and edX’s XSeries are among the suites of more specialized MOOC course content being built by MOOC operators. For Coursera and Udacity, these credentials appear to have already become a significant source of revenue.

One interesting niche area is MOOCs for educators. Though teachers earn credentials at the beginning of their careers, these degrees do not reflect the breadth of skills they accumulate throughout their careers. Micro-credentials, like badges, can be earned and displayed online to gain recognition for these skills. The Friday Institute is one example of institutions offering self-directed or research-based micro-credentials to support and extend learning opportunities for teachers.

Self-pacing is Hot

More than 800 self-paced MOOCs are now available, with many more being developed every day. These MOOCs offer flexible start and end dates. Coursera is leading the way, introducing regularly scheduled sessions with soft deadlines about once a month in 2015.

Learn from the Stars

Celebrity-taught, nonacademic MOOCs are also hot. MasterClass, a Bay Area startup, is the leader in this intriguing new space. Courses are being presented by everyone from Serena Williams and Usher to Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and Annie Leibovitz. These classes allow users to learn a discipline, like the perfect tennis serve, from the best of the best.

Watch clips of these MasterClasses, which are running about $90 per class. Consider it likely that rock stars in other areas like politics, astronomy, and choreography will continue to be added to MOOC lineups as this trend grows in 2016. It remains to be seen if the “big three” in MOOCs (Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn) will get into this game.

New Directions and Access

New directions and forms of MOOC are also being discussed, tested, and deployed. EdX and McGill created what they billed as the first “GROOC” last year—a MOOC for groups. University of Michigan tested a “residential MOOC” last year for on-campus, registered UM students. They had 800 student participants.

Finally, it’s becoming easier than ever to access MOOC content. You can even find MOOCs on planes, as JetBlue and Virgin Airlines now offer MOOC lecture content in flights.

Takeaway: As MOOC enrollment skyrocketed in 2015, the evolution of MOOCs continued. Gone are the days of narrowly defined academic courses. Now MOOCs have become a platform for various learning pursuits, delivered in a variety of new formats and structures. In part three of this series, I’ll explore the headwinds and what may be next.


1. “5 Biggest MOOC Trends of 2015” Class Central. December 27, 2015.
2. “Top Ed Tech Trends of 2015: Beyond the MOOC” Hack Education. December 14, 2015.
3. “Study Identifies New Cheating Method in MOOCs” MIT News. August 24, 2015.
4. “How to Take a Class From Serena Williams and Usher” The New York Times. September 25, 2015.
5. “MOOCs in 2015: Breaking Down the Numbers” EdSurge. December 28, 2015.
6. “Coursera Expands Presence in China” Campus Technology. January 12, 2015.
7. “Educator Micro-credentials” Digital Promise. N.d.