Review of the Global MOOC Movement in 2019

Wang Yu

Abstract: The global MOOC movement developed steadily in 2019. International platforms such as Coursera maintained growth in the number of courses and microcredentials. A number of new educational products or service models have also been created this year.

In China, the number of MOOC learners has reached 270 million, and the number of courses has also reached 15,000, suggesting that China has a leading position in the global MOOC movement. Most MOOC platforms emphasise modulisation and collaboration between college teachers and industry experts in instructional design. At the same time, new technologies such as AI are being used to improve the function of the platforms and educational research is being used to optimise MOOC practice. The role of MOOCs serving lifelong learning has been strengthening. Capacity is highlighted in course and platform design. The typical practice is to increase learning support through a mentorship model and to build a MOOCs-based lifelong learning results certification system. Blended or hybrid teaching based on MOOCs has continued to attract attention in the field of higher education and become a breakthrough in higher education. Coursera released Coursera for Campus in 2019, with the aim of strengthening the sharing of courses between different universities with finalised products. Chinese MOOC platforms had an earlier start in this regard and adopted the “resource + tools” model using MOOCs and promoting the reform of classroom instruction, which is widely recognised by educational administrative departments, universities, and teachers. At the same time, there were also some “negative events” in 2019, and the issue of the sustainability of MOOCs remains an urgent problem to be addressed.

Keywords: MOOCs; Lifelong learning; Blended learning; Research on MOOCs; MOOC platform design; Business model

Since Coursera and edX were founded in 2012, the concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) swept the world with the positive involvement of top universities such as Stanford University, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Discussions of MOOCs became a hot topic in the field of higher education. MOOCs have been evolving for over eight years. Over the past few years, the X-Learning Cener of Peking University has reviewed and written up the MOOC movements in the years of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018. Focusing on 2019, what has happened in the field of MOOCs? What MOOC movement trends are reflected in the events?

In order to obtain comprehensive information, this study collected relevant MOOC reports from Class Central1, the Chronicle of Higher Education2, Inside Higher Education3, EdSurge,4 and other education websites, as well as blogs, news, and reports from Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, Udacity, XuetangX, China University MOOC (, and other major MOOC platforms. It summarises the following MOOC development trends in 2019:

1. Seen from the overall trends, steady progress has been made in the construction of MOOC courses and platform;

2. The MOOCs’ key attribute of serving lifelong learning has been reinforced;

3. Blended teaching has been a breakthrough in the field of MOOCs in higher education;

4. The issue of the sustainability of MOOCs remains an urgent problemto be addressed.

I. Steady progress in the construction of courses and platforms

According to statistics from Class Central, Coursera had 45 million learners and 38 million courses by the end of 2019, an increase of 8 million students and 700 courses compared with 2018. The number of edX learners increased by about 7 million with the total reaching 25 million, and the courses increased by 375, totalling 2,650. Excluding China, the total number of MOOC learners has reached 110 million, and more than 900 universities have participated in MOOC construction, producing 13,500 courses, 820 micro credentials, and 50 degree programmes (Shah, 2019). In China, outstanding national MOOC courses have set a good example and guided MOOC development. There are 270 million Chinese MOOC learners, with 15,000 courses (Ministry of Education, 2019) by August 2019 according to relevant documents from the Ministry of Education. Good results have also been achieved in a number of regional MOOC platforms in 2019. Users of the Arabic language MOOC platforms have surpassed 2 million, and the number of courses have expanded from 10 to over 100 (Pickard, 2019a). The number of learners of JMOOCs, i.e., Japanese MOOC platforms, has surpassed 1 million with more than 300 courses. The number of education partners of the Spanish language MOOC platform Miriadax is now more than 100, and new models such as offline training camps have been piloted inside the platforms. The number of users of Indian MOOC platform SWAYAM has surpassed 10 million, and it offers as many as 1,000 courses.

Higher clarity in terms of the business lines and models of major MOOC platforms is the most essential characteristic of MOOCs in the year of 2018 (Ji et al., 2019). The types of courses provided by Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, and other large-scale platforms include independent single courses, more systematic microcredentials and online degree programmes. There are B2C businesses offering courses to individuals and also B2B businesses oriented towards enterprises and institutions (such as Coursera for Business and edX for Business). In 2019, the various kinds of businesses operated by Coursera, edX, and other platforms also showed a basic trend of overall increase. For example, Coursera added another 90 Specialisation courses and five degree programmes and launched a professional certificate programme. edX has added another five MicroMasters programmes and 11 professional certificate programmes. FutureLearn has added nine serialised course programmes and three academic certificates programmes. Udacity has added another five nanodegree programmes (Shah, 2019).

1.Course products: Intensify modulisation and industry cooperation

At the same time as institutions of higher learning have actively contributed to the course construction and the number of courses has continued to steadily increase, platforms like Coursera and edX have continued to intensify “modulisation” and “stackable usage” of courses to improve the reuse of courses and enrich the range of educational products. From single courses to microcredentials to degree programmes, the number of courses has gradually increased, and the teaching contents have gradually deepened and systematised with the progress of each step. Learners with different demands can choose different types of educational products to reach their learning goals; whereas platforms and course providers can lower the development cost of courses by using “building blocks” (three to five courses consisting of microcredentials, and 10 to 20 courses or three to five microcredentials consisting of degree programmes). For example, CS50, a course very popular with learners in edX,   appears in four different microcredentials in 2019. In other words, the increase or decrease of modular content based on CS50 can create new course products with different priorities and even different training objectives. The use of this concept in course building is a highly valuable reference, especially considering its current achievements as a single course.

Another major characteristic of course construction is its emphasis on the connection between teaching content and industry and market needs. It encourages institutions or people in the industry to participate in course development. Taking edX as an example, the platform has officially initiated the selection of the edX Prize to honour MOOC teachers making major contributions and innovations to their communities and to show the important role of MOOCs in today’s educational changes (Wang, 2017). Over the past few years, the teams winning the prize have largely been single courses developed by renowned universities and teachers, but the 2019 prize went to the teaching team for the professional certificate of C Programming with Lima. This project fully embodies the advantages of joint cooperative course development between industries and colleges, providing students with knowledge and skills highly relevant to their careers. Furthermore, the creation of an open source learning environment has offered solutions to large-scale formative assessment in programme learning, and helped students better overcome some of the difficulties that new learners may encounter.