10 years of MOOCs: Celebrating a decade of free online learning

This year marks 10 years since we launched our first MOOC on the Coursera platform!  In this post, we take a look at what we did and the impact it’s had on our learners.

Ten years ago, on 10th June 2013, we launched our first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps, with academic direction from Goldsmiths, University of London. This marked the beginning of our partnership with Coursera and our commitment to offering free, non-credit bearing courses to a global audience. As Coursera’s first English university partner, we were thrilled to see the impact that this content had on MOOC learners; in the first week we saw hundreds of thousands of learners register on our courses. We have since launched four full degree programmes on Coursera. But let’s go back to the beginning, in 2012, when we made the decision to provide learners around the world with access to free, high quality education.

Coursera logo

Innovating distance learning in partnership with Coursera

Leading the way as an innovator of distance and flexible learning, we spotted that Coursera could be a space to trial cutting edge pedagogical models and delivery techniques, widen access to learning, and to raise the profile of the University and its federation members.  

Putting the ‘Massive’ into MOOCs 

Drawing on the breadth and depth of expertise across our federation, our first MOOCs provided introductions to a diverse range of topics:   

  1. Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps
  2. English Common Law: Structure and Principles (now called Introduction to English Common Law)
  3. Film, Images & Historical Interpretation in the 20th Century: The Camera Never Lies
  4. Malicious Software and its Underground Economy: Two Sides to Every Story

These MOOCs attracted thousands of learners in the first week, putting the ‘massive’ in ‘MOOC’ into perspective and making for a steep learning curve for the teams supporting their delivery. We’ll dive into this in a future blog post (a spotlight on the first computer science MOOC we launched), but the rapid growth in numbers of our open content learners helped us understand quickly what worked – and what didn’t – in asynchronous online learning.

This first year of MOOC experience gave us early indications of the power of open, online learning: that it can be for anyone to explore their interests and build confidence in their ability to learn and develop valuable skills at incrementally challenging levels. 

2014 brought our free education to 90,000 learners

We went on to develop more MOOCs the following year, in 2014. In the first week these new courses attracted around 270,000 registrations, had more than 90,000 active students from over 160 countries, and saw nearly 9,000 course completions. Over 300 of these initial MOOC learners went on to apply for a University of London degree in 2014. 

2014: 90,000 learners, 160 countries, 9000 completions

Ten years on, the value of open short courses is even clearer.

2023: 66 MOOCs, 4 million enrolments, 7 specialisations, 40,000 completions, 3000 daily learners.

These figures demonstrate the different ways MOOC learners access courses – in the way that works for them. Some selectively dip in and out, some are driven to engage fully and earn the course certificate, and 21% complete more than one of our MOOCs.  

What do our students say?

The value of our free, accessible courses is shown by our learners:

The course was a fantastic experience. The content was comprehensive, instructors were excellent, and the real-world examples were enlightening. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in brand management. It has already made a positive impact on my career, and I’m excited to implement what I’ve learned.

Student on Brand Management: Aligning Business, Brand & Behaviour, 2018

I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Coursera and the University of London for providing me with the opportunity to complete the “Understanding of Research Methods” certificate. This prestigious course has enriched my knowledge and skills in research methods…. Thank you for your commitment to accessible and high-quality education.  

Student on Understanding Research Methods, 2016

I learned many valuable tips and strategies from this course. As I want to be a good speaker, this course was really helpful for me…All in all, I feel more confident in public speaking and communication due to this course.  

Student on Finding Your Professional Voice, 2023

These quotes from learners demonstrate the impact of our MOOCs and the effectiveness of the MOOC format in providing excellent academic content to learners across the world. 

MOOC milestones 

The last 10 years has seen several major milestones reached in number of enrolments, course completions, the size of our portfolio and more: 

We’ve achieved a lot in the past 10 years and so have our learners. Many of our students start by taking just one free MOOC, but are then motivated to go on to complete a specialisation, earning certificates from industry giants like IBM and Google, and then progress to access higher education by registering for one of our degrees. This is even more reason to celebrate this MOOC launch 10-year anniversary.   We are very excited to see what the next decade will bring!