Massive open online courses (MOOCs), which universities within the U.S. and across the world offer as a means to earn credit without physically sitting in a classroom, became more popular and more expensive in 2016.

According to a recent report from the tech company EdSurge, MOOCs have become more prevalent. The report, titled “Monetization over Massiveness: Breaking Down MOOCs by the Numbers in 2016,” was published Dec. 29. Dhawal Shah, founder of Class Central and contributing writer at EdSurge, wrote the report, which states that 58 million students signed up for at least one online course in 2016, a notable jump from the 35 million students who registered for MOOCs in 2015.

The increase in MOOC participation persisted despite an increase in MOOC registration fees. EdSurge’s report states that no major venture funding rounds were awarded to MOOC providers in 2016, as they were in previous years. This year’s lack of funding meant that providers had to make more money through their courses. As a result, certain features, such as certificates, graded assignments, and content, were no longer offered for free.

“That means for many providers, monetization became a priority,” Shah said. “All the major providers already have or plan to launch courses that are paid only. And it seems to be working. The “Big Three” MOOC providers—Coursera, Udacity, edX—combined have potentially made around $100 million in 2016.”

In addition to increased participation and registration fees, EdSurge’s report also points to several other trends within MOOCs in 2016. For example, the variety of courses also increased in 2016. This past year, 2,600 new courses were announced among cloud providers; 1,800 new courses were released in 2015. As of now, 6,850 courses are offered across 700 universities.

According to the report, these massive online courses are getting less massive. The MOOC model has shifted from vast numbers of students enrolled in a virtual session that occurs once or twice a year to a system where students can sign up for classes whenever they want and take them at their own pace. Shah compared the new model to a “Netflix-like experience.”

Another change across MOOCs this past year is the gravitation toward business-oriented classes. Coursera announced its Coursera for Business program this year. Udacity created a product targeted toward corporate training. FutureLearn has a product for professionals in the health care and education sectors.

“Taking the course simultaneously with thousands of learners is no longer a selling point of MOOCs from a course providers perspective,” Shah said. “There’s been a decisive shift to focus on ‘professional’ learners who are taking these courses for career-related outcomes, over the dabblers and lifelong learners who take courses just for curiosity’s sake.”

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Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Big Data, FITARA, Homeland Security, Education, Workforce Issues, and Civilian Agencies.