The University of Oxford - which took the top spot in the 2017-2018 Times Higher Education World university Rankings - offered its first massive open online course (Mooc) in February 2017 in partnership with edX, an online learning platform founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The course, titled “From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development” attracted over 47,000 enrolled learners from almost every single country in the world.

Following the success of the first run of the course, Oxford launched the second run of the course on 10th October 2017 - including new features, such as a live Q&A with the course leader, Professor Paul Collier.

Since Moocs exploded in popularity in 2011, millions of students around the world have enrolled in the free, short courses, which are available to anyone, anywhere with access to the internet.

 Growth of Moocs
Image: Class Central

Mooc platforms such as Coursera, edX and Udacity in the US and FutureLearn in the UK have partnered with hundreds of universities, nonprofits and institutions to deliver courses. Coursera and edX dominate the Mooc provider market, with 35.6% and 18.1% shares respectively. In 2015, Coursera had a total of 17 million students on its books.

Top universities offering Moocs include Caltech, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Sorbonne, Peking, and now, Oxford.

The making of the modern Mooc

2011: Stanford University opens up three courses free to anyone with a web connection. One of these, a Mooc on artificial intelligence taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, attracts over 160,000 students. On the back of this success, Thrun and Norvig build a new business model for online education, Udacity.

2012: The popularity of the Stanford courses inspires more universities to offer Moocs, and two more platforms emerge: Coursera and EdX. The New York Times declares 2012 ‘The Year of the Mooc’.

2013: The Open University creates its own Mooc platform FutureLearn, offering courses from UK universities. Other Moocs platforms pop up, including Open2Study in Australia and iversity in Germany.

2014: The number of universities offering Moocs doubles to more than 400. 22 of the top 25 US universities in US News World Report rankings now offer courses online for free.

2015: The number of students signing up for at least one Mooc passes 35 million – up from an estimated 16-18 million in 2014.

2016: The University of Oxford announces its first Mooc, a move that will help to strengthen the credibility of Moocs. An estimated 58 million students signed up for at least one Mooc.

This article has been updated to reflect new figures and programmes.