• Coursera's most popular courses give a snapshot of what the world wants to learn.
  • The most well-enrolled MOOCs - or Massive Open Online Courses - tend to be in business or technology.
  • Online courses to improve time-management and remote working are also booming.

Coursera has released its most popular 10 titles from 2019, which are a good indication of where the world of work is heading. No prizes for guessing digital skills and artificial intelligence feature highly, taking up seven of the top 10.

1. Machine Learning led by Stanford University professor, computer scientist and Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng continues to be one of the most well-enrolled MOOCs of all time.

2. Learning How To Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects, taught by Dr Barbara Oakley from the University of California San Diego, focuses on the learning and memory techniques employed by experts across all fields.

3. The Science of Well-Being, helmed by Yale’s Laurie Santos, aims to increase students’ happiness and productivity.

4. Programming for Everybody: Getting started with Python teaches the basics of computer programming.

5. AI for Everyone, also led by Andrew Ng, looks at the terminology and ethics around AI and how organizations can build an AI strategy.

6. Neural Networks and Deep Learning is led by Andrew Ng and promises to boost career prospects for those who take it, as deep learning is emerging as a “superpower”.

7. English for Career Development – partly funded by the US government, this one is for non-native English speakers wanting to “advance their careers in the global marketplace”, including tips on the interview process in the US.

8. Algorithms, Part 1, taught by two Princeton computer scientists, looks at elementary data structures, sorting, and searching algorithms.

9. Introduction to TensorFlow for Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning is aimed at software developers wanting to build scalable AI-powered algorithms.

10. What is Data Science? – taught by two IBM data scientists, this beginner-level course goes right back to when the ancient Egyptians first used census data to increase efficiency in tax collection.

Rise of remote learning

MOOCs have been around since 2008, when 25 students attended a course on Connectivism at the University of Manitoba – with 2,300 joining online around the world.

They really hit the public consciousness around 2012, when Coursera was set up. It partnered with universities to offer online courses, typically with a mix of active participation and self-paced study using filmed lectures and reading lists. Its closest competitor, edX, is a joint venture by Harvard and MIT.

As their name suggests, MOOCs are designed for unlimited participation and are either free, subsidized or much cheaper than traditional higher education courses.

While they’ve been criticized for low completion rate – an MIT study found an average dropout rate of 96% over five years – that has done nothing to stop demand. By 2019, MOOCs had attracted 110 million learners and over 900 universities worldwide had submitted 13,500 courses.

Growth MOOCs courses 2012 2019
MOOCs have been rising dramatically since 2012
Image: Class Central

At its first virtual conference in spring 2020, Coursera’s Chief Product Officer, Shravan Goli, reported the pandemic had seen a 1,500% month-on-month increase in demand for personal development content between February and March.

The majority of courses across all MOOCs sit under either the business or technology banner, which gives some indication as to where people feel the world of work is moving and what skills will be of use in the coming decades (by way of comparison, in 2019, MOOCs in art and design accounted for 5.2% of courses available, technology 19.8%).


What is the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit?

The World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The two-day virtual event, being held on 1-2 June 2021, will address the most critical areas of debate, articulate pathways for action, and mobilize the most influential leaders and organizations to work together to accelerate progress.

The Summit will develop new frameworks, shape innovative solutions and accelerate action on four thematic pillars: Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation; Work, Wages and Job Creation; Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

LinkedIn has just released its most popular learning courses too, and they again reflect the changing economy; Time Management: Working from Home has been the most favoured course this year, followed by Strategic Thinking, then Remote Work Foundations.

This month, the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit will look at these trends within the wider context of a world emerging from a COVID-induced economic crisis and the need to find a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable approach to work.

The virtual meeting will take place over four days and bring together leaders from business, government, civil society and media to shape solutions to job creation, social justice and upskilling, where no doubt MOOCs may yet have a larger role to play.