Humanities courses among most popular Coursera MOOCs

As an academic discipline entirely focused on human culture and heavily reliant on face-to-face communication, the humanities doesn’t always seem like a good fit for massive online open courses (MOOCs).

3.8 million people enrolled in humanities courses.

“It is hard to imagine having a human, teacher-ly presence in this space,” Julie Lindquist, a professor at Michigan State University who was building a creative writing MOOC, told eCampus News in June.

It turns out that nearly 4 million humans have flocked to humanities courses offered by the MOOC provider Coursera since the company launched two years ago.

The humanities is the now second most popular course subject on the platform, according to an infographic the company released Oct. 24.

The most popular subject is computer science with nearly 9.5 million enrollees.

The humanities trails with only 3,861,497 enrollees, but managed to beat out business and management (3.5 million); economics and finance (3.3 million); and information, tech, and design (2.4 million).

That high-profile MOOCs like Canvas’ “Walking Dead” course fall under the humanities umbrella probably doesn’t hurt the discipline’s chance of success online.

See page 2 for why some in higher education believe MOOCs are ignoring the humanities…

When Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller and a panel of MOOC enthusiasts spoke about the online courses at the University of British Columbia in June, some educators took note that the panel all but ignored the humanities.

It may, then, come as a surprise that interest in humanities MOOCs overshadows the majority of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses.

As Jon Beasley-Murray, an associate professor at the UBC, wrote in a blog about the June event, most of the minds behind the MOOC movement are not involved in the humanities.

“Not one of the contributors to the debate came from the Arts or Humanities,” Beasley-Murray wrote. “Not Koller herself, not the panel (which was chaired by the Dean of Sciences), not the introduction (by the provost, a chemist). All the questions from the floor were also by scientists, bar one from a member of the Faculty of Education.”

Coursera released these statistics as part of its announcement that the company, with the addition of 13 new partnerships, has now surpassed 100 institutions, 500 courses, and 5 million students on the platform.

“It is remarkable that such a powerful network has developed just 18 months since the official launch of our company,” Koller stated. “With so many countries, languages, and educational backgrounds represented, we are proud to be a part of a movement promoting lifelong education for everyone.”

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