How Many Learners Should I Actually Expect in My MOOC?

As of January 2023,  the estimated average enrollment of an active course on is about 27,000.

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Not quite. While an average enrollment number can be a useful metric, it can also be somewhat misleading. Some MOOCs may have a disproportionately large number of enrollments, which can skew the overall average. In addition, factors like age and topic have strong correlations to the enrollments you might be able to expect.

MOOC Enrollments are Bottom-Heavy

The distribution of MOOC enrollments varies greatly, with some courses attracting tens and hundreds of thousands of learners while others struggle to reach a few hundred. This variance can be attributed to a number of factors, including the topic and level of the course, the quality of the course materials, and the marketing efforts of the MOOC provider.

Moreover, while it’s true that some MOOCs with a large number of enrollments can drive up the overall average, it’s important to note that these courses are often the exception rather than the norm. The vast majority of MOOCs have enrollments in the thousands or less, and many smaller courses offer valuable educational content to learners who may not have access to traditional educational resources.

A more insightful statistic is the distribution of courses by enrollment. The MOOC landscape has some “mega-courses”, and these really big winners drive up the average for the courses with much more normal enrollments. As shown in the distribution below, about half of all active courses have <5,000 enrollments (edX doesn’t publish exact enrollment numbers under 5,000) and 80% of courses have less than that 27,000 number. courses by enrollment chart

MOOC Enrollments Correlate Positively to Age

It’s important to note that the longevity of a MOOC can have a significant impact on its enrollment numbers. MOOCs that have been available for a longer period of time have had more time to accumulate positive reviews and recommendations from students, which can increase their visibility and attract more learners. Additionally, MOOCs that have been available for several years may have been used as educational resources in traditional classrooms or training programs, further increasing their exposure and appeal.

Moreover, the sustained success of some MOOCs can also be attributed to the regular updates and improvements made to the course content and structure. MOOC providers often monitor user feedback and adjust course materials accordingly, ensuring that the course remains relevant and engaging for learners.

Therefore, while it’s true that the initial launch period of a MOOC can generate a significant amount of buzz and interest, the long-term success of a MOOC depends on its ability to adapt to changing educational needs and remain engaging and valuable for learners over time. In fact, of the top 5 MOOCs by enrollment on, 4 of them were launched in 2014 or earlier.

Course Enrollments Initial Release Year
CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science +4.4 Million 2012
Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python +1.5 Million 2013
IELTS Academic Test Preparation +1.4 Million 2014
CS50’s Web Programming with Python and JavaScript +1.2 Million 2018
DemoX +1 Million 2014

Topic Plays a Role

Without looking at the chart below, what MOOC topic do you think has the highest average enrollments? If you guessed that megacourses like CS50 or Introduction to Linux pushed computer science into the top spot, then you and I would be in the same boat. But we would be wrong.The most popular topic on edX is actually humanities. Even though computer science has the most mega-courses, humanities benefits from having courses around concepts that are widely relevant like religion, language, and critical thinking. It also benefits from less competition (450 computer science vs 96 humanities) and a healthy “middle-class” of a lot of long-lasting courses with solid but not mega enrollments.

Regardless, topics around tech, teaching, and broad appeal unsurprisingly gather more average enrollments than more niche topics.

Average MOOC Enrollments by Topic

Of course, more individual factors like marketing, brand power, and virality have an effect on enrollments. But knowing where your course stands in the macro landscape can help you set the right expectations for your own MOOC.

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