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Class Central’s 2016: Year in Review

Written by Dhawal Shah
7 minute read
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This article is just one in our 2016 MOOC Roundup Series. Find the whole series of articles here, and discover everything MOOCs in 2016 — from the most popular classes, to overviews on developments in MOOC platforms, to looking at the MOOC-future.


Class Central - Year in Review

Class Central just turned five years old. This site started out as a side project that I built for myself and launched over the Thanksgiving weekend back in 2011. That was before Coursera and Udacity got their names. At the time, MOOCs were just known as free online courses from Stanford.

Things have changed a lot since 2011, both for MOOCs and for Class Central. In this article I will focus on Class Central’s 2016, but In the next few weeks we will be publishing stats and analysis about the MOOC space in our annual MOOC round up series.

You can read our analyses for the last four years here: 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. (Yes, we have been doing this for a while.)

2016

Overall 2016 was a breakthrough year for Class Central. We became the most popular search engine for online courses and MOOCs, and our blog (MOOC Report) is probably the most read publication in the online education space.

More importantly, our revenue has reached a new milestone: we are on the verge of achieving self-sustainability. Sustainability is important because it helps us maintain our independence. Among the active aggregators of online courses and MOOCs, Class Central is the only independent one — that is, there is no parent organization hiding behind the scenes here.

P.S. Class Central is open source and can be found here: https://github.com/dhawalhshah/class-central

By The Numbers

Class Central Google Analytics

This year, three million people used Class Central to help them decide which MOOC to take, and we doubled our registered user base to 250,000 learners.

Earlier this year, we launched a Follow Button for Education (more below). By the end of 2016, we will cross 1.5 million cumulative follows.

Class Central users wrote 8,000 reviews this year, taking the total number of user reviews on Class Central over 20,000. (Note: We do not import reviews from course providers to artificially inflate our review numbers. All the reviews have been written on Class Central.)

Class Central users added courses 400,000 times to MOOC Tracker, our notification and reminder service for MOOCs.

In the last eleven months, we published 140 posts on MOOC Report. These posts (including the ones published before 2016) were read by 600,000 people in 2016.

2016 Highlights

Self Sustainability

2016 was a make-or-break year for Class Central. There have been a couple of times in the past during which the amount in our bank account was less than a month’s worth of server cost.

So we had to make monetization a priority. There are two primary ways Class Central makes money — advertising and affiliate. All our ads are direct sales (i.e. we do not rely on ad networks like AdSense). We only work with reputable course providers, and almost all of them are already listed on Class Central.

Due to these two sources of income, I am glad to say that we are on the verge of achieving self-sustainability. Phew! We had to make sacrifices, like pausing product development, in the last few months, but it’s been worth it to maintain our independence.

We only have one investor, an incubator called Imagine K12, which invested $94,000 three years ago. Without them it would have been impossible for me to work on Class Central full time. They are always there to help when I need them, and they do not interfere with the day-to-day workings of Class Central.

Most Popular Search Engine

Based on our Alexa rank, Class Central became the most popular search engine for online courses. According to SimilarWeb, we are one of the top five sources of referral traffic to Coursera.

Top 50 MOOCS

top_50

This year we published a list of the Top 50 free online courses of all time. The list was based on course ratings recorded on our site by Class Central users.

MOOC Report — most referenced publication

As I mentioned above, MOOC Report is probably the most read publication in the online education space. But beyond that, it is probably one of the most referenced publications in the space, too.

The unique stats and analyses we publish are constantly quoted in major publications around the world including TechCrunch, The Chronicle of Higher Education, WSJ, Financial Times, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Wired, and The Financial Express, to name a few.

SXWEdu

Class Central SXSWedu Pane

We hosted our first panel at SXSWedu this year. The panel, entitled MOOCs & Teacher PD: Mindless Snack or Hearty Fare?included the following panelists:

  • Glenn Kleiman, Executive Director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, which offers MOOC-Eds for teachers;
  • Julia Stiglitz, Director of Business Development and International at Coursera;
  • Nina Huntemann, Director of Academics and Research at edX; and
  • Charlie Chung, Editor at Class Central (moderator).

You can read our five takeaways from the panel here.

Product Updates

Follow Button for Education

In January this year we launched a Follow Button for Education.

It is a Twitter-like Follow button that enables learners to customize their Class Central experience by following universities, subjects, and course providers. Based on their follows, learners get updates about new and upcoming courses, as well as course recommendations.

The Follow button has been a huge hit with Class Central learners, and it will receive over 1.5 millions follows by the end of 2016.

Career Guides

We published our first Career Guide in September.

Class Central Career Guides are recommendations for the best online courses and MOOCs. They have one goal: to enable learners to quickly figure out which courses can help them learn new skills and advance their careers. Our editorial picks are thoroughly researched using reviews written by Class Central users, data from other sources, and our own subjective analysis.

So far we have published the first two parts of our Data Science career guide:

  1. The Best Intro to Programming Courses for Data Science
  2. The Best Statistics & Probability Courses for Data Science

The career guides have received close to 100,000 views between them.

Meet your next course button

Class Central Home Page

The Meet Your Next Course button on the homepage is a step-by-step process that allows learners to specify their preferences. Based on these preferences, they receive personalized course recommendations.

2017

Data

We have the best data, but it could be better. In 2017, we will focus on improving the quality of data and the frequency of updates. Our subject taxonomy needs to be refreshed.

Learners will be able to export their own data.

Product

We want to improve how we rank courses on the subject pages or search results. The data collected from Class Central users will help us rank courses better. Finally, we’d like to improve personalized recommendations and the user profile page.

Expect new features that help learners find, plan, and track their online education.

MOOC Report

There are so very many things that are happening in the online education space that we are not able to cover all of them. Hopefully in 2017 we will expand our coverage and paint a better picture of the online education space, and better portray where it is at and where it is going.

Guides

Our Career Guides have been well received. Expect more of these in 2017.

But beyond that we also want to make it easy for people to sign up for the first course. Most people in the world have not done an online course and many of them are not aware how an online course works.

We will create guides that will help ease the onboarding process for these people. By open sourcing these guides, they can be translated into different regional languages.

Community

Many courses have forums, but a vibrant global community for online learners is distinctly missing. In 2017, we will seed such a community.

SXSWedu

I will be heading a panel at SXSWedu on Computer Science education. Dr. Chuck, one of the most loved MOOC professors, will be on my panel. The panel is titled Hit Refresh: Evolving Computer Science Instruction.

If you want to help us out with any of the above items, drop me a mail at dhawal@class-central.com.