Massive uptake in MOOC participation

29 April 2020 | Story Staff writer. Photo Pexels. Read time 2 min.
MOOC enrolments increased by roughly 35 000 participants since the beginning of March in the wake of global lockdowns.
MOOC enrolments increased by roughly 35 000 participants since the beginning of March in the wake of global lockdowns.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has seen a sharp increase in massive open online course (MOOC) participation since the start of global lockdowns.

Janet Small, course development manager at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), said MOOC enrolments increased by roughly 35 000 participants since the beginning of March.

“We have not seen anything [like this] since the university launched its first MOOCs in 2015,” Small said.

MOOCs are free online courses with no entry requirements that are designed for mass participation via the web. Some notable features include interactive online forums that involve hundreds of students for peer-to-peer discussions, as well as access to video and audio lectures and course material.

Understanding Clinical Research, a course that helps people brush up on their medical statistics knowledge, has seen a dramatic surge in participants – roughly 10 000 people enrolled in the programme, in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Small added.

She said the MOOC Becoming a Changemaker by UCT’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Business, has been one of 75 short courses highlighted by Coursera as “especially gratifying” during the global lockdown and has also attracted a large audience.


“[CILT] has received such good feedback from people who are keen to learn while under lockdown.”

“[CILT] has received such good feedback from people who are keen to learn while under lockdown. Independent learning has also become very popular for those not able to study or those wanting to further develop their skills during economic uncertainty.”

To date, UCT has created 23 MOOCs, which are hosted on international platforms. Small said the “self-pacing, flexible and low-cost” formats of MOOCs are suitable to acquire new skills or supplement formal learning; however, MOOCs are not “low tech” and do require good connectivity and data to access international platforms.

Participants can also download course content to watch offline, and all videos contain text transcripts to increase accessibility.

The course material of all UCT MOOCs is released under Creative Commons licences, which makes it free to share. As part of a special COVID-19 offering, UCT also joined the Coursera Initiative to allow participants to earn a certificate for free.

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COVID-19 is a global pandemic that caused President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster in South Africa on 15 March 2020 and to implement a national lockdown from 26 March 2020.

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In an email to the UCT community, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
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