June 15, 2021

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Most Popular Courses of 2020: A Year of Mental Health, Contract Tracing, and Job-Relevant Skills

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By Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera

In 2020, a record number of people turned to online learning as a source of hope, growth, and resilience amid economic uncertainty, and campus and workplace disruptions. Since March, there were more than 69 million enrollments on Coursera—a roughly 430% increase compared to the same period last year.

Coursera’s most popular courses of the year show learners striving to gain control of their mental health, better understand COVID-19, develop job-relevant skills, and pursue personal passions. As we look at this year’s trends, we are inspired by the millions of learners on Coursera who continued to make progress on their learning goals in spite of the challenges they faced.

Prioritizing mental health 

As the pandemic set in and began affecting daily life, learners searched for ways to manage their mental health. Demand surged for The Science of Well-Being from Yale, a course that outlines research-backed ways to increase personal happiness and establish more productive habits. With over 2.5 million enrollments this year, The Science of Well-Being was Coursera’s most popular course of 2020.

Our partners also introduced several new mental health courses that—although not on the top 10 list—were popular among learners. Those include Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19 from the University of Toronto and Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most from the University of Michigan. 

Combatting COVID-19 with expert knowledge

Learners sought to better understand COVID-19 through courses taught by leading health experts. COVID-19 Contact Tracing from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health was the second most popular course this year. It fulfilled an urgent public health need by teaching the fundamentals of contact tracing. Several governments, including the state of New York, used the Johns Hopkins course as a requirement to be considered for a contact tracing role. Since May, more than one million learners have enrolled in the course, and 550,000 have completed it.

Other new COVID-related courses that didn’t make the top 10 list but were popular among learners: Science Matters: Let’s Talk About COVID-19 from Imperial College London, Fighting COVID-19 with Epidemiology, a teach-out from Johns Hopkins University, and COVID-19: What You Need to Know (CME Eligible) from Osmosis, which explains the virus from a medical lens while offering a timely opportunity for medical workers to fulfill a continuing education credit. 

Investing in job-relevant skills 

Learners recognize the shifting nature of work—particularly during this crisis year. The University of Chicago estimates that 32-42 percent of COVID-induced layoffs will be permanent, and automation is poised to replace many millions more in the coming years. Learners are seeking ways to build future-proof professional skills, especially across business, technology, and data science. 

Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) from the University of Michigan and Machine Learning from Stanford are among this year’s most popular courses. English for Career Development from the University of Pennsylvania also made the global list and is on almost all country-specific lists for top international markets. 

Exploring personal passions 

Finally, with more time at home, learners took courses that appealed to their personal interests. They explored the human brain through courses like Learning How to Learn from McMaster University and UC San Diego and Introduction to Psychology from Yale while dipping their toes in Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, with Yonsei University’s First Step Korean. Looking across the entire platform, Arts & Humanities, Language Learning, and Social Science courses all saw dramatic increases in enrollments compared to last year. 

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s important to reflect on what our partners helped enable learners from around the globe to accomplish this year. We are honored to serve learners from Singapore to Saskatchewan, a learner community with boundless curiosity and motivation. 

To see international end-of-year course trends, explore these country-specific lists.

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* Courses calculated with average daily enrollments from January 1 to November 30, 2020.

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