2020: The year in which 230,000 global citizens enrolled in a MOOC in Wageningen

Published on
December 16, 2020

What do a Mexican, a Haitian, and a Croatian have in common? They all participated in a MOOC in Wageningen (Massive Open Online Course) this year and called it a “life changing experience”. Online courses that you could participate in from anywhere in the world became enormously popular during the coronavirus pandemic. In August, we received our millionth registration. It is the ultimate proof that there is a worldwide need for knowledge about typical WUR themes such as nutrition, sustainability, and living environment. Behind the scenes, the Open & Online Learning team is working hard on new online courses for 2021.

Oliverio Xicoténcatl attended The Science of Beer MOOC from Mexico and came up with the idea of using forgotten types of maize to brew beer. Mileine Beauvais from Haiti realised it was time to change her family's diet after attending several MOOCs on nutrition, health, and disease. And in the Croatian city of Split, Mile Krestev decided to develop an interactive map based on the Circular Fashion MOOC that links consumers to local tailors and shoemakers.

Mileine Beauvais from Haiti is eating healthier after following the MOOCs on nutrition.

These are just a few of the responses to the question “What did attending a MOOC mean to you?” that the WUR Open & Online Learning department posed as a competition this autumn among more than 230,000 people who participated in an MOOC in 2020. “Marvellous”, says marketing coordinator Wendy Jansen. "This is precisely why WUR started creating and offering MOOCs in 2015: making quality education and scientific knowledge accessible to people from all over the world at any time.”

Sky high during lockdown, but now stabilised

During the lockdown this spring, registrations went through the roof: from the usual 2,000 – 3,000 registrations to 20,000 registrations per week. Jansen: “We are back at the previous level now.” But that is understandable, for most people, life is not as quiet as it was during this spring’s quarantine period. But we are very happy that we are still holding people’s interest: worldwide, everyone spends far more hours on their laptop than before the coronavirus pandemic, yet they still want to attend an online course.”

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Focus on online education

“While up to ten new MOOCs are added in a normal year, this year's series consisted of five MOOCs,” says Jansen. "Ensuring that the majority of mainstream education was able to continue online this year was an absolute priority. The good thing is that we were able to make good use of our experience in providing online education, including MOOCs and online Masters’.” And now the time has come for some new MOOCs. There is a lot of enthusiasm coming from WUR. Jansen: "Creating a MOOC takes a long time — six to nine months — and is an intensive process for the lecturer, but this year the ideas are flooding in.”

The largest group of participants in MOOCs are people aged between 25 and 45 and the most popular topics are nutrition and health (> 50,000 participants by 2020), nutrition and disease (> 30,000), and nutrition and sustainability (> 20,000). But the field of interest is expanding to themes like climate. Most online courses are largely free. However, for a fee (between 49 and 149 dollars), you can get access to the entire course and, if your final result is satisfactory, you will receive a certificate after completing the MOOC. Jansen: "This year we saw that the number of people completing the MOOC remained relatively the same, regardless of whether 2,000 or 20,000 people had registered.

Ideas for new online courses are flooding in from WUR.


In January the MOOC Agricultural Water Management on how you can increase food production in a responsible manner through better water management will begin. Jansen: "I am looking forward to the MOOC, which will start in February, on the biggest challenges facing the tourism sector in terms of climate change. This is an interesting topic, especially now that we can no longer travel at all during the coronavirus pandemic: are we going to back to the way it was before or are we more aware of the climate?”