The University of Cape Town (UCT) has been recognised with five massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the Class Central list of the Top Free Online Courses of All Time, which is based on tens of thousands of user reviews.

This puts UCT in first place alongside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) and the University of Sheffield (UK), which also have five courses in the Top 100 each. This achievement is even more remarkable when considering that there are more than 13 000 MOOCs, from around 1 000 universities worldwide, and the Top 100 list features courses from 53 universities in 18 countries.

The UCT courses that made the list are Medicine and the Arts: Humanising HealthcareWhat is a Mind?Extinctions: Past and PresentEducation for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion and Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics.

Sukaina Walji, the Online Education Project Manager at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) – who create UCT’s MOOCs – said: “This news is testament to the passion and expertise of our fabulous academics who have opened their teaching to a global audience and to the production teams who have designed such high quality online courses.”

“It’s a nice acknowledgement. For UCT, as a university with fewer resources compared to others globally, it’s not an insignificant achievement.”

MOOCs are aimed at providing open access to knowledge and unlimited participation. Andrew Deacon, Senior Learning Designer at CILT, explained: “Universities have been doing this kind of outreach for a long time – public lectures and other forms of public engagement – and with the online mode they are able to reach a very large global audience.”

Deacon added: “UCT’s first [online] course was launched in 2015. We’ve launched 20 so far and there are a couple more to come this year.”

African content available globally

MOOCs provide an opportunity to share knowledge generated by leading academics and researchers on the continent and allow UCT to showcase its array of intellectual and teaching resources. While the physical classroom can typically reach only hundreds of students at a time, MOOCs are freely accessible anywhere, at any time, with the potential to widen access to higher education.

Said Walji: “For me, the biggest significance is that there is African content and African teaching and learning out there that is available to anyone globally.”


“The biggest significance is that there is African content and African teaching and learning out there.”


She added: “The [academics] have taken their research expertise and made it accessible. For some of them it was the first time they had done that, and it made them think: ‘How can I communicate my one-hour lecture in an eight-minute, accessible talk?’ When they’ve succeeded it’s been really amazing.”

In the broader context of learning, MOOCs are gaining popularity as a form of micro-credential. Walji explained: “What it means will depend on what the topic is. We don’t have enough information at the moment to know whether a MOOC certificate will necessarily help people get a job, but it certainly helps them stand out.”

Increasing access to educational opportunities

Walji said that although MOOCs are not a replacement for a university degree, “in many cases, [MOOCs] help people who would not have had any other opportunity, either because of cost, because they are in a remote or rural area, or because they are working, and this is an opportunity for them to do something in the continuing learning and professional development space.”


“Doing a MOOC is an opportunity, a window, into a new discipline or a new field of work in a very accessible way.”


“Doing a MOOC is an opportunity, a window, into a new discipline or a new field of work in a very accessible way.”

The focus for the UCT MOOCs project this year has been on launching two new specialisations, which are clusters of courses in FinTech and Inclusive Education.

Read more about the MOOCs available at UCT.