Presentation #315.06 in the session College Education and Outreach Programs.
One side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been increased enrollment in online classes. This talk explores the surge in activity in spring 2020 in three massive open online classes (MOOCs) on Astronomy and Astrobiology, offered by Coursera and Udemy. The increase in enrollment was an order of magnitude over the similar time span in previous years. Attendance at live Q&A sessions also increased, by a factor of three. Learners enrolling during the pandemic were more likely to be younger than thirty and less likely to have advanced degrees. A majority were undergraduate students and relatively few were professionals working in technical fields. The largest number of new students were from India and overall, the biggest surge in enrollment came from people in developing countries, particularly in Asia. Those who enrolled during the pandemic were more likely to take the course to get a certificate or to further their career goals than because they had intrinsic interest in the subject. As the pandemic has abated, enrollments have dropped, but remain above levels in 2019. These results, although limited to MOOCs in astronomy, suggest that new audiences have turned to online classes during the pandemic for gaining credentials or advancing their professional skills. The potential for continuing outreach is substantial.