There are more than 8,000 online courses available, in every subject from artificial intelligence to visual arts. More than 50 million students signed up for one this year.

This bounty is a gift for anyone who wants to learn a new skill -- you can learn basically anything from anywhere these days and pay peanuts for the privilege -- but it's also a challenge. In a sea of so many offerings, how do you know which courses are worth your time?

One way is to look at what's already popular. After all, in such a competitive environment, the courses that attract the most students are bound to offer something to set them above the rest. There are various ways to find top performing courses, but one decent bet is just to ask Coursera, the world's biggest provider of MOOCs (massive open online courses).

Coursera recently published this list of its 10 most popular courses of the year:

  1. Machine Learning -- Stanford University

  2. Neural Networks and Deep Learning -- deeplearning.ai

  3. Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects -- University of California, San Diego

  4. Introduction to Mathematical Thinking -- Stanford University

  5. Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies -- Princeton University

  6. Programming for Everybody (Getting Started With Python) -- University of Michigan

  7. Algorithms, Part I -- Princeton University

  8. English for Career Development -- University of Pennsylvania

  9. Neural Networks for Machine Learning -- University of Toronto

  10. Financial Markets -- Yale University

This list can provide inspiration for which courses you might consider for yourself in the coming year, but does it also say anything about the evolution of MOOCs? Are there trends in which types of courses are becoming more popular? And what are the reasons behind those movements? I reached out to a Coursera spokesperson to find out.

As you probably already noticed, tech is booming. The subject is "continuing to draw significant interest: artificial intelligence, blockchain, and anything at the intersection of business and data analytics continue to see growth," Coursera confirmed. Why such massive interest? Greed and anxiety, as you might guess.

"With automation continuing to spread throughout the workplace, many professionals are looking for an edge to help them continue to move forward in their careers," notes Coursera. Or, in short, people are polishing up their tech skills in an effort to climb -- or cling to -- the career ladder. Maybe you should join them in 2018.

Published on: Dec 19, 2017