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Curious About Edible Insects? There’s a Free Online Course for That

Screenshot from Edible Insects online course. At top left, professor Matan Shelomi, Ph.D., holds a dish with cooked insects in one hand and one of the insects in his other hand. At top right is a digital illustration of two tacos with cooked insects. At bottom right is a closeup of a dish with cooked insects over greens with red peppers. At bottom left is green handwriting-style text that reads "Welcome to Edible Insects."

The first-ever massive open online course (MOOC) on edible insects was launched in March, based on a popular university course at National Taiwan University led by entomologist Matan Shelomi, Ph.D. The course covers everything from why people eat or avoid certain foods to the diversity of edible insects worldwide, as well as the pros and cons, how to farm and cook and sell insects, and other insect products outside of food. (Image by National Taiwan University Center for Teaching and Learning Development & Digital Learning Center)

By Matan Shelomi, Ph.D.

In recent years, insects as a regular food item have moved from a relatively fringe passion among some entomologists and adventurous eaters to a common and even controversial topic of discussion—and an increasingly large bite of the food and feed market. Whether out of curiosity or disgust or entrepreneurism, ever more people worldwide are craving answers about what role insects could or should have in their food futures. Politicians, celebrities, chefs, anthropologists, climate activists, businessmen, farmers, and so forth have joined the conversation, though each with a narrow view of the whole story and their own biases.

To help meet this demand for comprehensive information about edible insects, my colleagues and I at National Taiwan University have developed the world’s first-ever massive open online course, or MOOC, on edible insects, available free to the entire world. The course, simply titled “Edible Insects,” is one of only two MOOCs about insects on Coursera, a premier learning platform hosting MOOCs—the other being “Bugs 101: Insect-Human Interactions,” by entomologists at the University of Alberta—and the first on any platform about insects as food or feed. (For more on the Bugs 101 course, see past articles in American Entomologist and here on Entomology Today.)

The MOOC is based on a course by the same name that I designed in 2018 at National Taiwan University (NTU) as an English-language liberal arts course geared toward non-biologists. It covers everything from why people eat or avoid certain foods to the diversity of edible insects worldwide, as well as the pros and cons, how to farm and cook and sell insects, and other insect products outside of food—and, yes, the in-person course includes tasting opportunities. This course was a hit, quickly growing beyond what I or my graduate students could handle in terms of grading homework. Even with a 250-person cap, the registration fills up within seconds and the waiting list each semester is in the several hundreds. I felt bad that I could not teach everyone who wanted to attend.

In 2020, as COVID-19 brought online classes to the forefront, I reached out to the NTU Digital Learning Center and asked about making a MOOC. I hoped sharing my course and its content with millions of people around the world for free and without homework would help take some pressure off of the waiting list.


Making any MOOC is a team effort. My job was to first redesign my course from lecture-based to short video format. Next, I created two scripts: one a transcript of my speaking lines and the other the content of the lecture slides with descriptions of accompanying images. The Digital Learning Center staff prepared all the slides, plus a teleprompter loaded with my script, and during the school year I periodically went to a studio for filming sessions. The university handled video editing and interactions with Coursera. Finally, after more than two years of work by a dozen people, NTU’s most popular entomology course is online.

Launched in March, the course consists of six modules of 12 short lectures each, covering a wide range of topics relevant to insects as food or feed. There is something in the course for everyone, regardless of background knowledge or interests, and the questions posed are similarly diverse: Are insects really that eco-friendly, or are there hidden costs and assumptions? Are they medicinal? Safe? Vegan? Kosher? Who are the people currently eating insects, who is selling to them, and how much money are they making? Do we really need to encourage more people to eat more insects, or is supply more limiting than demand?

Could the class change peoples’ views on edible insects? Surveys of students who finished my in-person class have found that ingrained food neophobia (a resistance to trying new or unfamiliar foods) and fear of insects remain the strongest predictors of whether someone was willing to try edible insects. Nonetheless, reputable, fact-based information on edible insects is needed for more than just meeting the demands of the curious. Misinformation is rife, not only from conspiracy theorists claiming that shadowy elites (who, me?) are forcing people to eat bugs, but also from well-meaning entomophagy evangelists who are perhaps over-selling the promise that eating insects can “save the world.” I believe people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, and so I designed the course to enthusiastically share the realities of the subject and let the audience reach their own, informed conclusions. Food is highly personal, so eat what you will.

I am curious to see if the new course will become as popular online as it is in-person. It might not change the hearts and minds of all those who complete it, but it might just change their stomachs.

Matan Shelomi, Ph.D., is an associate professor of entomology at National Taiwan University in Taipei. Email:

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