When you think of learning, you think of college classrooms. But often, that picture isn’t too appealing—being squished in a classroom with a hundred other students, hearing the lecturer drone on and on. We often don’t have the money or time for it either, as conventional college classes take hours of investment and thousands of dollars. Because of that, many adults believe that their learning days are over—but sites like Coursera are out to prove differently.
MOOC’s—massive open online courses—are designed for the unconventional learner: the 20-year old who’s working full time but wants to ready herself for an IT job; the 30-year old who wants to make a shift in his career; the 40-year old who wants to form better thought habits; or the 50-year old who always wanted to learn more about Roman history.
But not all online video courses are equal. Is what you’re learning accurate? Are they worth the money? And will you get any credit for the work you put into your learning? We’re going to dive into Coursera today, and see how it holds up.
What Is Coursera?
Coursera was started by two Stanford professors in 2012, and is a large library of massive open online courses. It is partnered with universities for all its classes, and many of the courses are taught by the professors themselves. They focus on on-demand video lectures, allowing people from all over the world to “learn something new.” With over 3,900 courses and 60+ million people, they are a large company that serves many—and 87% of users report career benefits, including raises or getting better-paying jobs. Their strengths are in public health, business, and computer and data science.
How Coursera Works
To use Coursera, you first need to create a free account, using your name and email. From there, you’re directed to a page where you’re asked about your employment, education, and future goals, so that Coursera can offer courses specifically customized for you.
In your home page, you can see courses that are in progress, ones you have completed, or find new ones to take. Coursera begins by suggesting several free courses at the top of your page, as well as top-rated ones, or ones specific to your field or goals.
When you find a course you’re interested in, whether that’s in Arts and Humanities, Technology, or any of the other topics that Coursera offers, simply click on the course title to see an overview. On this page, you’ll be able to see information about the course, the instructor, and feedback from others who have taken it. There’s also a syllabus, that lays out what each lesson covers, as well as an estimate of how long it will take you to complete the course.
You can enroll for classes, using your credit card or PayPal, or choose to audit the course for free. Each course has video lectures that run about 10-15 minutes each, as well as assignments and readings you must mark as complete to continue on in the course. Once you begin a course, you have a progress bar to show you how much more you have to complete, as well as access to discussion forums, messages, and extra resources for each course.
If you pay to enroll in classes, there will be quizzes and assignments to solidify the information you’re learning. There are peer-reviewed papers as well—where you and other students grade each others’ work. You must make a minimum grade and complete any peer-reviewed assignments to pass the class—but once you do, you’ll receive a certificate validating your work.
The timeline given on each class is only an estimate though—Coursera sets up personalized deadlines for assignments depending on when you start a course, but there’s no penalty for going past that due date. You can work through the course and assignments as quickly or slowly as your schedule and your goals allow.
Which Level Of Coursera Is Right For You?
There are several different tracks you can take with Coursera, and each one has different monetary and time investments. Which one is best for you depends on what you’re seeking in your learning journey.
The most common place track is taking individual courses. This has two options within it—auditing the class for free, or paying a course fee ranging from $49-$99. If you take the free route, you have access to video lectures, community forum, and homework assignments—though you won’t be able to submit those assignments for a grade, and won’t earn any certificates. This option is great if you simply want to expand your knowledge, and learn about something you didn’t know before.
If you want to fully take the class, paying for the course will allow you to access extra hands-on assignments, as well as receive feedback from both instructor and peers. Occasionally there are extra lectures for paid courses as well. Once you complete the course and earn a passing grade, you’ll receive a certificate that can be shared on your resume and with employers—though those certificates may not be accepted by all employers.
The next track is specialization—multiple courses concentrated on one topic. Rather than paying for each individual course, you pay subscription fee ranging from $39-$79 a month, with an estimated 3 months to finish each specialization. (Though you can go as fast as you wish!) There are some courses that are only accessible on the specialization track, with special certifications as well.
The third track is earning a Professional Certificate. These courses focus on concrete, specialized skills, such as IBM Data Science. These courses and certificates are issued by the institution themselves—with over 60% of them from Google or IBM themselves. These are skills that both of these companies are specifically looking for, and thus a certificate will count highly on a resume submitted there.
Next is the MasterTrack Certificate—a program that you must be accepted in to in order to complete. These include hands-on, intensive projects to give you full mastery of a topic, along with personal instructor interaction. These courses’ price start at around $2,000.
Earning Your Degree
The final track is earning your degree through Coursera. Since Coursera is partnered with so many universities, you can complete degrees through those universities through the Coursera program. Yale, Rice, and Princeton all offer degrees, often in topics such as Data Science, or Business. This option allows you to complete your degree much faster and much cheaper than a conventional degree—a four-year degree can cost as little as $15,000.
Another option altogether is Coursera Plus—their subscription service that allows you access to all their courses, as well as specialization tracks (Professional and MasterTrack Certificates will still have an extra fee). This subscription costs $399 a year. This is a great option if you’re planning on taking several specialization courses—the price breaks even as long as you take more than one specialization every two months.
Are Coursera Certificates Valid?
Yes, Coursera certificates are valid—but whether or not your employer will accept them is a different matter. Because Coursera is partnered with accredited universities, many of their certificates may be accredited as well. But each business still has to make its own decision on which certificates it will accept. The higher-level track certificates are more likely to be accepted—a MasterTrack certificate proves that you have dedicated much time and money, and Professional Certificates issued by IBM or Google have greater weight.
Be sure to check with your employer, to ensure you get credit for your hard work.
Is Coursera Cheap?
You can spend as much or as little as you’d like with Coursera. The greatest part of Coursera is that you have access to hundreds of university-level classes—all without spending a dime. If you simply want to learn a new skill, and want quality videos and information, then Coursera is extremely affordable—there’s nothing better than free.
Their certificates are reasonably priced as well, as $49-$99 sits about middle of the pack of what in-person training often costs. If you choose to use their subscription service of Plus, you need to take at least one specialization course every two months—else the year-subscription costs more than it’s worth. Their degrees are very affordable as well. According to The College Board, the cost of most colleges is about $24,000 a year—with Coursera, you can complete a 4-year degree for $15,000 (and not have to suffer through cafeteria food!)
Coursera may not be necessarily cheap—but it’s worth the money invested.
Is Coursera Reliable?
Coursera is utilized by companies like L’OREAL and AIRBUS, and have high standards for all of their material. Because they are university backed and partnered, you can be sure that all of the information taught is up to standards. The main issue can be the age of classes—there have been instances where a SEO course was from 2013, and the structure and form of how SEO works has changed so much that that course is of little use today!
Coursera does offer a 7-day free trial for their specialization subscription, 14-day for their Plus subscription, and a 2-week refund period for individual courses. They also have a large help page where you can see if the problems you’re running into have been addressed before, as well as a consistent customer service response.
Coursera vs Udemy
Udemy is another open online course site—but its prices are much lower. Courses usually cost $10-$15 dollars, and you have access to the courses for life. They have a larger range of courses as well, anything from baking to yoga to painting to coding; while Coursera focuses more on academic topics.
However, anyone can be an instructor on Udemy—so there’s not guarantee on the quality of the course, and there are often poorly-made courses promoted. Udemy’s certificates are often worth little as well—but because Coursera is university-backed, its certificates are accepted by employers. There is also no free option with Udemy—with Coursera you can have high-level learning at no charge to you.
Coursera vs LinkedIn Learning
LinkedIn Learning sets their online courses up a little differently than Coursera—rather than paying for individual courses, you purchase a subscription for access to all of LinkedIn Learning’s courses. This subscription is $29.99 a month or $19.00 a month for a full year—coming out to about $150 less than Coursera Plus’s $399 a year that offers similar benefits. LinkedIn Learning also allows you to post your certificates directly to your LinkedIn profile, allowing them to more easily be seen and accepted by employers.
However, LinkedIn Learning focuses more on business-related skills, so you won’t be able to learn much about history or architecture on their site like you could on Coursera. Coursera also allows you the option of earning degrees, and their community forum is a great way to ask questions and deepen your learning.
Conclusions For Coursera
Coursera can be free or an investment—but both are worth it. If you simply want to learn, and expand your knowledge with high-level courses, then the free auditing option is a great way to broaden your mind and equip you for life, and the certificate route works well to grow a new skill. Coursera helps you to understand topics thoroughly and deeply, and enables you to cut out your own path of learning in a way that works well for you.