Published by: Julia
Use our in-depth Coursera review to improve your skills, increase your pay, and land that dream job. Coursera´s growing list of 4600+, often free, certified, professional qualification, and full-degree courses make that possible.
All you need to do is to take a course or two to start benefitting and become more successful.
If you want to learn skills and gain qualifications that will change your future Coursera is most definitely for you.
What Coursera offers its students
Relatively speaking, Coursera is the newcomer to the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) space. They were founded in 2012, by two university professors. But, the learning platform has quickly gained ground on many of the other MOOCs. As you will see, their approach to learning is very effective. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people take their courses.
At the time of my joining, trying out several of their courses and writing this review, they offered the following:
- 4600+ courses across 54 subject categories
- nearly 1,700 free or free to try courses (no certificates)
- 18 online degree courses
- 9 MasterTrack courses
- 15 courses that provide you with a professionally recognized qualification
- 400 specialization courses that cover a subject in depth
- thousands of courses that include graded assignments and a completion certificate as part of the deal
- courses available in 50 languages (3,600+ in English)
- special packages for businesses, colleges, and government organizations
- free to use forum with very active communities
- responsive support for each course
- customer and technical support via live chat and email
Why Coursera is different
I am in the process of joining and taking courses from all of the major learning platforms. To date, I´ve tried Udemy, Masterclass, Lynda, Khan Academy, Skillshare and a few of the smaller ones. So far, the quality of most of the courses I have taken has been good to excellent.
But, in my view, Coursera is head and shoulders above the rest. In particular, for people who are looking to improve their chances of securing a better job.
Ideal for learning real-world and truly valuable skills
But, you have to bear in mind that most of the courses are designed with beginners or those with intermediate skills in mind. If you are already adept at a skill or have been working in an industry for some time, there are fewer courses on the Coursera platform for you to take. But, there are enough.
You may, for example, want to take a MasterTrack or degree course. Or perhaps add to your skillset by taking one of Coursera´s online professional qualification courses.
Courses created by professors from the world´s best universities
The platform was founded by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, both of whom were, at the time, Stanford professors. Over the first year or so, they only uploaded courses provided by Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Pennsylvania universities.
Since then, many more universities have added their courses to the platform. Most of the newer contributors have been made by world-renowned universities in Asia, Europe, and other parts of the world. This has improved subject variety and ensured that courses are now available in dozens of languages.
Courses created by professors and professional teachers
Every course consists of a series of videos. Most of them have been created by actual teachers and professors. People who know how to deliver clear and understandable lessons.
The courses are really easy to navigate. You can see at a glance exactly where you are in terms of completing the course. So you can pick up where you left off regardless of how long you leave behind training sessions.
An excellent video player
The video player used on the platform is excellent. It is possible to adjust the playback speed, which is handy because it means that you can potentially cut your study time by half.
You can also download the videos, transcripts, even the subtitles file. This is great because it enables you to keep and review the course on any device and do so using the format that works best for you.
The ability to add time-stamped notes to your videos
Coursera videos do not have timestamps which I felt was a gross oversight. There is also no 10 seconds forwards or back buttons, which also disappointed me a bit, at least initially. That was until I took a few of the shorter courses and discovered the notes function.
Wherever you are in the video you can click the notes icon. Doing that grabs a still of the video with a timestamp, a quote of what was being said by the instructor at the time, and puts it on the right-hand side of your screen. You can then type out a relevant note and save it. This is fantastic. It enables you to easily go back to a video and immediately locate the most important points.
This feature makes Coursera one of the most useful online course platforms out there. You can easily dip in and out and go over things until you are sure you have understood.
The ability to easily get help from your teacher and other students
The fact that it is easy to get your course-related questions answered is another big plus. Underneath each video is a discuss button. Click on it and you will be taken to the relevant point in any discussion that is going on about that particular video. What you find once you get there varies greatly, but there is always interesting additional information available and often the answer to your question.
There is also a traditional forum for each course. Included in that, you will usually find a study group thread. So you can join others to keep each other motivated, discuss things and ask questions. There are quite a few WhatsApp groups up and running.
The fact there are thousands of people taking the courses at the same time makes it highly likely you can quickly get help. Plus, many of the teachers do also comment and answer questions. Even for the free courses.
Unfortunately, getting answers to other kinds of questions relating to the platform itself is not always quite so easy. You can ask about anything on the community page and you will normally get a fairly rapid response. Often, one that solves your problem completely
But, unfortunately, for some issues, you will be referred to support. Once there, you will not always get the kind of help described by the community managers. Understandably, with millions of users to take care of, they have started to use bots to answer basic questions. Sometimes that means you end up in a senseless loop. Frustrating, but sadly not an uncommon experience, these days. So, don´t let this put you off of signing up with Coursera. It is just something to be aware of, is all.
Grades and assignments
Most of the courses, including the free ones, provide you with ways to test and track your understanding. With the free courses that mainly means quizzes. When you take the paid courses, you get assignments as well as quizzes.
Plus, occasionally actual projects to work on. Everything is tracked, so you can easily see how you are doing and go back over anything that you are still a bit hazy about.
Here I have to mention another slight problem, which is that your assignments are normally marked by other people taking the course. Every student, including you, is required to grade other students’ work. If you don´t do enough of them your own grade will not be released to you. Fortunately, the assignments are not too lengthy, so it won´t take you too long to fulfill that obligation.
Usually, because there are hundreds of students completing most of the courses, you do not have to wait long to get your work marked. But, occasionally, an assignment can sit there for ages, unmarked. Fortunately, there are several avenues you can explore to solve the problem.
It is also possible for someone to give you a low grade without an explanation. This has not happened to me, so far. But, if it did I can see no clear path to sorting out the issue. Although, you do appear to be able to edit and re-submit. So, potentially you could make a small change and try again. Or just take those courses that are marked by an automatic system, of which there are quite a few.
Access to other learning materials
Most of the courses have a additional resoruces section. Typically, that means links to studies mentioned during the course. Recommened additional reading and tools to help you to learn more. This is a great to have because it makes it easier to dive deep into your choosen subject.
Finding the right course for you on Coursera
Overall, I was very impressed with this learning platform. I genuinely think it has something to offer most people. But, you will need to explore a bit to find the right courses for you.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to narrow things down. The search function on the site is very good. Plus, for each course, you are presented with the following information:
- An overview of what you will learn
- Reviews from other students – in some cases, hundreds of very detailed courses
- The full syllabus
- Useful information about your instructor
- Details of how past students have benefited from taking the course
- The enrolment options for that course
- The answers to a few FAQs
The quality of this information is excellent. If I have a criticism it is that you cannot search the reviews.
On some other learning platforms, this is possible. So, if you want to know if something specific is covered you can find out by searching the reviews, questions, and answers provided by previous students.
I also wish they were clearer about how much the course costs when it is part of “a specialization”. Some former users report thinking that they have signed up to take a single course. Only to later discover that the course is part of a specialization package. This means that their credit card will be debited each month until they have completed all of the courses in the package. That is OK if you know that is what you have signed up for, but, not so good if you did so without realising it.
When that happens getting a refund does not appear to be easy for everyone. This problem appears to have started in late 2019. Hopefully, Coursera will solve this issue. In the meantime, be careful when signing up. In particular, when doing so using the free 7-day trial. You need to keep a close eye on your credit card statements, and periodically check the enrollment tab. That way if you are still enrolled in a class you have completed or have accidentally signed up for a series of courses without meaning to do so, you can cancel it.
How the Coursera platform works
At the time of writing this review, there are several ways to educate yourself using Coursera. This is great because it means that the platform offers something for every type of learner. Here is an overview of each of the kinds of courses that are available and payment options.
Free standalone courses that do not always include a certificate
These are exactly as they sound. Individual courses that you can take one at the time. They are free to take, and, in some cases, you get to complete assignments that are graded by your peers. But there a completion certificate is not included.
However, if you do want a certificate at a later date, you just need to pay the fee. That costs between $29 and $99. The price depends on which course you take.
At the time of writing my review. There are around 1,700 totally free courses available.
Paid for standalone courses with graded assignments and a certificate
Some courses cannot be taken for free. You always have to pay. These also cost between $29 and $99.
You take the course, complete the assignments, and get them graded by other students who are doing the same course as you. Once all of your assignments have been marked, you get access to your certificate.
Understandably, the longer courses cost more. But, there are plenty of courses available at the lowest price point. Plus, if you think that you will struggle to pay, you can always apply for financial aid or a scholarship via the platform.
If you prefer, you can audit these paid courses. This enables you to watch the videos, but not complete the assignments.
Coursera´s course audit option
Instead, you can audit these paid-for courses. This enables you to view all of the videos. But, you will not be able to do the assignments. Plus, you do not get a certificate at the end.
However, you can secure a certificate, by going back and completing the coursework. Once it has been graded you can pay for and receive your certificate. Yet another way Coursera allows you to train for free.
Coursera´s 7-day free trial
Signing up for Coursera´s free 7-day trial is another option. It gives you access to virtually all of the courses on the platform. However, the MasterTrack and Degree courses are not available as part of your free trial. They also cannot be audited using the audit option.
At this point, I need to interject a word of caution. One or two of the reviews I read were written by people who had worked hard and completed a paid course and got a certificate during their 7-day free trial period. Then they close their account before the trial period has ended. They do this because they believe they won´t be charged for the course they have completed and earned the certificate for. Yet, their credit card is still charged for the course that they completed during the trial period. The fact that you cannot sign up for the free trial without giving Coursera your credit card details means that this can happen.
Coursera specialization packages for those who want to study a subject in-depth
Coursera´s aim is to ensure their students end up with the skills that educational institutions and employers are looking for. These are not vanity courses.
One of the ways they achieve this is by providing students with what they call specialization packages. These consist of a series of videos that are about different aspects of a single subject. By the time you have completed the entire package of videos, you will be very knowledgeable about that subject.
You get a certificate for each course. Plus, once you have completed all of the courses in the package you get a specialization certificate too.
It is a very good way to study. Specialization packages ensure you stay focused and organized. This is important, especially if it is a complex subject.
How much Coursera specialization courses cost
The cost of these specialization packages is between $39 and $79 per month, which is deducted until you have completed every class in the series. Unless you cancel, partway through.
There is an estimate of how long it will take you to complete all of the individual courses contained within your chosen specialization package. The faster you get through the courses, the fewer months you will have to make payments. Of course, if you do it slower, you will end up paying more.
You are in charge. But, there is a potential issue that could leave you paying for longer. To get the certification, you need to successfully complete the assignments. Some are automatically marked, others are assessed by other students taking the course.
If you are very unlucky, you could wait for a long time for someone to mark your last assignment. Leaving you having to continue to pay monthly until it is marked. Fortunately, this very rarely happens.
Courses that provide you with a professionally recognised qualification
Some of the specialization courses are recognized by professional accreditation bodies. So, when you complete them you secure yourself a professionally recognized qualification.
At the time of my writing this Coursera review, there were 15 specialization courses that fall into this category. The costs vary because they are charged monthly. You could pay $39 for every month it takes you to complete all of the courses or up to $99 per month.
Some people will complete all of the courses in a few months, others might take a year to do it. As a result, the overall cost of securing a professional qualification with Coursera varies.
These are very good courses. They are specifically designed to help you to break into a new industry, or improve your chances of advancing in one you are already involved in. Most of them include projects that you need to complete too. That is a great feature because it means that you will end up with examples of what you are capable of achieving.
Currently, there are professional certificate courses available for 15 disciplines, including the following:
- Cloud computing
- Data engineering
- Systems security
- IT automation
Coursera MasterTrack courses
MasterTrack courses are created from degree courses. So, completing one of them provides you with credits you can use to take a full degree.
These courses cost between $2,000 and $5,000. You can pay upfront or in four installments.
The courses are run in real-time, so you normally need to complete them in a specific timeframe. At the time of my writing this MOOC review there are 15 MasterTrack courses available including:
- Spatial Data Analysis and Visualisation
- Supply Chain Management
- Machine Learning for Analytics
- Construction Engineering and Management
- Social Work Practice, Policy and Research
- Big Data
- AI and Machine Learning
Get a degree via the Coursera MOOC platform
Currently, Coursera offers 20 full degree courses. They take between 1 and 4 years to complete. You have to enroll before the deadline and there is a formal application process to complete. Typically, enrollment takes place 3 times per year. So, normally you do not have to wait long to start your degree studies.
All assignments must be completed on time and, naturally, your mark depends on how well you do in them. These courses are run just like on-campus degrees are.
They cost between $15,000 and $25,000. Of course, that is much cheaper than most on-campus degrees, which can easily set you back $50,000. There is also the option to pay in installments. Plus, you can apply for a scholarship. So, Coursera degrees are genuinely accessible to anyone.
Here are details of just some of the degree courses you can take using the platform:
- Computer Science and Engineering Degrees
- Master’s in Machine Learning
- MBA and Business Degrees
- Master’s in Electrical Engineering
- Master’s in Public Health
- Master’s in Data Science
- Bachelors Degree in Computer Science
- Master’s in Information Technology
The Coursera plus and annual subscription options
The Coursera Plus option is a monthly subscription plan. At the moment, the cost is $42. For that, you can take most of the courses and gain certifications without having to pay more. The price is fair, but not necessarily the bargain you think it is.
I say this because you would need to study at a very fast pace to end up actually saving money. If you were only able to complete one paid course per month at a cost of say $44. You would only need to take a month off for the subscription to work out to be more expensive than paying for the courses as you go.
There is also the option to pay $450 for an annual subscription. But, the same potential problem exists. You have to be pretty dedicated to be able to get value for money out of that particular deal.
The other thing you near to bear in mind is that Coursera´s degree and MasterTrack courses are not included in either of these subscription deals. But, interestingly, several of the professional qualifications courses are included in the price.
Why I recommend studying using the Coursera platform
All in all, this is a great learning platform. The quality of the courses is good and there are plenty of ways to get the help you need. There is no doubt that you will grow your skillset using Coursera.
I can´t really comment on how much prospective employers will value a Coursera certificate. Right now, some of them will not have heard of this learning platform. But, they will be impressed with the fact that you have taken the time to complete these courses to improve your skills. You will also find it easier to answer the interviewer’s question´s and pass any assessments that may be a part of the recruitment process.
Plus, of course, if you take one of their professional qualification, MasterTrack, or degree courses, you will end up with qualifications that employers recognize and actually ask for. There is no doubt that you can use what you learn with them to get a better job, a pay rise, or find ways to do the job you already have better.
However, Coursera is not just there to help job seekers. Far from it, their courses are the ideal way for anyone to explore a subject that they are interested in. To learn new life skills.
This learning platform is massive, with millions of clients. So, unsurprisingly, occasionally some students have issues. But, for the most part, those issues do end up being resolved. So, don´t let the few negative reviews that are out there put you off of using the platform. However, if there is the option to pay with PayPal rather than a credit card, it is a good idea to take it. Doing that gives you more control and makes it easier for you to cancel payments, should you want to do so.