Coursera Review: Features, Pros and Cons in 2021


Coursera is one of the earliest of the popular MOOCs and serves millions of students from all over the world.

Coursera was started as an open learning platform in 2012 by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, It hosts over 5000 courses on various topics, out of which over 1700 courses can be taken for free. With over 200 partner universities and companies offering courses, and over 77 million learner enrollments, it is the largest and most popular MOOC platform as of 2021.

In addition to the free and paid short courses, there are numerous certificates, specializations and online degrees, along with many pricing options and aid available. Some of these options may not be clear to a beginner on Coursera. However, being well informed on all the pricing plans and options can save learners a lot of time and money.

Coursera Features, Advantages and Disadvantages

Coursera Course Categories

Of the 5000+ courses on Coursera, Business and Computer science form a bulk of the courses. This is followed by Physical Sciences, Health Sciences, Data science and Social Sciences. Apart from this, there are lesser courses in Arts & Humanities, Information Technology, Personal Development, Language Learning and Math logic.

Coursera Programs and Cost

The following are the learning programs at Coursera with their respective costs:

1) Short Courses

These are individual courses and take a few days or more to complete. The cost varies from one course to another and starts around $29 or more up to about $100.

Many short courses are free to take or audit, which means you will have access to most of the course materials and resources. There will be an upgrade required to take the final assessment and to receive a certificate.

For paid courses, there is a free 7-day trial available after which you can decide to continue by paying for the cost of the course.

2) Guided Projects

Guided projects are short projects that start at about $10 and take around 12 or more hours to complete.

These help build practical skills that learners can use in their workplace.

3) Specializations

According to this LinkedIn article, a specialization provides a set of job-ready skills that employers are very much looking for. A specialization consists of lessons, real-life projects and assignments and all of these put-together enhance the learners practical skills and knowledge on the topic.

Specialization also combine multiple related short courses together to create an intensive and rigorous study on the subject.

4) MasterTracks

MasterTracks are very similar to specializations and include a set of short courses, projects and assignments. In addition to this, MasterTracks include live video lessons and therefore have fixed enrollment dates and course schedules.

MasterTracks add up to university credits and completing a MasterTrack can count towards advanced standing for an online degree at that institution. As for the pricing, MasterTracks are not included in any standard subscription and you have to pay seperately for each MasterTrack usually less then USD $5000 per MasterTrack.

5) Certificate Programs

These are career-focused courses with guided projects from leading corporations.

There is also a Courses Plus yearly subscription of $399 which covers unlimited courses, guided projects, specializations and certifications for the year.

6) Online Degrees

These are complete online degrees from leading universities such as Harvard, Yale and many more. The online degrees start from about USD $20,000 and are comparatively much reduced in cost than a full time on-campus college degree.

Coursera Learning Experience

The short courses have a weekly schedule of several videos and readings, followed by one or more quizzes for the week. The videos have helpful slides and notes that further explain the content of the video lessons. Along with the video lesson, there is also a full video transcript available in multiple language options such German, Chinese and many more.

Though everything is clearly explained, there is a lot of information that needs to be assimilated every week. This is especially so because many of the Coursera courses originate from semester-long university lessons at some of the world’s leading universities.

So learning on Coursera and successfully completing the courses will certainly will take a good amount of discipline and consistency over the entire duration of the course.

The intensity and difficulty of the lessons is also likely to get tougher when moving from courses to specializations and further on to certifications.

Advantages (Pros) of Coursera

1) The courses are very well structured and the content is of very high quality from reputed institutions and corporations.

2) There is support for many European and Asian languages in the video transcripts and subtitles. This will allow more people to benefit from Coursera whose native language is not English.

3) Coursera course recommendations and course content have a clear career focus and enable learners to put the skills they develop in Coursera to work in their career.

4) There are multiple gentle reminders while progressing through the course to continue onward to the next lesson or quiz. This is motivating and helps learners to move forward with the upcoming lessons and videos.

5) Financial aid is readily available for lower-income learners from some of the developing nations. Though this takes about 2 weeks for approval, there is no restriction as to how many students can apply for financial aid per course.

Disadvantages (Cons) of Coursera

1) Once the learner has completed all the lessons and tests, before the certificate can be issued, there is an ID verification process that needs to be completed. This is sometimes cumbersome and the online interface for the ID verification is slower on mobile phones.

2) Learners who take the courses have found that they do not receive any direct feedback on questions or assignments from the course instructors themselves. This is likely because the number of people taking each course is very large and it is not practically possible for instructors to personally coach the learners on such a large scale.

3) Since the Coursera forums are massive, they can sometimes be chaotic and it was found that bullying by some students goes unnoticed by the forum moderators.

4) In the free courses, there are multiple reminders at the end of many videos or lessons to upgrade for a certificate. This can appear a bit overbearing at times.

5) In the courses requiring peer review for assignments, for the less popular courses this can take very long and its not possible to get the certificate until all the tests and assignments are marked as completed. While waiting for the delayed peer review from another learner, the learner continues to have to pay for the monthly subscription for no other reason.

Coursera Careers

Taking multiple Coursera courses, specializations and guided projects enable learners to develop job-related skills either in their current profession, or for switching to a new career. Most specializations would also look good in your CV or resume in a separate section where you could list your Courses and Certifications.

Coursera certificates and specializations will also show up on the LinkedIn profile which will further boost your job prospects.

Employers are generally more interested in the skills acquired by the candidate than simply a series of Coursera or other certificates. There is also the issue of whether it is possible for candidates to cheat in MOOC tests.

For trustworthiness of the certificates, specializations or MasterTracks requiring continuous ongoing assignments, live classes and tests are more likely to be trustworthy. This is because its not easy to cheat in innumerable tests and assignments and that would deter the non-serious candidates.

Coursera for College Students

Partner universities of Coursera have agreements that allow their students to take specific Coursera courses and specializations for college credit. With a valid college email id that includes the college domain, students can register for the Coursera for Campus plan on Coursera. This will provide access to unlimited guided projects and one free course per year.

For additional courses, your college will have to have signed up for a Coursera for Campus institution plan.

If you are not specific about certificates and simple want to learn, you can still take many of the free courses Coursera courses without the final tests or certificate.

Or if you want to pay for courses to earn college credits, its best to take courses or specializations that are stated as Credit-eligible on Coursera. You can ask your college office about whether they would recognize your intended Coursera courses for college credits. Also be sure to confirm that the course/s fit within the curriculum for your college degree.

Coursera for High School Students

If you’re a high school student and serious about learning, MOOC courses are a great way to learn something new, or as prep-work for another exam on a similar topic. Completing MOOC courses with a certificate will also show prospective colleges how serious and capable you are with your learning.

Many of the beginner-level and some of the intermediate level courses on Coursera are suitable for high school students. In case of doubt, it’s best to try the course for a few days for free to see if its right for you. You can also check the course syllabus for this.

There are also a list of hand-picked Coursera courses that are specifically targeted for high school students.

Coursera for Business

Small businesses or smaller teams of large companies have the option to sign up for a Coursera for Teams plan. This plan costs $399 per year per employee and provides access to all the courses with certificates, guided projects and quizzes.

The homepage will also have the company branding so its very clear that its exclusively meant for the company’s employees.

There is also a Coursera for Enterprise plan which has custom pricing and a few additional login security features such as single signon, along with metrics on the dollar impact on company revenue from the new skillsets learnt by employees on Coursera.

Financial Aid on Coursera

Financial aid is provided on a case-by-case basis and will require the learner to submit several documents proving financial need. Also if a specialization has multiple courses, you will need to submit a separate financial aid application for each course.

The approval for financial aid takes 15 days from the time of the aid application. This approval is valid for 180 days within which you need to have completed the course.

In addition to financial need, learners will also be asked about their requirement or motivation for wanting to take the course. This will help Coursera to determine how serious the learner is about the course and how the course will serve his/her career/ study goals.

Most Popular Coursera Courses

It is always preferable to take a popular course instead of a course that is less frequented. In the popular courses, the community forums will be more lively and you can interact and learn alongside more students.

Also, peer reviewed assignments will be much faster to complete in the popular courses since there will be many other students for the peer review. This will in turn enable you to more quickly complete your course and to get your certificates.

Here are a few very popular courses on Coursera in different categories:

1) Personal Development

i. Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life

ii. The Science of Well Being

2) Health Sciences

i. Understanding Medical Research

ii. Covid-19 Contact Tracing

3) Technology

i. Introduction to Cloud Computing

ii. Machine Learning

iii. Machine Learning Using Sas Viya

iv. AI for Everyone

Most popular specializations include:

1) Technology

i. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

ii. Software Testing Automation

2) Humanities

i. Good with Words: Writing and Editing

ii. The Pronunciation of American English

Popular certifications include the following:

1) Google IT Support

2) IBM Data Science

3) Google Cloud Data Engineering

For more listings of popular courses, take a look at the Top Online Courses or Specializations in the footer section of the home page, just above the About and Contact Us sections.

Coursera: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Coursera Trustworthy?

Yes, Coursera is definitely trustworthy. Since 2012, millions of learners from all over the world have benefited from the courses on Coursera. There have also been no issues with trust and Coursera is definitely a trustworthy platform for taking online MOOC courses.

Do Coursera Courses Look Good On A Resume?

Over the years, Coursera has built a strong record and brand image in the minds of both professionals and employers as a great platform for online learning.

So as long as Coursera courses closely relate to your profession and he job you are applying for, it will certainly be viewed positively on your resume. The ideal place to present your Coursera courses is in a section titled Courses and Certifications preferably in the 1st or 2nd page of your resume.

Is It Worth Getting A Certificate From Coursera?

Certifications and Specializations will have more value for job interviews than just single short courses. Corporate partner MasterTracks and Certifications directly translate to similar job-ready skills or functions and provide a great likelihood for getting the desired job.

In my experience, Coursera certificates certainly have value as long as the candidate is able to prove their skills in job interviews and in real life projects on the job.

Interviewers are likely to ask a lot of questions to ensure the validity of the Coursera skills, but the certificates themselves will certainly push job candidates ahead of their competition, especially for getting the opportunity of the interview face time.

Is Coursera Accredited?

Yes and No. The online degrees offered by the partner universities on Coursera are certainly accredited but not everyone can afford to pay $20,000 or more for an online degree. The MasterTrack courses can provide advanced standing for the online degrees and are therefore translatable for college credits.

A few certifications such as the Google IT Support provide ACE-accredited college credits. The certifications that provide college credits will be clearly listed as Credit-eligible, though most certifications do not directly provide college credits.

Though the short courses and specializations are also provided by leading universities and corporations on Coursera, they improve job-related skills and are more career-focused. So the courses or specializations are usually not accredited for college credits.

But the final say of whether a course is accredited for college credits rests with the college or university you are enrolled in or planning to join.

So it’s definitely a good idea to check with your college about credit-eligibility before taking each course on Coursera.

Why Is Coursera Bad?

There is definitely nothing bad about Coursera since millions of learners have positively benefited from the courses and projects. However, several learners have found it challenging getting customer support to resolve some of their issues such as billing.

There is as such no direct way to reach a live customer support person on the phone. Instead, when you login, simply go to the Contact Us page, then select your category and see if you are able to get to the live chat. This used to work in the past but the live chat appears to have been disabled lately.

Another option is to ask questions in the Coursera community forum stating your problem and someone will likely guide you to the right customer support personnel. Some learners suggest finding the customer support person’s name and then using a hashtag with their name so they are notified when you post messages on the community forum.

Do Employers Care About Coursera?

The certifications from corporations such as Google, IBM and many others certainly build strong professional skills in that topic.

Coursera testimonials indicate that some learners who completed such certifications on Coursera managed to rise on top of the interview-candidates pool and successfully got the job!

Coursera is certainly the most popular MOOC provider and so any certificate from Coursera is likely to get noticed. World-renowned partner universities host courses on Coursera and the certificates will state this. So the university badge on the certificate will also garner some attention.

Ultimately, it is up to you as a candidate to speak to the skills you’ve acquired through your Coursera courses. That is the part that will make the final difference. You might certainly land the initial interview/s upon presenting your Coursera certificates along with your professional experience in your resume.

But turning that intial interest to the final interview and job offer will entirely revolve around your skills, knowledge and how well you are able to communicate the monetary benefits to the company upon hiring you.

Are Coursera Courses Self Paced?

Yes, the Coursera courses are self-paced and this is one of the important advantages of Coursera and other MOOCs. Though there are weekly lessons and assignments, even if the learner is unable to complete the weekly work, s/he can come back later and retake the lessons and weekly assignments.

Coursera simply motivates and encourages learners to progress with the lessons, but it does not mandate or force learners to complete the lessons within a fixed time frame.

Busy professionals or students find it really helpful to take the courses on their own schedule. In case or greater workload at the office, the learner can temporarily discontinue the courses on Coursera and then come back later to continue where s/he left off.

Coursera: Final Thoughts

Apart from a few issues that are usually typical of such large online platforms, Coursera is indeed a great place for learning new skills, and for even launching a new career. Though most courses on Coursera are of high quality, there are likely to be slight differences in the format and presentation of different courses.

So for greater chances of success, take a look at the ratings and reviews that are clearly displayed in the title page of each course. For additional opinions, also ask questions in the reddit Coursera forum and in the community forum at Coursera.

In my opinion, the $399 for an entire year of courses, projects and certifications is a great buy with the Coursera Plus!

There will be no more need to pay for individual courses or the more expensive individual certifications with this money-saving pricing plan.

However, the master tracks and online degrees on Coursera run to several thousands of dollars and this is considered expensive for MOOCs. This might be unaffordable especially for lower-income students especially without any form of financial aid. Therefore, it would be helpful to offer financial aid and grants to such need-based students for the online degrees.

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