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Once upon a time, when you wanted to learn a new skill or get ahead at work, you needed to go to a brick-and-mortar school and enroll in courses. Now, you can easily enroll in any number of online courses with both paid and free options. 

The mushrooming of many online learning platforms has contributed to widespread access to careerdevelopment resources. Some of the most popular platforms include Coursera, edX, Udemy, Skillshare, and Lynda. 

Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at whether or not Coursera courses and certificates are worth your time and money.

What Is Coursera?

Founded in 2012 by former Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera is currently the largest online learning platform, with 450 employees as of January 2020 and 47 million users as of December 2019. The site boasts of a wide array of open online courses, degrees, and specializations. 

Coursera forms strong partnerships with top universities, post-secondary educational institutions, and government agencies to deliver its excellently-crafted lessons online.

These university partners include the likes of Stanford, Michigan, Duke, Pennsylvania, Penn, Virginia, and Princeton, some of the most prestigious schools in the world. 

As of April 2020, Coursera offers courses in the following subjects: 

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Data Science
  • Information Technology 
  • Health
  • Math and Logic
  • Personal Development
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
  • Social Sciences
  • Language Learning

This translates into a hefty collection of courses. In addition to that, Coursera also offers degrees and certificates with a large number of educational institutions and businesses. 

How Does Coursera Work? 

When you enroll in a course, Coursera will display it on your dashboard and indicate whether the course is ongoing or, as in the example below, overdue. But don’t worry, being overdue simply means you’re past the target date of completion. Normally, you will still be able to access them.

Some courses have a “hard” deadline, though, and for these, you might have the consequence of getting lower marks, such as in assignments and quizzes.

Next, you’ll need to click on the course and go through each lesson, as outlined on the left side of the page. When you complete a lesson, it automatically gets a checkmark beside it, making it easy for you to track your progress. 

The lessons include video lectures and reading material. For the reading material, you will usually get a set of links to go through. Once you’re done reading them, you click “Mark as Completed” and proceed to the next lesson. 

How Much Does Coursera Cost? 

Coursera offers many courses at different rates. Some of them are available for free, so all you have to do is click “Enroll for Free” and you can immediately get started with your lessons. 

Other courses are “free to audit,” which allows you to watch the videos at no charge. For these courses, you will need a subscription to access the graded assignments or earn certificates. Many of these are part of Coursera Specializations, which are related courses put in a series. 

Others may be purchased individually or on a subscription basis. Specializations typically run on a subscription basis of about $39–$79 per month. 

The good news is, many of these courses also come with a 7-day free trial, so you can try out courses before fully committing to them. 

What Is a Coursera Specialization?

One of Coursera’s strengths in the online learning industry comes in the form of Coursera specializations. These are micro-credential courses that combine about 4–5 relevant courses, which usually come with a Capstone project to culminate the course. 

These courses include guest lectures and case studies, thanks to Coursera’s partnership with industry leaders. These industry partners sometimes offer incentives to learners who submit an outstanding Capstone Project. Examples of these incentives include:

  • virtual discussions with industry leaders;
  • promotion of the project in key media channels;
  • free partner-program waivers.

The shorter specialization courses may span as few as 3 courses, giving you 4–6 months to complete them. Longer specializations can include up to 10 courses, allowing you a year to finish them. 

Student peers assess one another for these courses. After completing a series of courses and hands-on projects, you will earn a Certificate which you can share with employers and your professional network.

Coursera Degrees 

One step up from specializations are the degrees that Coursera offers. Not only will you be able to learn certain skills online, but you can even earn a full master’s degree.

Coursera’s partnership with the top universities in the world allows you to earn a high-credential university degree at an affordable price. 

As of April 2020, Coursera’s degree offerings include the following categories: Business, Computer Science, Data Science, and Public Health. 

These degree programs typically take about 1 to 3 years of coursework. In order to enroll in a degree program, you need to apply, as well as meet any prerequisite requirements that a specific program may have. These are listed on the program page of the degree. Each program will have a different deadline for admissions and start date. 

Coursera’s degree programs use technology such as the following: 

  • video office hours
  • live sessions with professors
  • Slack integration to foster communication among classmates
  • remote-proctored exams 
  • coursework that can be completed via web or mobile app 

All this ensures that you will have a flexible yet high-quality, interactive experience.

When you complete a degree program through Coursera, you will receive the same credential as students who attend the traditional brick-and-mortar setup. These degree programs are administered through the university offering the degree. 

For example, earning a Bachelor of Science in computer science from the University of London through Coursera is learning from UoL professors and gets the same credential as a student who completes the program at the physical UoL campus. 

 Depending on the degree and the university that offers it, you can pay anywhere between $15 to $25,000.

Advantages of Coursera 

Some of the features that stand out about Coursera include:

1. User-Friendly Interface 

When viewed on a laptop computer, the lessons are laid out on the left side of the screen and the video lessons show up in the middle, making it easy to navigate between lessons. 

2. Good for Visual Learners

The videos are great for visual learners. For example, in the course “The Global Financial Crisis by Yale University,” the professor is shown off to the right, with the notes to the lecture on the left, making it very easy to follow. 

Other videos may feature close-ups of the speakers and very detailed illustrations of the concepts they are explaining. 

3. Transcript Available Below Videos

Below the video, you can find a transcript of the text, making it easier to follow along with the lesson, especially if you learn better by reading the material.

4. Well-Organized Lessons 

The lessons are very well organized, with the course outline presented at the start of every course so you will know exactly what to expect. 

5. Quizzes and Discussion Forums 

Each time you complete a quiz, you’ll get a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor. Discussion forums let you post questions and engage in thought-provoking discussions with fellow students. 

6. Interactive Lessons

Thanks to its founders’ intensive research of educational approaches, the classes at Coursera focus heavily on active engagement, which reinforces learning. Throughout the video, the lecturers may pause and ask the students to reflect on certain questions. 

When you submit homework assignments, you’ll also get immediate feedback, which helps keep you engaged, motivated, and attentive. 

Is Coursera Accredited?

Coursera’s Google IT Support Certificate has been certified by the American Council on Education. It’s been recognized and recommended for 12 credits.

For other content on the platform, credit eligibility is determined by the college or university, not granted by Coursera or the content-creating partner. Some institutions using Coursera for Campus (such as Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India) may choose to grant credit for courses on Coursera. 

MasterTrack™ Certificates on Coursera split Master’s programs into modules so that learners can affordably earn a university-issued career credential online within a few months. If a learner is accepted to the full Master’s program, their MasterTrack™ Certificate can count towards their degree.

Is Coursera Worth It? 

For the monthly specialization subscription price, and taking into account the free options, the courses available through Coursera can be a good investment in your career and personal development. 

Although a lot of its courses are geared toward the beginner level, the classes are very in-depth, so you may still learn more than you already know in the different topics. However, your success with online courses, will depend highly on your own commitment and motivation. 

Research published in 2016 shows that “40% to 80% of online students drop out of online classes.” A lot of this is linked to the issues in social, motivational, and technological matters, which affect both the teachers and the learners. 

In the end, as with any online learning platform, the cost you pay will be worth it if you commit yourself to following through and finishing the lessons, and then apply them in your workplace or in your personal life.

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