Coursera is an online course provider that sets itself apart from other course providers. Coursera makes this possible by working with several organizations and top universities to offer thousands of free and paid courses – all online.
Massive Open Online Courses
Coursera is a provider of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).
MOOC courses can have unlimited participation and are open to anyone with internet access. However, there’s also the issue of money. Some classes are free, but others are not. The goal is to encourage online learning while making it easily accessible. For example, the 2020 course, Science Matters: Let’s Talk about Covid-19, had more than 143,000 students.
The idea was born when Standford University professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller offered their Standford courses online. The success of the online courses encouraged the professors to create Coursera, which has grown exponentially since its founding in 2012. Standford University was the first university to offer the Coursera platform. Other prestigious universities, including Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan, were the first to join Coursera. As a result, Coursera has more than 200 universities and organizations offering their courses, including the University of Sao Paulo, the University of London, the Indian School of Business, Yonsei University, and Yale.
In the beginning, Coursera offered skill-building courses and has expanded to offer specializations, certifications, and degrees for individuals. In addition, businesses and government organizations have access to workforce development projects.
Courses are grouped into topics, and each topic covers hundreds of courses. Current topics include:
- Data Science
- Computer Science
- Personal Development
- Information Technology
- Language Learning
- Math and Logic
- Social Sciences
- Arts and Humanities
- Physical Science and Engineering
Courses last from four to twelve weeks and include one to two hours of video lectures every week. Quizzes, homework, and additional assignments are also required. Some courses even have final exams, final projects, and optional honors assignments.
Coursera Learning Programs
Guided projects teach job-related skills in 2-hours. Subject matter experts teach guided projects. Projects are accessible online and include detailed step-by-step instructions. After the 2-hours, students will have the ability to put the skill(s) to use immediately.
Five of the most popular guided projects offered by Coursera Project Network:
- Google Ads for Beginners
- Build a Full Website Using WordPress
- Getting Started with Power BI Desktop
- Introduction to Project Management
Courses are available from some of the world’s top universities and are taught by professional instructors. Coursera currently has more than 3,000 online courses.
Five of the most popular courses:
- Machine Learning (offered by Standford University)
- Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects (offered by McMaster University and University of California at San Diego)
- The Science of Well-Being (offered by Yale University)
- Programming for Everybody: Getting Started with Python (offered by University of Michigan)
- English for Career Development (offered by University of Pennsylvania)
Enrolling in a specialization allows students to master a specific skill – usually career-related. Each specialization includes a series of courses and projects. A specialization certificate is awarded upon completion of the program.
Five of the most popular specializations:
- Python for Everybody (offered by University of Michigan)
- Architecting with Google Compute Engine (offered by Google)
- Applied Data Science with Python (offered by University of Michigan)
- Excel Skills for Business (offered by Macquarie University)
- Improve Your English Communication Skills (offered by Georgia Institute of Technology)
The Professional Certificate program is for students looking for career advancement or a career change. Top companies and universities participate in this program to offer students a variety of options. Once students learn a new skill, they participate in hands-on projects to showcase what they’ve learned.
Five of the most popular professional certificates:
- IBM Full Stack Cloud Developer (offered by IBM)
- Google IT Support (offered by Google)
- Facebook Social Media Marketing (offered by Facebook)
- IBM Data Analyst (offered by IBM)
- Arizona State University TESOL (offered by Arizona State University)
The MasterTrack program is a portion of a university’s on-campus master’s program. The online portion is adapted directly from the in-person master’s class, but it’s less expensive than taking the course on campus.
Each course in the program (known as a MasterTrack) offers credit towards the student’s real-world master’s degree.
For example, a student can enroll in the Social Work: Practice, Policy, and Research MasterTrack Certificate Program. This particular MasterTrack is part of the University of Michigan Master of Social Work master’s program.
A student who completes the MasterTrack earns a MasterTrack certificate. In addition, if the student is admitted to Michigan’s master’s program in social work, they receive credit for the certificate they earned.
In some cases, a university might even reduce the cost of the full on-campus program if a student has earned a MasterTrack certificate.
As of 2021, Coursera offers 24 master’s degree programs. And it typically takes 2-years to 3-years to complete a program.
Five of the most popular MasterTrack certificates:
- Social Work: Practice, Policy, and Research (offered by the University of Michigan)
- Instructional Design (offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
- Machine Learning for Analytics (offered by the University of Chicago)
- Construction Engineering and Management (offered by the University of Michigan)
- Supply Chain Excellence (offered by Rutgers University)
The Degree program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree from a university, but for less than they’d pay to take courses on campus. Instead, students study online and earn course credit the same as students who attend on-campus classes.
Currently, the degree programs are:
- Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of London
- Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Texas
How to Register with Coursera
Registering for Coursera is easy. First, visit the Coursera website and click the join for free button. Then, choose to continue with Google, continue with Facebook, or continue with Apple.
Another option is to enter a name, email, and password to create a new account. Signing up with an organization’s credentials is allowed as well.
Enter the desired login information and then click login for free. That’s it. Creating a Coursera account is just that easy. At this point, it’s possible to create a Coursera profile.
Students can also set their learning goals. Goals include improving current skills or change careers. Coursera then asks for additional information to help create a personalized Coursera experience.
Students who choose to improve their current skills are asked which skills they want to improve. And if they currently have any experience in that area.
Students who choose the change career option are asked what they want to become. They are then asked to select the industry they want to enter and the specific skills they want to learn.
The student dashboard includes:
- My courses – lists courses that are in progress or completed
- Profile – lists student information
- My purchases – lists all purchases made on Coursera
- Get 50% off – offer to get 50% off of a course or specialization when a friend joins Coursera and makes a purchase
- Settings – make changes to profile options such as contact information, saved payment information, and communication preferences
- Updates – lists course updates
- Accomplishments – lists student accomplishments
- Help center – a collection of Coursera help topics
- Log out
How to Register for a Course
Registering for a course is as easy as registering for the website. The most difficult thing is navigating through the more than 3000 available courses. However, the Coursera search engine makes the task much easier.
Steps to Enroll in a Course
- Click on the course title listed in the Coursera catalog. Clicking opens the course information page.
- Click the Enroll button.
- Read the instructions for completing enrollment in the course. Some courses offer a free trial or have financial aid available.
Each course includes a detailed course description, which includes information such as:
- The name of the course
- How many students are enrolled
- A detailed course syllabus, the skills taught in the course, the course instructor, and which school or organization is offering the course
- Details about the language used in the course and which subtitles are available
- How long it takes to complete the course and its level of difficulty
- Rating and comments provided by former students
Navigating Coursera payment options is a bit tricky. That’s because course price depends on the type of course, the length of the course, and the subject.
The prices below provide an idea of what to expect price-wise.
- Individual courses lasting from 4 weeks to 6 weeks generally range from free up to $99 per course.
- Specialization program courses lasting from 4 months to 6 months range in price from $39 to $79 per course.
- Online degree programs lasting from 1 year to 3 years range in price from $15,000 to $25,000.
A Note about Specializations
Some courses belong to specializations. Courses in the Specialization program are part of a series created to help students master a topic. However, it’s possible to take these specialized courses without enrolling in the Specialization program.
Coursera issues a course certificate for completed courses, even when a student doesn’t participate in the entire program. It’s important to understand this because otherwise, a student might see a course in specialization and assume they can’t take a single course.
If it’s possible to pay for the specialization course individually, then students can choose that option. But if the specialization requires a subscription, students can subscribe, take the courses they want, and then cancel the subscription.
Students will not receive credit for the entire specialization, but they will receive credit for their completed courses.
Retaking a Course
Coursera doesn’t limit the ability to retake courses. Any student who wants to retake an individual course can do so. Retaking a course also means having to retake quizzes, exams, and redo projects. Just keep in mind that only the most recent grade counts.
In some cases, it’s possible to reset a course. For example, a student might start a course and fail to finish. Sometimes life gets in the way, and things don’t work as planned. If a course allows it, the student can reset the course and start from the beginning.
Test the Waters with a Free Course
Enrolling in a free course is the perfect way to give Coursera a test run. Students who enroll in free courses get to see exactly how Coursera works, but for free.
The courses below are five of the most popular free courses Coursera has to offer.
- The Science of Well-Being (offered by Yale University) – In this course, students complete a series of challenges designed to increase happiness and build productive habits. More than 3 million students have taken this course, and it’s the most popular course on Coursera.
- Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects (offered jointly by McMaster University and the University of California San Diego) – In this course, students learn how to implement learning techniques used by experts in the sciences, math, music, and more. There’s also a focus on how the brain learns, memory techniques, and dealing with procrastination.
- Financial Markets (offered by Yale University) – Financial Markets explores the methods, ideas, and institutions that permit humans to manage risks and develop projects. There is an emphasis on how to build financially sound leadership skills.
The overall goal of this course is to explore how the banking, insurance, and securities industries can help improve society.
- Machine Learning (offered by Stanford University) – Machine learning is the exploration of teaching computers how to function without being programmed. Self-driving cars and practical speech recognition are products of machine learning.
The course teaches students the most effective machine learning techniques. There’s also a focus on learning how to implement these techniques and use them to solve various kinds of problems.
- Covid-19 Contact Tracing (offered by Johns Hopkins University) – The popularity of this class is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for contact tracing. This course teaches about SARS-CoV-2, its infectious period, symptoms of COVID-19, how it’s spread, and how contact tracing helps slow the spread.
Students also learn common contact tracing hurdles and how to overcome them.
Coursera for Campus Student Plan
Coursera for Campus Student plan is a program for college and university students. This free program gives students access to unlimited guided projects and one free course per year. The goal is to help students develop job-related skills and gain the experience they can list on a resume.
Full-time, part-time, university, and community college students are eligible for the Coursera student plan. A valid college or university email is required for enrollment.
Coursera verifies college and university email addresses with a database that contains educational domains. Students need to create an account using their school-issued email address to gain access to the student program. If the domain is listed in Coursera’s domain database, then enrollment will proceed as normal.
If the school’s domain isn’t included in the domain database, the college or university will create a Coursera for Campus Institution plan.
Coursera will validate the school’s information and start an official Coursera program with the school. Coursera will then inform students who tried to register that their school is now a part of the program. At this point, registration can proceed as normal.
Students can also choose to audit a course. Auditing a course means that the student gets complete access to it but doesn’t get credit.
Coursera for Business
Coursera for Business is a program for companies that want to train employees. For example, the business might need to train a small team of employees or the entire workforce.
Businesses can use Coursera to access more than 3,000 courses and create a learning program specifically for their employees. The Enterprise Plan is for 100 users or more. Then there’s the Team Plan, which is for 5 to 99 users.
The Enterprise Plan includes advanced analytics, custom course curation, integrations, and a sales and customer success assistance program.
The Team Plan is for businesses that prefer a self-serve option. This plan has fewer features than the Enterprise Plan, but it includes basic reporting, a custom learning program, and the ability to add additional students.
One possible negative aspect of a business plan is that some courses are unavailable. If a business wants its employees to take a course not part of the business plan, then there’s no way to add the course. However, Coursera will offer to find an alternative.
For whatever reason, there are some courses that Coursera industry and university partners make unavailable to business customers. Unfortunately, there’s no explanation for this difference, but Coursera does provide a full list of courses excluded from the business plans.
Billing Options for Businesses and Organizations
Businesses interested in a Coursera plan should contact the company for a quote. Prices vary based on the number of students participating in the program.
A small organization can make a yearly payment for however long they want to continue the plan. An alternative is to make installment payments for a minimum of 12-months.
A small organization’s plan lasts for 1-year but renews annually until canceled. A business will retain access to courses for 12-months. Course access is revoked once a company cancels its plan. Anyone who hasn’t completed their courses can do so, but in audit mode only.
Acceptable payment methods include Credit cards, Visa debit, Mastercard debit, and PayPal. Unfortunately, Coursera doesn’t accept pre-paid cards or American Express from foreign countries.
Large organizations have different billing options. The Coursera contract will include the number of students, the student limit, additional costs, and billing terms. A large organization should contact its Coursera Account Manager for payment information.
Overall Coursera Opinion
Coursera is worth considering for individuals, students, and businesses interested in online learning. There are thousands of courses on topics that will interest many online learners.
The platform does what it promises in that it provides learners with the resources to improve their skills or learn new ones. Coursera is also convenient for people who don’t have access to traditional classroom learning because of location, time, or money.
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