Coursera is one of the biggest names in online education. There’s no refuting that.
When some sites and services get really big it can make them forget what made them great in the first place, and while Coursera definitely has some strikes against it, they hold a pretty good rating among the general public.
If your goal is to learn a new skill, advance a job skill, or proliferate effectiveness in a hobby, Coursera offers plenty of options to give you the tools you need to succeed.
This Coursera review will teach you that a few bad apples don’t spoil the bunch, because with the hundreds of thousands of students that Coursera has hosted, you’re going to run into some less-than-ideal situations.
We’ll discuss pricing, the freemium plan they have, how easy they are to use, and everything in between.
What is Coursera?
Coursera is an online education platform that acts similarly to a portal, giving you access to multiple courses from leading universities.
There are over two-hundred partners from nearly fifty countries that are part of the Coursera network.
Coursera is designed to make the at-home online learning experience affordable, intuitive, and get you on a career track that pertains to your field. You have access to over 2,000+ courses developed by some of the best educational minds in the world that lead educational efforts in dozens of countries.
On your own time, in the skills that you want to learn, from higher minds that what you can find on most online learning institutions. With new courses added frequently, you can find an intuitive way to learn a marketable skill that you’ve always wanted to know more about.
Why Use Coursera?
Coursera was developed by Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, two Stanford University professors in computer science.
Not only do they know what it takes to provide top-tier, quality education, but they’ve taken all the necessary steps to make Coursera emulate a real college experience (the learning part, not so much on the party scene).
That’s a great origin story, but it’s not enough to get someone to just join Coursera because accredited people made it. The thing is, Coursera is one of the very few online learning platforms that offer you accreditation.
Upon completion, you will receive a certificate with the Coursera stamp of approval on it, which is recognized by over two-hundred leading universities in America, including Stanford (it would be pretty ironic if they didn’t recognize it).
For all intents and purposes, you could learn a skill online with Coursera at your own pace, and use that like an associate’s degree (not the same thing, but it does mean something) to try and get into accelerated learning courses from a major university or educational institution.
You can not only save time with Coursera and turn two years of learning into six months of learning, but you can save five figures on major college tuitions at the same time.
Even if you don’t plan on transferring to a college, you can take your accreditation as a personal sign of achievement, and apply yourself in whatever field you received the certificate in. The skills and everything you’ve learned don’t go away, and as of recent years, most entrepreneurs don’t exactly care about degrees as much as universities would have you believe.
Coursera Ease of Use
It’s one of the easiest online education platforms to learn from. They make it as intuitive as possible, so you just sign in, sign up for a course, and hit the ground running.
You’ll be able to kick off your courses throughout multiple start points of the year, unlike traditional college semester start dates, or opt into a class as a no-credit student until the next roundup begins.
Navigating the site and understanding the material is very straightforward with Coursera.
What Types of Courses Does Coursera Offer?
Coursera offers courses in math and logic, computer science, arts and humanities, data science, language learning, social sciences, personal development, and physical science and engineering—any critical, core college-level skill/educational material that you could expect from the likes of Duke and Stanford.
Coursera has tons of available courses in these fields that do not fall in those categories, though, such as psychological first aid, writing in the sciences, financial markets, introduction to psychology and more, many of which are available for free.
These are introductory courses that get you used to an instructor and their teaching style in the hopes that you will then sign up for their other courses, which cost money.
With Coursera, your online courses are pre-recorded. These are done by individual universities, or the slew of lower-tier free courses they offer as well.
All courses are pre-recorded, though you can still have access to contact information by instructors, who answer mostly at their leisure.
A specialization is a course that is made up of classes from other courses, often referred to as a micro-credential course. These are stitched together from multiple courses to give you a varied learning experience, and arguably more knowledge on a subject than someone who takes on course exclusively.
When you work on a specialization, you’re still working towards a professional certificate (and in some cases a full degree), but it’s definitely a disjointed learning experience compared to their linear class structures. That’s not a bad thing, by the way: it gives you a unique opportunity than an in-person university can’t.
Professional certificates can be used to make you job-ready in a short time frame. When applying to jobs, you can include these under credentials.
Even some businesses that require an Associate’s Degree may look favorably upon a professional certificate, so these can be degree-alternatives that cost less money, and require less time, while still getting you into a career field of your choice.
MasterTrack certificates allow you to take one full college semester online and get on the fast track to mastering a specific skill of your choosing.
Consider this to be the first stepping stone to a full Master’s Degree, since most of these programs allow you to transfer credits to actual college Master’s Degrees. The fine print can get a little dodgy, but these are great ways to even see if, by the end of the semester, this is a skill you still want to pursue based on your streamlined knowledge of it.
Coursera isn’t Udemy, and it isn’t Skillshare—you’re not getting away with cheap classes and a subscription model here, but that’s because they’re accredited by hundreds of universities and you can get a physical degree from them.
This is what you can expect from their pricing.
There are free courses on Coursera, but they’re not as in-depth as the paid-for, university-designed ones. That, and they offer no accreditation. You can still learn a great deal and enhance a job skill with these free courses, just don’t expect a miracle. You will find an increased level of quality here over many courses available on subscription course sites, though.
Full-fledged courses (provided from universities) are charged per credit hour. This can cost you $330 per credit hour, which is a fairly standard price on Coursera, to about $400 per hour. If you’re trying to get a Master’s Degree strictly online, they usually require about 120 credit hours, meaning around $39,000 to $45,000 USD.
However, the average cost of a Master’s Degree in the US is $40,000 up to $100,000 depending on the school. Pricing isn’t always going to be a steal on Coursera, but the flexibility and ability to earn a Master’s in a single year is worth a few extra dollars here and there.
For individual access to specializations, you can expect anywhere from $39 per month to $89 per month. This is used to attract lower budgets, but because Coursera has the empirical data to go off of, we’re willing to bet that they’re hedging on you not optimizing your money and time.
If you subscribe to a specialization, let’s say for $39 per month, and you finish it ahead of the five-month expectation they give, you could effectively contribute to your micro-accreditation for a fifth of a single credit hour in a higher-tier course. Specializations can be used aggressively to lower the cost of your education and expedite the time track.
Coursera doesn’t just have a simple pricing method, and because of that, professional certificates can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a bit more.
For the most part, you can take professional certificate programs for free, but it’s buying the certificate of completion at the end where they get you to pay. If you want, you can start one of these certificate courses as long as you know you’ll have money within six months of completion to buy the certificate.
You won’t find a MasterTrack certificate for under $2,000, but you also won’t find any that are more expensive than $5,000 according to Coursera’s FAQ on MasterTrack certificates.
These can work as college credits, although you do have to be careful about how you pursue it. That makes it worthwhile depending on the field you’re getting into, and keep in mind that these are designed to get you on track to a Master’s degree (hence the name). The certificates still help with job-seeking.
How to Use Coursera
You like the platform, you like what they offer, but now it’s time to find out just how you can use them to enhance your education.
Accessing classes, accounting, and more, there are plenty of options no matter how you use Coursera.
Coursera, like many online education platforms, does come with an app that you can download for either iOS or Android devices. They win major points here, because their course has a ton of features that come very close to their full service.
You can learn from anywhere, stream video, and even download it for later use (though the file sizes are large and it’s not recommended on mobile, but it’s still an option). Overall, they made a very intuitive app with few restrictions.
The design is where Coursera shines. We wouldn’t recommend having your only interaction with Coursera be through mobile use, because it takes a while to know what you want out of the platform, but the app does a good job of emulating the web-based application experience.
Though not the fault of the app, you may encounter video streaming problems depending on where you are or what connection you have. Note that you cannot access or apply for financial aid on the mobile app; that has to be done on a PC or laptop with a stable connection through the full site.
You can download Coursera on a Windows 10 operating system. It downloads as an app instead of an individual program, but doesn’t restrict access to Coursera features in any capacity.
You’ll be able to go through every course you’re subscribed to or have purchased. Because Coursera is pre-recorded, bandwidth drops on Wi-Fi through your desktop doesn’t kick you out of the app. Instead, it will recognize the internet performance drop, and refresh gently. You may have to scroll back to where you were in the video, but that’s better than restarting the course entirely.
The most common way people are accessing their Coursera courses is through web-based access. Here, you’re always guaranteed to be on the most current version of Coursera with no updates or downloads required. No need to check the app store; you just get on and get going.
Log in to your Coursera account, and you’ll be met with a dashboard that explains your current courses. You can take multiple courses at the same time, so it’s important to know that you won’t automatically access your most recent or only course when you log in. Coursera does a good job of not bombarding you with ads on their platform, but you may be met with recommendations.
Access videos, downloadable content, and more from the Coursera website. You’ll have the option to download videos to view offline (great for laptop use during commuting), and sign up for new courses easily.
While the mobile app is decent, it doesn’t have the same functionality as the web-based application. Depending on your computer setup, you’ll find web-based application use to be better and more immersive for learning.
What Makes Coursera Stand Out From the Competition?
It’s one of the few online places that isn’t a direct college site where you can actually earn college degrees. Not a certificate that you print out and hang on the wall for no reason—real college degrees from top universities.
Apart from the accreditation, you can earn these degrees in record time. It’s possible to earn a Master’s in six months on Coursera, depending on your availability. Every course is about quality over quantity, so you’re able to get a revolving door of instructors in multiple areas that help accelerate your learning through pre-recorded videos.
On the flip side, the price gap is also what separates them from other online learning sites. At the end of the day, having a degree may get you into a few more job opportunities, but in 2020, less and less employers are requiring degrees. They just want to know that you can do the work effectively. Coursera is the best way to get an online degree that we’ve ever experienced.
Coursera Customer Service
Coursera customer service used to be terrible, based on online reviews and a ton of war stories that you can find on forums, but in recent years it appears that they’ve pulled themselves up from the rubble and reformed everything.
Perhaps it’s the spike in popularity, but they now understand that customer service is most of the interactions that people actually have with a service. It’s a fair way to judge them and tell if they have your best interest in heart or not, so we’d say that their customer service (after contacting them ourselves) is pretty spot-on and knowledgeable.
Pros and Cons of Coursera
- Earn a University Degree: Yes, you can hop on Coursera and earn actual degrees from real universities. Become a Master of Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or become a bachelor of Science in Computer Science offered by the University of London. There are tons of professional certificates and full-fledged degrees that you can earn (for less than the cost of attending university) on Coursera.
- Tons of Courses to Choose From: Coursera started out in 2012 with a very small number of courses, but now, they’re boasting well over 6,000, and the list keeps on growing. 6,000+ options may not seem like a lot when you compare it against other online course websites, but they’re taught by PhD holders, top-tier universities, and depending on what technical skill you want to learn, the sky’s the limit.
- Quality Over Quantity: Yes, there are a lot of courses available, but nothing compared to Skillshare’s 20,000+, or Udemy’s 130,000+. That being said, Coursera focuses on quality courses over simply having a ton of them. That’s why they partner with top universities to bring you top-notch education over simply having more choices.
- Expensive: No matter how you swing it, you’re getting a higher level of education that can be applied to college credits. You can earn a Master’s Degree from your couch. That being said, you’re still going to pay for more than a $19 Udemy course. Some Bachelor’s Degrees cost you $330 per credit hour, which isn’t uncommon from four-year universities. Except the difference is your own level of progress: you can do as many credit hours per week as possible (depending on what the course allows), and expedite your learning path. You could earn a Bachelor’s in eight to sixteen weeks online, but the faster you learn, the quicker you need to have money available. Coursera offers financial assistance, though, which is definitely worth looking into.
- Questions? You’re on Your Own: Due to limited instructor interaction, unlike traditional college, you’re not going to have as much time to talk to an instructor. It’s all done over the internet, so if they either ignore an email or don’t see one, then that question is never going to get answered. While in our experience, Coursera instructors do a good job at answering questions, they could have hundreds in each individual class and get overwhelmed, so communication can be a problem.
- No In-Depth Feedback: As we mentioned before, your interaction with your instructor is somewhat limited. This means that because they have so many students and so little time (that they’re paid for, at least), you may not get in-depth analyses on your submissions. Peer-to-peer editing and feedback is something you’ll have to get comfortable with if you want to succeed with Coursera.
Coursera: One of the Last Learning Platforms You’ll Ever Need
Is it fair to say that Coursera is the only online education platform that you should be using?
No, but they’re pretty close to having it all. You can still gain a lot from trying different services and platforms, but if you had to choose just one (budgeting, time, whatever the reason is), Coursera is a safe bet.
In recent years, they’ve only advanced their customer service skills, and paid attention to areas where they were lacking. I’m sure we can all think of at least one brand or company that we’ve had horrible interactions with time after time, but Coursera has definitely taken criticism and done something constructive with it.
It’s not only a safe bet, but a platform chock full of fantastic courses that are waiting for you right now.