I love online education.
Not just any education—but education that betters me in a practical way. I’ve taken a lot of courses in my life, but I hadn’t tried Coursera.
Once I found out more about it, I knew I needed to take a course and see if it lived up to the hype. There are tons of classes to choose from some of the top universities in the world, and it’s completely online.
So, I delved right in to Coursera. I did it to better myself, and so that I could tell you whether it’s worth it.
Keep reading to find out everything you wanted to know about Coursera.
This is an honest, unbiased and non-nonsense review of my experience with Coursera so you can decide whether the mega popular platform is right for you.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is Coursera?
- What is unique about Coursera?
- Who Coursera is designed for
- How Coursera works
- How much does Coursera cost?
- Is Coursera worth the cost?
- My review of a Coursera Course
- What I like most about Coursera
- Coursera Alternatives
- FAQs about Coursera
- My Verdict: Is Coursera worth it?
What is Coursera?
Founded in 2012 by two Stanford professors, Coursera is an online platform that offers educational courses with a certificate or degree after completion.
So, unlike some of the other education platforms that I’ve tried, Coursera gives you something to show for it at the end.
And Coursera is a huge platform. There are thousands of courses available on just about any subject you’re interested in. Coursera has grown so much in recent years that it’s now a $1 billion company.
They’re constantly adding more courses too, which truly means there’s something for everyone.
But what sets Coursera apart is that its courses are taught by faculty from some of the top universities around the world. Standford, Yale and Harvard have created a number of courses, as has international institutions such as the University of London and HEC Paris.
In fact, if you spend some time browsing the courses on the Coursera webite, you’ll realize that large and elite universities dominate the offerings. This is probably because making online courses are labor intensive and expensive and niche institutions simply don’t have the resources to participate.
The quality of the universities immediately caught my attention. If I could learn from top professors at well-respected universities, what was holding me back?
I knew I had to dig in and see what everyone had been talking about.
What is unique about Coursera?
There are other online education platforms out there, such as Udemy, MasterClass and Skillshare.
What’s different about Coursera?
For one, Coursera hands out certificates or degrees once you’ve completed the course. These certificates are personalized with your name and have the accreditation through the university that’s teaching the course.
That means you could take a course from Yale University (like I did – more on that below) and get a certificate from Yale.
Pretty cool, right?
The jury is probably still out about how prized these certificates are. Although they show you’ve completed a course from a well known university, they’re obviously not a replacement for a traditional university degree.
I discuss these certificates and how you can potentially use them in more detail below.
Unlike other platforms like Udemy, Coursera has also partnered with elite universities and their faculty. If the idea of being taught by professors from universities such as Yale and Stanford takes your fancy, then keep reading.
Coursera also has coursework and quizzes that you have to pass to successfully complete the course and there are active discussion forums that add a level of interaction. On other platforms, you pretty much sit and watch a video (which I also love doing).
So Coursera actually puts you to work. You have to study the material in some detail to pass the course and receive a certificate.
Who Coursera is designed for
Coursera aims to provide high-quality education to practically anyone, regardless of their background or previous education level.
In saying that, I think Coursera is ideal for :
- Those who want to learn something new and are attracted to a structured online course taught.
- Those who want to enhance their skills in a practical way, especially if the coursework is career-related.
Coursera isn’t for everyone.
You don’t get the credentials, the networking opportunities or communal experience of a traditional institution. Students will also have little or no contact with their professors.
What you do get, however, is the flexibility and accessibility of quality online education for a fraction of what you would otherwise pay.
That appeals to me in a big way.
How Coursera works
You have 4 options when it comes to taking a course on Coursera:
- Browse a course for free
- Take a course and receive a certificate
- Take a course and receive a specialized certificate
- Enroll in an online degree.
I’ll break down each option below.
Browse a course for free
You can browse any course on Coursera you want for free, including reviewing some of the teaching and other materials on offer. This is a great way to learn new things and get a taste for online education.
A regular certificate
But if you want a certificate after completing any of the courses, you’ll need to pay a small fee. You’ll also need to pass the graded tests and quizzes. At the completion of the course, you’ll get your certificate.
Coursera also offers specialized certificates.
Let’s say that you’re big into marketing and want to refresh your skills. You’d take one of the marketing courses they offer, do all the work, pass the quizzes and tests, and then you’d get the certificate.
But the big difference between the regular certificate and the specialized certificate is time.
A regular certificate implies that you took the course—which lasts four to six weeks. The specialized certificate means that you took the specialized course—which lasts four to six months.
It’s a big time difference, and the specialized courses are set up on a subscription model.
Really, it depends on what you think will be best for your career. A course with a regular certificate probably isn’t going to make you an expert in anything. It’s like dipping your toes in the water.
But a specialized certificate means you spend nearly half a year learning, so you’ll get a lot more information out of it, and your certificate will carry a lot more weight professionally.
The fourth option you have with Coursera is to enroll in an online degree.
This degree carries the same weight as a degree you’d receive from a college or university. They’re also a lot cheaper. Coursera offer a number of degrees, but the most popular ones at the moment are MBAs.
It’s definitely not the normal college experience, but that’s what’s potentially so great about it. You can easily take these courses while working full-time, and you can earn your degree on your own schedule.
You may not have time to attend classes every day, but you can log onto your computer and do the assigned work right from home, your office, or the nearest café. This makes it a lot more accessible to earn the degree.
While I haven’t personally enrolled in a degree through Coursera, those who have been happy with the results and work.
How much does Coursera cost?
All of this sounds great, but much will Coursera cost you?
Well, this depends on a few different things.
If you want to take the course just to experience it and learn something new, you can audit nearly every course for free.
It’s when you want something to show for it at the end you’ll have to stump up a small fee.
If you want a regular certificate, you can plan on paying around $49. However, some of the longer or more advanced classes can cost up to $79.
If you plan on getting a specialized certificate, you’ll pay monthly via their subscription model. Every specialized course comes with a free 7-day trial so that you can decide whether or not you like it and want to continue.
A specialized course takes around 4-6 months to complete. You’ll pay $49-$79 per month depending on the course. So, taking a course and getting a specialized certificate at the end can cost you anywhere from $200 to $480.
As far as the costs of Coursera degrees, they’re not completely transparent on their website and you’ll have to contact them directly for more information.
It will obviously vary depending on the degree and the length of the program, but on their website, they do say that a regular degree that would cost $52,000 on campus at a university would cost $22,000 through Coursera.
Is Coursera worth the cost?
As someone who loves personal development, I’ve tried a lot of different online education platforms. As to whether or not Coursera is worth it, I’d have to say ‘it depends’.
I think if you’re taking a course for personal development and don’t care about receiving a degree or certificate at the end, I’d say definitely go for it.
Most of the classes are free to audit, although you don’t get to participate in all of their features, such as the discussion forums. You can read some of the materials, learn some new things, and weigh up whether you want to pay for one of the certificates.
I never complain about learning new things.
As for whether it’s worth it to pay for a regular certificate, this depends on you. Clearly, taking a 4 to 6 week course part-time isn’t going to make you a certified expert in any subject, and a certificate won’t be held in as high regard as a formal qualification from a college of university
There isn’t a huge vetting process done with the certificates. Anyone can enroll in a Coursera course and the tests and quizzes won’t weed out the average students from the exceptional ones.
So, employers don’t really know whether or not a certificate in something is valuable because there’s no baseline for your results to be compared against.
All a certificate shows is that you took the class.
I’d say that a certificate would be a nice addition to a CV and shows you have a commitment to the subject, but it may not boost your job prospects in a material way.
A specialized course is great value
However, I do think that the specialized courses would have tangible benefits for your career. There is so much information in these courses, and you’re going to spend four to six months in the course. That means you’re going to learn a lot and develop marketable new skills.
And for anywhere from $200-$480 in total, it’s worth it.
That’s a lot cheaper than taking a college course to improve your skills, and it’s going to be a lot more specialized as well.
If you want to develop your skills, these specialized courses are fantastic.
But a word of caution…
Some employers aren’t going to be too familiar with these courses yet. Does it help that they come from accredited universities?
But will it mean much to someone who isn’t familiar with online education or how Coursera works?
I can’t speak too much about whether an online degree is worth it from Coursera because they’re pretty tight lipped about it on their website. You have to request information directly from them, and then they go over all your different options.
The price of an online degree will vary depending on the university you get the degree from and how many classes you’re taking or need to take.
At first glance, Coursera substantially cuts down on the cost of a degree. It’s also nice that you can do it while working full-time as well or juggle it around your other commitments.
You’ll miss out on some things, like in-person contact and ease of talking to your professors, but for the price cut alone, I think it’s worth considering
My review of a Coursera Course
To get the full experience of Coursera, I decided to take a course.
Based on what I read online and the fact that I’ve decided to embark on a much needed health kick in 2020, I chose Yale University’s The Science of Well-Being.
I figured some personal development in the wellbeing space was a great way to start out 2020. As it turns out, I was right.
What a Coursera course looks like
Registering for the course was easy. When you get to the homepage on Coursera, you can explore all of Coursera.
Go through the topics until you find something you like. For me, it was The Science of Well-Being.
After enrolling in the course, it took me to the overview, which you can consider to be something like a syllabus. There is an introduction from the instructor, Professor Santos, which made the course feel more human to me.
I liked that I didn’t feel like I was completely left to my own devices. The course was well structured and broken down into weekly readings and videos to watch.
You can see what your homepage will look like in this picture:
To me, I think the best part of the course was how easy everything was. I’ll admit it—I can get sidetracked easily.
If there isn’t something that’s holding my attention, I get bored or my mind wanders. I am not the type of person who sits in three-hour long lectures by choice.
That’s why this course was good for me. Each week is aksi broken up into smaller chunks.
So, each week, you have an introduction from your professor. Again, for me, this was a lot more personalized than some of the other educational platforms I’ve been on.
I liked it.
Then, you have your learning objectives. Each week is broken down with what you should learn this week. It’s just a few bullet points that generalize what the topics are going to be.
For this course, you’re working on rewiring your brain to be happy. So, each week then has your “rewirements.” This is basically the lessons that you’ll be learning.
There were readings and videos for each week. I found the videos were pretty high quality. You can see a snapshot of what they look like in the photo below:
I know this could vary by course, but the professor in my course was personable. She was interesting to listen to, and though some of the topics were science-heavy, she broke them down into easy to understand lessons.
The readings were comprehensive, albeit a little long. I’m sure that this varies by course as well. Here are what my readings looked like:
For me, I wished that the readings were a bit more ‘alive’. However, they were comprehensive, and I learned a lot.
That being said, I don’t know if I’d truly read through them unless I was paying for the certificate.
At the end of the week, you have a quiz.
Then, you can also choose to do more readings if you’d like. You go through the quizzes and answer the questions, and then it grades you immediately afterwards, which is nice.
At the conclusion of the course, there’s a peer-reviewed assignment, which is also kind of cool. It allows you to interact with other students in the course and talk about all of the information you’re learning.
Maybe the greatest thing for me was the discussion forums. There are discussion forums that are broken down by each week. And on top of that, there are lots of threads and replies. Some threads are more active than others, but there are active threads every week, and this sort of interaction really kept me motivated throughout the course.
Here’s a snapshot of the discussion forums for the first week of the course:
My verdict on the course
So, what did I think of the actual course?
I really liked it. Positivity is something that all of us seem to struggle with. But it turns out that it may not be our fault.
It’s sort of how our brains are wired these days. But that doesn’t have to stay that way. And that’s what this course showed me.
In The Science of Well-Being, you’ll learn how to rewire your brain so that you think more positively about all aspects of life.
Those who are more positive tend to have better outcomes in life. Obviously, this is something I wanted to focus on. We all want better outcomes. Whether you want more success in your business or life in general, being positive can help you reach that.
The course opens up talking about happiness in general. Professor Santos then talks about how we’re all wrong about happiness. We have these misconceptions in our life that make happiness seem unreachable or fleeting.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
She talks about why we’re wired to have such bad expectations in life and how we can overcome those biases. Then, she talks about finding stuff that truly makes us happy and using proven strategies to stay happy.
What I liked about this course is that it wasn’t full of fluff and filler content. It used real, science-backed strategies to create a better life.
And while I probably won’t be using every strategy, I will be using the ones that really resonated with me.
She talked a lot about changing your situation if it’s not working for you. Not only should you use mindfulness, but when you realize that things aren’t working for you, you have to change the situation.
It’s all about spending time doing things that make you happiest. And though that sounds easy, it’s one of the hardest things all of us face. We tend to stay in certain situations to make others happy.
Professor Santos goes over all of this, and she leaves you feeling empowered and ready to be happy.
What I like most about Coursera
Accessibility and convenience
The great thing about Coursera, and other online education platforms more generally, is how accessible and convenient quality education becomes.
You can study the materials, watch the videos, and complete the work in your own time and according to your own schedule.
I completed my course mainly at night after my work was finished for the day. I logged in and out when I wanted. If the course was more rigid in terms of live lectures or scheduled tests, then I probably wouldn’t have been able to complete the course at all.
Another thing to add on the accessibility of coursera. As you probably know by now, anyone can enrol in Coursera, no matter your background or how much (if any) education you have completed previously. This really democratizes education and opens up learning for anyone.
I’m all for that.
The downside to this though is that there is no exclusivity to receiving a Coursera certificate. Anyone can pay the fee and complete the course.
If you’re enrolling in Coursera for career advancement, this is probably something you should consider.
While Coursera courses don’t have the same exclusivity or carry the same credentials as traditional higher education courses, they’re also significantly cheaper to enroll in.
There really is no comparison between Coursera and traditional education in terms of price. Coursera is dirt cheap however you look at it.
Cost is a big factor for most people. And traditional higher education is unaffordable for many people.
This is why I like Coursera so much.
The quality is good
The quality of Coursera courses are generally fantastic.
And this isn’t really surprising.
Many of the popular courses were created by institutions such as Yale, Stanford and Harvard and they have the resources, faculty and motivation to create engaging study materials and videos with high production qualities.
The courses are also easy to navigate. Videos, tests, discussion forums and extra reading materials are intuitive to access and well structured.
There are a lot of online educational platforms out there. You may be wondering how Coursera holds up win comparison to MasterClass, Udemy, and Skillshare.
As someone who’s done all three, here’s what I think:
Coursera vs MasterClass
Coursera vs MasterClass is something I’ve been asked about a lot. Since I love MasterClass and have taken half a dozen of its classes, I feel comfortable saying that these two platforms are nothing alike.
MasterClass has a series of courses about a lot of creative things, and they’re taught by professionals. Not only professionals, but celebrities in their field. All the professors are people widely recognizable.
It’s awesome. And I love it.
But Coursera is different. Coursera gives you a certificate at the end of the course. MasterClass doesn’t.
If you’re on the lookout for something that will help you build your resume, Coursera is better. If you’re looking for true hard skills you can use, Coursera is the one you should go with.
If you’re more interested in being inspired about a subject you love and want to learn from industry legends, MasterClass is the better platform.
Coursera vs Udemy
Coursera is known for academic courses. They’re so academic they even offer degrees.
Udemy isn’t. Udemy specializes in soft skills or hobbies that may not be academic. Those who are interested in art, creativity, and personal development will find lots of courses on Udemy for them.
Those who want to learn academically will find a lot more on Coursera for them.
The courses on both are good value. It’s really just what you’re more interested in.
Skillshare offers courses in nearly everything. Almost like a mix of Coursera and Udemy, there are courses for business and courses for fun as well.
But, Coursera is huge. Skillshare is much smaller, and the professors aren’t necessarily as decorated as those on Coursera.
It’s not that it’s bad, because it’s not, but it isn’t the same caliber as Coursera. If you want courses that are easily digested and fast (some of the courses are just an hour long and can be watched at 2x speed), then Skillshare is great.
But don’t expect to get as much from the courses on Skillshare as you get from Coursera.
FAQs about Coursera
Is Coursera free?
Most of the courses on Coursera are free to audit. That means that you can look at the different course materials and even watch the videos. But, if you want a certificate, you’ll have to pay for the course. You also won’t have access to all of the materials if you do not pay for the course.
How much do Coursera courses cost?
Courses cost anywhere from $49-$500+ depending on the length of the course, the program that you’re in, and the type of certificate you want.
Is Coursera legit?
Coursera was started by Stanford professors and is definitely not a scam. It’s an online education platform that teaches new skills through their courses.
Is Coursera accredited?
Not all of Coursera courses are accredited, so this is something you should definitely look at. If you’re interested in accreditation, you’ll have much fewer courses to choose from.
Is Coursera credible?
While the skills you get are credible, whether or not an employer acknowledges them will depend on them. As time goes on, they’re sure to become more recognizable.
How do I sign up for Coursera?
You sign up for Coursera here. You can look through all of the courses before signing up and deciding what to enroll in.
Do I have to have a subscription for Coursera?
If you’re taking a specialized course, you will need to have a Coursera subscription to complete the course. This will take a few months, so you can plan on paying a few hundred dollars for it.
Can I cancel Coursera?
You can cancel your Coursera subscription at any time.
Is there a money-back guarantee?
There is no money-back guarantee for Coursera. However, you can cancel your plan and get a refund within two weeks of signing up.
My Verdict: Is Coursera worth it?
Coursera will not replace the four year university any time soon.
However, enrolling in a course can be a great way to develop new skills and satisfy curiosities. You can receive a high quality micro education from leading universities—and just about any subject you’re interested in—for a relatively small fee.
For the quality of the education you receive from renowned universities, I think Coursera is well worth considering.
However, is Coursera useful for career advancement?
The jury is probably still out whether a Coursera certificate will help you in a material way with your career.
Obviously learners will not receive the credentials they would at a traditional institution.
You can post the certificate to your LinkedIn profile and highlight it in your CV. This shows you have a genuine interest in the subject and took the initiative to upskill yourself in a more in-depth way than reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos.
Whether or not your career gets a boost from enrolling is Coursera is an open question for now.
What I can say for certain is this.
If you’re looking to experiment with online education, and don’t want to make a huge financial investment, then Coursera is definitely worth signing up for. It has a massive user base, a vast and growing catalog of courses, and wide-ranging partnerships with elite American and international instructions.
I was impressed with the quality and effort that went into the course I did. I learned new things and, felt a sense of accomplishment after completing it, and have now definitely jumped on the Coursera bandwagon.