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The Ultimate Coursera Review (2020): Is Coursera Worth It?

March 2020 update: I’m currently stuck at home, isolating myself from others because of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s a perfect time for me to explore e-learning opportunities. Today I’m going to tell you all you need to know about Coursera.

Right now, Coursera is being used by over 43 million students worldwide.

The question is: should you join them?

In this no-nonsense, unbiased Coursera review, I’ll answer the following questions:

  • Is Coursera really worth it?
  • Is an accreditation provided by Coursera legit?
  • Will Coursera help me get a job?

After investigating Coursera and taking several courses, I have compiled this comprehensive Coursera review to help you decide if it’s the right online learning platform for you.

Here we go.

Note: This Coutsera review contains affiliate links which means I’ll make a small commission if you purchase anything from Coursera. However, it didn’t stop me from sharing the bad and the ugly about Coursera below.

What is Coursera?

 

Coursera is an online learning platform. It is much like its competitors, Udemy, MasterClass and Skillshare, in that it’s completely online and covers a large range of topics and courses.

However, what sets Coursera apart from the rest is that they actually hand out certificates and/or degrees once you’ve completed a course.

For example, if you take a course from McMaster University as I did, then you will get a personalized certificate accredited to you by that university.

And Coursera has actually partnered with elite universities and their faculty. The education you receive will be excellent.

Coursera offers over 3,600 courses taught by professors from more than 150 universities and colleges around the world. And these aren’t small, nondescript institutions. Coursera has teamed up with elite universities.

This means you can take courses from professors at prestigious universities like Harvard, Stanford and Duke — how cool is that?

Furthermore, Coursera is not just a passive platform. You can’t simply sit and watch a few videos and then say you’ve learned something. Instead, you will actually have to put in the work.

For example, most courses will require you to do quizzes, readings, peer-reviewed assignments, and of course, meet a minimum grade before you can successfully pass the course.

Hence, Coursera is ideal for those who want to enhance their skills, especially if those skills are career-related, but don’t want to commit to studying in a traditional higher education setting.

Is Coursera free?

Yes, Coursera is free.

However, only to an extent. To fully understand Coursera’s pricing model, you first have to realize that they are currently offering 5 different learning options:

  • Individual Courses
  • Specializations
  • Professional Certificates
  • MasterTrack Certificates
  • Degrees

Each learning program caries in length, difficulty and price.

So, what are the differences between these 5 learning options?

Coursera 2

Coursera Discounted Courses

Coursera sometimes offers discounts on its courses. Check out the full catalog here.

(This button opens in a new tab so you can keep reading this article)

An overview of the learning options

Individual Courses

Individual Courses are just that; an individual course that you can often take for free. The only catch is that there are only 1210 free courses, while Coursera offers a total of over 3,600 courses on their platform.

However, this is not to say that you cannot still access the entire catalog of Coursera courses for free. There are two ways around it:

  • Audit the course: Auditing the course will allow you to gain full access to the course, just as if you had paid for it. However, the only difference is that you will not have access to the graded items, and nor will you receive a certificate at the end. Personally, I think this a great and viable option to learn new skills and get a taste for what Coursera offers without spending a dime.
  • Free 7 day trial: In the odd case that a course is not free and you cannot audit it either, the last way to get it for free is to take a 7-day trial. You will be required to either enter your credit card details or login with PayPal. However, there is no commitment and you will be able to cancel your subscription at any time before being charged $49 USD/month.

Other ways to access individual courses on Coursera include:

  • Buying the full course with a certificate: With this option, you will get full access to the course as well as a certificate upon completion that you can share on LinkedIn or show potential employers. A full course will typically cost between $29 — $99 USD as a one-time payment.
  • Buying Coursera Plus: The last option is to pay $399 USD/year and gain unlimited access to all of Coursera’s 3,000+ courses. As an additional bonus, you will also have access to Coursera Specializations and Professional Certificates, which we are going to talk about next.

coursera overview

Specializations

Specializations are basically a step up from individual courses.

Rather than merely dipping your toes in and taking just one course on a topic you’re interested in — say Digital Marketing, a Specialization would involve taking multiple courses around that same topic.

For example, here is a Coursera Specialization on SEO:

As you can see, the Specialization is made up of 5 courses, which each cover different components of the Search Engine Optimization topic.

What’s interesting about the pricing with Specializations is that you cannot audit a whole specialization. However, you can audit each individual course within a Specialization.

Thus, rather than paying a subscription fee to take the Specialization, you can simply audit each individual course and learn the skills for free granted that you are not concerned about obtaining a certificate.

If you do wish to obtain a certificate, however, you will either need to pay a monthly subscription that ranges between $39–79 per month.

Or, you could pay a yearly subscription to Coursera Plus that has already been mentioned above.  This will cost $399 USD/year and works out to be $34 USD/month.

A final thing to note about specializations is time:

  • A specialized certificate will take 4–6 months to obtain.
  • A course certificate will take only 4–6 weeks to complete.
  • Right now, Coursera has 990 specializations on offer, and you can browse them here.

I would also recommend you create a free Coursera login at the same time as course prices are only visible to logged in members.

Professional Certificates

Professional certificates are very much like Individual Courses and Specializations. Here’s a screenshot here of Coursera’s “SAS Programmer Professional Certificate:”

 

As you can see, this Professional Certificate is made up of 3 courses, and you can audit each individual course for free.

However, the thing about Professional Certificates is that they are far more career-oriented. They are actually intended to help you to become job-ready by applying new skills on real-world projects.

Additionally, they are also designed to give you a pathway to an industry-recognized certification and provide career support resources.

Therefore, obtaining the Certificate will often be more beneficial than just taking the course. However, you can browse all the Professional Certificates that Coursera has to offer, here, and decide if any are right for you.

Professional Certificates are more hands and will take longer to complete. For example, Coursera suggests that the “SAS Programmer Professional Certificate” will take 2 months to finish at 14 hours per week.

Finally, the price for a Professional Certificate starts at $39 USD per month and goes up to $79 per month.

MasterTrack Certificates

Taking another step up, MasterTrack Certificates are separate portions of Master’s degree programs split up into online modules.

The MasterTrack Certificate programs are made up of both real-world projects and live expert instruction.

The best part? If you do take a full Master’s program at a later date, all your MasterTrack coursework will be counted towards your degree.

What about the price? The cost of a Coursera MasterTrack Certificate is $2,000+ USD. It can either be paid upfront or in four separate installments.

A Coursera MasterTrack Certificate will typically take between 4–8 months to complete, and as far as I know, there is no way to do them for free other than applying for Coursera Financial Aid, which we’ll cover shortly.

For now, here is an overview of last the learning program that Coursera currently offers:

Degrees

Finally, Degrees by Coursera are no different to taking a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree on campus — all the credentials are the same and are fully legit.

However, the bonus about it being completely online is that you can expect to pay a fraction of the price. Coursera compares that an on-campus degree will typically cost $52,000 USD, while a comparable online degree will cost only $22,000.

Of course, you may be thinking that an online degree experience may not be as good as the regular experience. Yes, there will be no student parties or other on-campus activities.

However, each online degree provides an array of discussion forums, and there are also other ways to make the experience more exciting.

Of course, you must also consider the other benefits of studying online. For example:

  • Flexibility to study anywhere and at anytime
  • Don’t need to leave your job or city to access a top university degree
  • There is no speed limit.

Alright, the last one needs a bit of explaining. Derek Sivers wrote an article titled, “There’s no speed limit.” In that, he explains how he completed a 5 year Music Degree in just two years.

Here’s the core piece of advice he shares:

“The standard pace is for chumps — the system is designed so anyone can keep up. If you’re more driven than most people, you can do way more than anyone expects.”

Indeed, most on-campus courses are taught at such a slow and simple rate that even the most unmotivated and lazy students can keep up.

Coursera suggests that most of their degrees will take 1–3 years to complete. However, if you’re driven, I can guarantee that you can get it done a lot quicker.

Given the cheaper rate and also the faster rate of completion, you will likely get a much better ROI by taking an online degree.

The last thing to mention about Coursera Degrees is that you cannot simply enroll and pay money to take this course.

Instead, you will have to apply and be admitted to this program. Once you have met the requirements, you will be able to get started on a degree in Business, Computer Science, Data Science, or Public Health.

Coursera 2

Coursera Discounted Courses

Coursera sometimes offers discounts on its courses. Check out the full catalog here.

(This button opens in a new tab so you can keep reading this article)

Coursera Financial Aid

Worth mentioning is the fact that Coursera also offers financial aid to individuals who cannot afford to pay for a Certificate. You will be able to find the application to apply for Financial Aid on the course home page.

You will be able to apply for Financial Aid for most Courses and Specializations. However, if you are approved for Financial Aid under a specialization, you will get Financial Aid only for the first course.

Coursera states: “You will need to submit separate applications for each new course as you go through the Specialization.”

Financial Aid for higher programs such as MasterTrack Certificates and Degrees are also sometimes available. However, you will need to check each specific course page for their terms and conditions.

Coursera review: My personal experience with Coursera

Last month I decided to take a Coursera course myself, and here is a quick review of my experience.

I enrolled in Coursera’s most popular course, “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects,” to see what all the hype was about.

This particular course was offered by McMaster University and the University of California San Diego.

What a Coursera course looks like:

When you click onto a course you’re interested in, you will be directed to a page with information about the course, an introduction to the instructors and also a syllabus — which will basically tell you what you’ll learn from the course and how long it’ll take.

If you do then decide to enroll in the course, you will be taken to this page:

Lessons

Here you’re immediately shown another overview of the course, which further breaks down the makeup of each learning week, such as the videos, readings, or quizzes to be taken that week.

It’s important to note that although the courses are generally broken down into weeks, these are only recommendations made by the instructors, and you will have complete discretion to complete it at your own pace. Thus, you very well could do a four-week course in just two days.

I did it in about 7 days.

On the left-hand side, there is a toolbar that allows you to access other areas of the course, such as grades and discussion forums.

The discussion forums are often active with introductions between classmates, general discussions on content, and an array of other threads.

Moving onto taking a lesson, I like that you can easily take notes on the side, a transcript is available below the video, and they also use images and props throughout the lesson to further explain concepts.

At least in my course, I found the professors to be very personable. They were both easy and interesting to listen to and made comprehensive topics seem simple.

Also, what I loved is that each week is broken up into much smaller chunks. Rather than having to sit and focus for an entire hour as you would in a traditional lecture, each Coursera lesson is usually no longer than 10 minutes.

All in all, I found the Coursera lesson experience to be very pleasant.

However, my only complaint is that the playback speed will only go up to 2 times speed. Whereas, I would have liked to have seen 3 times playback speed available. Although this is definitely not a deal-breaker.

Lastly, I should also note that you can apply subtitles in a range of different languages, which is handy for non-English speakers.

Quizzes

At the end of each week, there is an interactive quiz to test you on the knowledge you have learned from the previous lessons.

I found these to be very quick, intuitive, and useful in deepening my understanding of the course.

What I also like is that after completing the quiz, you are shown your grade immediately. These collective quiz grades will eventually give you an overall score for the course.

Readings

The particular course I enrolled in did not have any required readings. However, it did suggest you read the book A Mind for Numbers for extra preparation in taking the course.

And most other courses I’ve looked at are the same. For example, here is an SEO course that suggested a few blog articles to look at. They estimated that these readings would take about 45 minutes.

What I like most about Coursera

A convenient alternative to traditional education

For those of us who work, studying at the same time can be an impossible juggling act.

That’s what I like about Coursera – the flexibility and convenience it provides. You can fit education into your busy life.

I didn’t have to attend any lectures or take time off work. I studied the material from my class at night and on my commute to work. Most of the lectures and readings were pretty short and I was able to fit my studies into a busy schedule.

If I had to physically attend class or adhere to a rigid schedule, I simply would not have been able to complete my course.

Quality of education

I think this is the greatest selling point of Coursera.

Given the calibre of colleges and universities Coursera has teamed up with, the quality of education you receive is excellent. Your instructors are world leaders in their fields.

Not only that, but it seems a lot of effort has gone into making the course materials mimic what you would receive in a 4-year college degree. For example, Coursera hosts live Q&A sessions with many of its lecturers on YouTube and the videos embedded in the coursework had high production value. The coursework and reading materials were also carefully put together.

Cost

No review of Coursera would be complete without mentioning the cost. Simply put, Coursera is cheap.

Yes, several hundred dollars isn’t pocket change. But you gain access to professors from elite universities and receive the same sort of education many others pay thousands for (albeit you don’t get the same qualification at the end).

Traditional education from a university or college is unaffordable for many people. Coursera is an incredibly affordable alternative for them.

Many courses on Coursera are also free to audit. So, if you just want to dip your toes into online education or learn a few new things without actually enrolling, Coursera offers unrivalled access to free education.

What I disliked about Coursera

I think Coursera has a lot to offer. However, this wouldn’t be an honest Coursera review if I didn’t outline its cons.

How useful are the certificates?

For now, how valuable a certificate from Coursera will be for your career is an open question.

Coursera is a relatively new education platform and it’s hard to know how seriously hiring managers regard them.

A certificate from an elite university such as MIT or Harvard may look good on paper but it’s also not a 4 year degree.

I guess we’ll all have to wait and see on this front.

Coursera Alternatives

With so many online education platforms in the market today, you are absolutely spoiled for choice when deciding where to study. So, how does Coursera hold up in comparison against MasterClass, Udemy, and Skillshare?

Given that I’ve experimented with all three, let’s find out.

Here is my take on what is the best online learning platform in 2020:

Coursera vs MasterClass

I’m no stranger to MasterClass. I’ve already written an in-detail review of it on Hack Spirit, and you can read that here.

Masterclass is great because it’s basically Netflix’s meets TED talks, which then meets education, and rather than being taught by professors who simply have a lot of head knowledge, Masterclass is actually taught by masters who practice what they preach.

For example, Gordon Ramsay has a class on cooking, Serena Williams has a class on Tennis, and Garry Kasparov has a lesson on Chess.

Therefore, MasterClass is a platform that is more focused on teaching passion projects and creative pursuits. Whereas Coursera is completely focused on the realm of academia.

Thus, if you’re wanting to advance in a “regular career” like Data Science or Accounting, then Coursera will be the best learning platform for you.

However, if you are wanting to pursue a creative career or simply want to be inspired by legends in their field, then you will probably be better off spending your time on MasterClass.

Coursera vs Udemy

Udemy, in my opinion, is very much a platform where you go to “dabble” in an array of topics. It’s great for learning a few new skills here and there.

However, Coursera is far more focused. If you’re actually wanting to learn and master an academic topic, then I would suggest you use Coursera.

If you are more interested in art, creativity, and personal development, then there are a lot of courses available to you on Udemy.

Both platforms provide quality courses at a great value.

Coursera vs Skillshare

Skillshare offers courses in nearly everything. However, just like Udemy, it’s not nearly as focused and nor is the production or lecture quality as good.

We are now starting to sound like a broken record. However, the verdict is clear: If you want to learn and master an academic subject that directly translates to a career, then use Coursera.

If you would like to brush up on a few soft skills here and there, then choose between Udemy or Skillshare.

To learn from masters who practice what they preach and to get inspired, then use MasterClass as your learning platform of choice.

Coursera FAQs

Is Coursera free?

Most Coursera courses are free to audit. However, if you would like access to graded assignments and also a certificate at the end, you will need to pay a small fee.

How much do Coursera courses cost?

Individual Coursera courses with a certificate will cost between $29 — $99 USD as a one-time payment. However, there are also other programs that will cost upwards of $2,000.

Is Coursera legit?

Yes, Coursera is legit. It was founded by two Stanford professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, and is definitely not a scam. Entering your credit card details or paying for a course on Coursera is 100% safe.

Is Coursera accredited?

Yes, most Coursera courses are accredited by the universities teaching the course. However, you will have to check each course on its homepage to be sure.

Is Coursera credible?

The skills you obtain from Coursera courses are 100% credible. However, whether an employer acknowledges Coursera courses as credible will depend upon them. Although, as Coursera continues to grow, the courses are sure to become increasingly more recognizable.

Do I need to have a subscription for Coursera?

You will only need a Coursera subscription if you wish to take any of Coursera’s Specializations or Professional Certificates. However, these can also be audited for free if you don’t care about obtaining a certificate upon completion.

How many people use Coursera (2020)?

Coursera is currently being used by over 43 million students worldwide.

Can I cancel Coursera?

Yes, you can cancel your Coursera subscription at any time.

Is there a money-back guarantee?

Yes, Coursera provides a 14-day money-back guarantee when you purchase a Coursera Plus subscription.

My Verdict: Is Coursera Worth it?

I recommend Coursera to anyone who wants to further their education, without the commitment or expense of a traditional university degree.

Let me just give you a quick example to illustrate the potential power of this platform:

Say you are a graduating high school student and you’re unsure about what to next, maybe you’re someone who’s just looking for a side hustle, or you’re after a complete career change.

What you could do is take a course/specialization in a concrete skill, such as Digital Storytelling, Digital Marketing, or SEO, and then apply those skills to eventually become a freelancer.

Once you start making money and begin building a reputable portfolio, bang! Your career prospects have completely changed.

Coursera 2

Coursera Discounted Courses

Coursera sometimes offers discounts on its courses. Check out the full catalog here.

(This button opens in a new tab so you can keep reading this article)

Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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