Coursera Review: Our Summary
Credible and Appealing - But Not Without Flaws
Coursera offers great quality courses from respected companies and universities, along with the chance to gain desirable accreditations. There’s bags of free content too.
Unfortunately not everything is perfect; price transparency could be much better, and it would help if there was a less mind-boggling range of course options.
- Good quality courses from renowned companies and universities.
- An rather inspiring annual “unlimited” option.
- A well organised training platform.
- Free and low-cost options.
- A mobile app for convenient study.
- Good integration to share credentials on LinkedIn.
- Transparency on exactly what costs what could be better.
- The vast array of options can feel overwhelming.
If you’re trying to decide whether to take a course on Coursera, this is the Coursera review you need to read first. I’ve personally taken several courses on the platform, dating to way back in 2014.
One thing you’ll quickly work out when you look at reviews of Coursera is that opinions on it vary hugely. Some aspects of the service are extremely good; Not least is the fact many of the courses are highly credible and backed by big names companies and colleges.
However, there are some negatives too. We cover both the good and the bad in our Coursera review.
Let’s start with the real basics.
What is Coursera?
Coursera is an online training company that works in association with well-known colleges and blue-chip firms to deliver a wide range of courses.
Courses range from short MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to full subject specialisations and online degrees. Coursera also offers a range of “Professional Certificates” delivered in league with the likes of Google and Microsoft.
Whatever it is you want to learn, the chances are you’ll find something suitable at Coursera. You may even be able to study your chosen subject without handing over any money at all.
Coursera makes plenty of individual courses fully accessible free of charge, and you can pay an optional fee if you wish to receive an official certificate on completion. There are also free trials usually available on specializations, and financial assistance options for online degrees.
(You’ll find another useful article about free and cheap training options here.)
Is Coursera Legit?
Coursera is completely legit and is not a scam. The company was launched by two Stanford professors back in 2012. Over 30 Million people are registered on the platform and the organisation has around 300 staff.
Universities involved with Coursera include Yale, Northwestern and the University of London. Increasingly, large companies are providing training via the platform too. These include the likes of IBM, Intel and Google, who offer an eight month long specialisation course for aspiring IT support professionals.
When I took my first Coursera course, the company tended just to offer short individual courses, often linked to prestigious universities. (In case you’re interested, my first course was in Child Psychology, and from the University of Edinburgh. I enrolled shortly after discovering my wife was expecting our first child!)
Nowadays, there’s much more on offer than single courses. Coursera is a different beast, and a much bigger one.
There are still small courses, but there are also sets of courses making up career-specific specializations. There are professional certificates, MasterTrack certificates, and even full online degrees and MBAs, delivered in association with the likes of Imperial College London and the University of Illinois.
It’s obviously great to have all of this choice. However, the complexity has made navigating and choosing courses rather confusing – something we’ll discuss more below.
Other Coursera Reviews
Before moving on, it’s worth addressing some of the Coursera reviews that appear on sites like TrustPilot and Consumer Affairs. While some reviews are positive, several mention issues around payments and subscription fees.
Having used Coursera personally on several occasions, I can say I’ve never personally had an issue with unexpected payments or charges.
Reading between the lines, I think most of these comments relate to misunderstandings around the fact that Coursera offer some free options, some courses where you optionally pay for a certificate, and some longer specializations where you pay via a monthly fee. There’s also now an unlimited annual option as well.
It IS confusing, and it would be good if the offerings were simplified.
I’m sure some people who leave negative feedback feel they have a legitimate axe to grind. But the reality is that Coursera has literally tens of millions of members. It therefore seems inevitable that some of them will fail to pay attention to what they’re signing up to.
When I last updated this review, I looked at some of the issues reported on the Better Business Bureau website. It was reassuring to see that Coursera consistently respond to them. Obviously you must rely on your own judgement, but I’ve taken Coursera courses before, and will take them again.
Coursera Review: Pricing
As explained already, many individual Coursera courses are accessible completely free of charge, so long as you’re happy not to receive an official certificate on completion.
If it’s the learning itself you’re most interested in, this will no doubt be rather appealing. I’ve personally always decided to pay, as it’s good to have an official credential.
You can hook these into your LinkedIn account, and give people access so they can check your certificates. One of mine is shown below:
If you decide to opt for an official certificate, you typically pay somewhere in the region of $50-100. I had a look at one that piqued my interest while completing this Coursera review and the certificate was GB£74 ($95).
Obviously with courses where there’s a free “course audit” option, you can start the course and make sure you’re happy before you spend anything.
Specializations work on a monthly subscription basis, with fees usually ranging from $39 to $79 per month. A quirk of these is that you can take the courses in a specialization as quickly as you want.
For example, Coursera’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization is said to take approximately four months if you work six hours per week. However, if you have more time you can commit to it, you could get the course done quicker and end up paying less.
Since late 2019, Coursera has been offering a range of Professional Certificates. These are delivered in league with big name companies like IBM, SAS and Google.
They are priced on a subscription model, the same as Specializations. We have a detailed article on them here.
New for 2020 is Coursera Plus, and unlimited annual subscription to over 3000 courses. This includes Specialisations and Professional Certificates.
Priced at $399 (or £306 in the UK) for an annual subscription, this is a rather compelling option for people who want to do a lot of learning. Across a year, you could pick up meaningful certifications from both universities and tech firms.
When compared with the cost of university fees, this subscription fee is a drop in the ocean. I’m extremely tempted to sign up myself!
Degrees and MBAs
Unsurprisingly, online degree and MBA courses cost drastically more. Typically you’re looking at between $15,000 and $25,000 for a complete course. While this may seem like a lot, it’s generally FAR less than you would pay at a bricks and mortar university.
We’ve focused on the facts and practicalities so far, so the next part of this Coursera review looks at what it’s actually like to take courses on the platform.
I’ve taken several courses on Coursera, spanning everything from psychology to business writing. It appears to me that the institutions and companies creating the courses have plenty of flexibility in how they create each course.
However, typically, you’re looking at a mixture of video presentations, notes and assessment quizzes. The interface also give you access to course-specific forums where you can interact with fellow students.
There’s more sophistication involved if you opt for a specialization or an online degree. Here you have marked projects, readings, practice exercises and more.
Everything is slick and well put together, and the course forums are surprisingly lively. I guess this shouldn’t actually be a surprise given the millions of people using Coursera’s online platform, but it does make a difference and contributes to the community feel.
There’s also a Coursera mobile app for iOS and Android, which means you can study on the move or even in the bath – something I may have taken advantage of on a few occasions!
Obviously not every course on Coursera is equal. Some tutors are more engaging than others, and the reality is that you’ll inevitably enjoy different courses and modules to differing degrees. That said, I’ve been happy with the overall quality of all the courses I’ve taken.
Example Coursera Courses
There are so many courses on Coursera that your best bet is to have a really good dig around the site for something that interests you personally. If you’re a freelancer, Michelle also put together an article on some of the courses she thought were most appealing.
Here’s a handful of courses that particularly caught my eye while I was putting together this Coursera review.
I’ve picked out things that I know many of my readers are interested in, so hopefully there’ll be something that catches your eye.
This single Coursera course grabbed my attention instantly because it’s based on a book on writing “contagious” content that I read some time ago. I have long been recommending it to anyone who will listen…
It’ll about creating content that people will want to share, and is invaluable for writers and bloggers of any experience level. It’s also one of the Coursera courses than you can complete in its entirety for free, with an optional certificate if you want to pay for it.
One (now small) facet of my own freelance existence is providing IT support and consultancy. It used to be my primary business, and I’ve written about it in detail here. This Coursera specialization is perfect for people wanting to go into that kind of work – work that I can vouch there is demand for.
The specialization takes around eight months to complete, with five individual courses spanning subjects like systems admin, cybersecurity and networking fundamentals. If something like this had been on offer when I started my own IT career you wouldn’t have been able to hold me back!
There’s plenty of money to be made in social media marketing, and it’s something I’ve discussed on the site in this article. This five course specialization is delivered by Northwestern University and includes modules on big data, social advertising, and how to reach your target customers. With the world of social media moving so fast I have to say I’m awfully tempted to sign up to this one myself.
As someone with sporadic mental health issues (discussed here) I’m very much into learning as much as I can about self-care and well-being, especially when it comes from a factual and scientific standpoint. Success tends to come naturally in the wake of sound mental health, just as poor mental health can act as a road-block.
The Science of Well Being is a single course, delivered in association with Yale. It takes ten weeks, has fabulous reviews, and is another course you can take for free, with an optional certificate.
This “professional certificate” works in the same way as a specialization. You can complete it over the course of two months if you commit approximately 12 hours per week.
It teaches you all about data vizualisation and machine learning – HUGE areas of technology where knowledge is in high demand and the jobs are lucrative.
Don’t worry, however, if those terms fly straight over your head, because the course is said to be suitable for those with no existing experience of computer science and programming.
As well as coming with a Coursera certificate, this one also awards successful students with a “digital badge from IBM” – a pretty prestigious thing to paste onto your website, resume or LinkedIn profile.
I always get tremendously inspired whenever I browse the listings on Coursera and other training websites. The fact that Coursera courses are linked to big-name companies and universities makes them extra appealing, and I like sharing the achievements on my LinkedIn profile.
Looking back on my early career, I would have relished the possibility of doing training linked with the likes of IBM or Google from the comfort of my computer or tablet.
While the full-sized degrees on Coursera cost a full-sized price, the specializations and professional certificates are good value. Furthermore, a combination of free “audit” options, free trials and frequent discounts mean there are lots of ways to get started by spending little or nothing.
The new annual Coursera Plus subscription is particularly interesting. It’s a significant commitment, but you can potentially learn an enormous amount for the money.
It is, of course, wise to heed some of the warnings I’ve seen in other Coursera reviews. It’s not, for example, wise to sign up to a subscription unless you do actually intend to complete the full courses. You should also be sure of what you’re signing up for, and remember to cancel anything you no longer need.
As with so many things in life, this will give back what you put in. But if you want to learn something new – to the point of having a skill you can market and earn money from – Coursera probably has an option for you.
If you enjoyed this Coursera review, there’s lots more content on HomeWorkingClub about free and inexpensive training:
- This article compares Coursera with Udemy.
- This one runs through some of the best courses for freelancers and home workers.
- This describes an array of other free and cheap ways to learn new things.