Home learning has gone stratospheric this year, and one platform that keeps hitting the headlines is Coursera. I’ve been using Coursera to build my skills and boost my resumé since way back in 2014, and in this Coursera review, I tell you all you need to know to decide if it’s a good choice for your next course.
There’s no hyperbole in saying that what Coursera is doing in online education is a true game-changer. Inc has even said it could “change the future of work and higher education.”
Coursera works with prestigious universities and household-name companies, including tech giants like Google, Facebook and IBM. There are accredited courses available that truly mean something on your resume.
There are even courses you can take that Google hold in equal regard to a full university degree. But they take months rather than years, and don’t cost thousands of Dollars to complete.
There’s a lot to cover in this Coursera review. It’s a huge online learning platform, with over 3900 different courses, and lots of different pricing structures and options. There’s also a tremendous amount of material available completely free.
We’ll cover all of that shortly, but first we’ll go over some basic questions, and establish why I’m in a good position to honestly evaluate this learning platform.
Let’s start with the really simple stuff:
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” and forthcoming “Career 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 online course 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.
Is Coursera Legit?
Coursera is completely legit and is not a scam. The company was launched by two Stanford professors back in 2012. The platform has over 47 million registered users, and the organisation underpinning it employs around 300 staff.
Top 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 Facebook, Intel and Google.
Is Coursera Accredited?
Coursera offers accredited courses and works in partnership with well-known companies and universities. Unlike some online learning platforms, Coursera offers you the chance to gain meaningful qualifications that could turn employer’s heads.
Are Coursera Certificates Worth It?
Coursera certificates are certainly worth it if you choose an online course that merges with your career goals. Employers will certainly recognise real world names like Google and IBM, and universities like Duke and Stanford!
Will Coursera Help your Career?
Coursera offers courses that can directly help you career. For example, Google currently offers two professional certificates, in IT support and automation, with three more on the way in project management, user experience (UX) design and data analytics. Google has stated they will view completion of these courses with as much prestige as a full degree.
To differing extents, there are lots of other Coursera courses that can help your career. Certificates that mention big name colleges are never a bad thing to have on a resumé or LinkedIn profile.
Some Background: My Own Experience with Coursera
I’ve used Coursera as a paying customer several times since taking my first course on the platform in 2014, back when Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were quite a new thing. (Note that some Coursera reviews are written by people who’ve not actually used it themselves, and are merely sharing their affiliate links!)
Most recently, I’ve been studying a specialisation in Digital Advertising Strategy, delivered by the University of Colorado. I’ve also taken other courses covering topics as diverse as business writing and child psychology.
Every time I update my Coursera review, I seem to find something else that interests me!
When I took my first Coursera course, the company focussed on short individual online courses (In case you’re curious, 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.
Types of Courses on Coursera
Course topics on Coursera cover numerous subject areas, ranging from humanities to business and tech. You can see the categories below:
The types of online courses available on Coursera broadly break down as follows:
Individual Courses: These courses cover one particular topic or skill and can generally be completed over a matter of weeks. Coursera shows a total number of hours you will need to complete each course. You can take many of these courses for free, with no need to pay unless you want a certificate at the end.
Guided Projects: New to Coursera, these interesting short projects only take a couple of hours, and give a quick overview of a new skill. A great way to learn something new in a little bit of spare time.
Specializations: Specializations are curated collections of several smaller paid courses that combine to give a comprehensive overview of a particular topic.
Professional Certificates: For many, professional certificates are the most exciting option from Coursera, delivering a recognised qualification from companies such as Facebook, IBM or Google.
MasterTrack Certificates: These certificates, in everything from Big Data to Instructional Design, allow you to earn individual certificates that count towards Masters Degrees. These typically take from 5-12 months to complete.
Full Degrees: Coursera offers full degree program courses too. Unsurprisingly, these are considerably more expensive than individual courses, but are competitively priced when compared to degree courses from “bricks and mortar” colleges. Degrees are delivered in association with the likes of Imperial College London and the University of Illinois.
One notable additional factor here is that you can study these degrees from anywhere around the world, putting education from these colleges within reach of people who wouldn’t be able to travel to the institution.
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.
Pricing: How Much are Coursera Courses?
Coursera course cost from nothing at all, to “audit” an individual course to thousands of Dollars for a full degree. Coursera pricing is a complicated subject, so we cover it in detail here.
As explained already, many individual courses are accessible completely free of charge, so long as you’re happy not to earn a certificate on completion or go through a graded assignment. This is known an “auditing” a course.
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 per course. 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.
Guided projects are very affordable. Those I looked at were offered at just £7 ($10) when I updated this Coursera review.
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. This potentially reduces the total cost if you’re in a position to study quickly.
For example, Coursera’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Specialization is said to take approximately five months if you work seven 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.
Coursera’s Professional Certificates are priced on a subscription model, the same as Specializations. We have a detailed article on them here.
MasterTrack certs on Coursera typically cost from $2000-5000. With some you can spread the cost over multiple months, and there’s the potential for scholarships and funding. As they are delivered in league with different universities, it’s best to check the individual course details to see what options are available.
Degrees and MBAs
It’s no big shock, but online degree programs 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 physical university.
For those who plan to do a lot of studying Coursera Plus can be a great option. It’s an unlimited annual subscription that includes over 3000 courses. It includes Specialisations, Professional Certificates and Guided Projects.
Priced at $399 (or £300 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.
Is Coursera Plus Worth It?
Coursera Plus is definitely worth it if you plan to do lots of studying over the space of a year. The price is a drop in the ocean compared to a college course.
However, you’ll want to be sure that you’ll definitely do the studying and make use of the subscription. It’s still a significant amount of money to waste if you’re likely to leave it unused.
Is There a Coursera Free Trial?
You can grab a free trial of Coursera Plus, or any of the certificates and specializations, for seven days. There’s also a 14 day money back guarantee on Coursera Plus. Do be aware that you will start to be charged after the 7 day free trial, so be sure to remember to cancel if you don’t wish to continue.
Taking Courses on Coursera
Choosing a Course
Choosing a course on Coursera can be rather daunting. There are many different options and payment models, and the pricing isn’t particularly clear. The fact you can audit many courses free of charge is a great help, as you can have a really good look at what you’re signing up to before handing over any money.
Thankfully the search facilities are very good, and it’s easy to drill down through the thousands of courses to come up with a shortlist of what interests you. If you go for Coursera Plus, you get many courses included, so you’re free to pick and choose at no extra cost.
The Course Interface
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 lectures, notes and assessment quizzes. The interface also give you access to course-specific discussion forums where you can interact with fellow students.
Another way you interact with fellow students, on some courses, is via peer reviewed assessments. I’m not an enormous fan of these, as they can put you at the mercy of another student’s accuracy and reliability!
There’s more sophistication involved if you opt for a specialization or an online degree. Here you have marked projects, readings, graded assignments, practice exercises and more.
The quality of courses is consistent. Everything is high quality, 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 have easy access should you wish to 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.
Most importantly, I’ve learned what I set out to in each case – which is surely the most vital thing.
Recommended Coursera Courses
So many courses are available 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 have caught my eye while writing and updating my Coursera review.
I’ve picked out things that I know many of our readers are interested in, so hopefully there’ll be something that catches your eye.
Digital advertising, especially on social media, is a big deal these days. I personally signed up to this course to learn about paid advertising options for this very site.
I would also point out the value of digital marketing skills on the freelance job market. There’s a lot to learn about this field, and plenty of demand for those with the knowledge.
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 that 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 in the real world.
Described as “the launchpad to an IT career,” the specialization takes around 3-6 months to complete, with five individual courses spanning skills 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!
As someone with sporadic mental health issues (discussed here) I’m very much into learning as much as I can about self-care, personal development 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. I particularly enjoyed the video lectures on this one.
This “professional certificate” works in the same way as a specialization. You can complete it over the course of ten months if you commit approximately five hours per week.
It teaches you skills around data vizualisation and machine learning – HUGE areas of information 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.
Coursera for Business
Coursera has a distinct product offering for companies called Coursera for Business. This is ideal if you want to provide a learning program for a team of people, and there are options for both small businesses and enterprise firms.
The basic pricing for this option is $400 per user, per year.
Coursera for Campus
Similarly, Coursera has recently branched out into offering a “Coursera for Campus” option, delivering training and new skills to university students. Since the start of the pandemic, Coursera has offered free learning to millions of students as part of this program, which the company has – deservedly – received positive press for.
Other Coursera Reviews
Before moving on, to our conclusion 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 had an issue with unexpected payments or charges.
However, there are some very vocal people out there who say they have:
Reading between the lines, I think most of these comments relate to misunderstandings around the fact that Coursera provides 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. But leaving a one-star review because you’ve been charged after a free trial has concluded seems a bit much to me.
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.
It’s also reassuring to see that Coursera consistently responds to comments left on the Better Business Bureau. Obviously you must rely on your own judgement, but I’ve been using Coursera for over five years and never had any issues with trust.
I always get tremendously inspired whenever I browse the listings on Coursera and other e Learning websites. The fact that Coursera courses are linked to big-name companies and top universities makes this one of the best online training options. I personally like sharing the achievements on my LinkedIn profile!
Looking back on my early career, I would have relished the possibility of undertaking a learning program linked with the likes of IBM or Google from the comfort of my computer or tablet. The fact that firms like Google are now saying they will treat the related qualifications like degrees presents a seriously exciting career option for many people.
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 courses 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 use Coursera regularly and 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, earn a certificate, and have 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, another platform that offers online training.
- 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.
Coursera Review: Our Summary
Increasingly Compelling - But With a Few Flaws
Coursera offers great quality courses from respected companies and universities, along with the chance to gain desirable accreditations. The career certifications from the likes of Google are especially compelling. 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. But make no mistake, Coursera is making BIG waves in the world of online learning.
User Review( vote)
- Good quality courses from renowned companies and universities.
- An inspiring and well-priced 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.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from “working for the man.” Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.