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Coursera break down: Pros, cons, and popular courses

Online learning has come a long way, but are Coursera's courses and degrees worth it? Learn about the pros and cons of enrolling at Coursera.
Written by Bethanny Parker, Contributing Writer

The pandemic forced colleges to go online in 2020. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 7.3 million students take online college courses. Some 75% of colleges planned to have online classes in 2021, according to Think Impact, a company that collects education and career data. 

When Stanford professors opened Coursera in 2012 –– before schools embraced remote learning –– Coursera made headlines for its free online courses. News outlets projected that Coursera would revolutionize higher education. The online education company now offers thousands of courses from more than 300 universities and companies. 

Coursera serves students in North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. It offers 20 degrees and 17 MasterTrack certificates, a program that allows online learners to earn credits toward a graduate degree. But does Coursera live up to its prestigious reputation? Find out the pros and cons of enrolling at Coursera and learn about the most popular courses in this Coursera review.

What is Coursera? 

Based in Silicon Valley, Coursera launched in 2012 as an online education platform. Students around the world have access to Coursera's massive open online courses (MOOCs). Coursera partners with schools such as Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duke University.

Industry partners, such as Cisco, Intel, and IBM, offer working professionals certificates and specializations. Employees can also upskill with training opportunities offered through corporate partners such as Airbus, L'Oréal, and PayPal. 

Founded by Stanford University professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, Coursera did not have a revenue model or offer degrees in its infancy. The current business model now generates revenues from subscriptions, verified certificates, and degrees. The company went public in March 2021. 

Despite Coursera's utopian vision for higher education, its platform presents advantages and disadvantages. 

Pros and cons of Coursera 

Pro: Partnered with educational institutions

When Coursera launched in 2012, it partnered with research institutions, including Duke and Johns Hopkins. The founders, two Stanford professors, began offering their own courses online. Coursera now has 87 million users, with India becoming the company's second-largest market. Educational partnerships allow users not enrolled as university students to take classes at institutions such as Berklee College of Music, California Institute of Technology, California Institute of the Arts, and Emory University. 

Pro: Large catalog of courses

Coursera does not create educational materials, but they partner with more than 200 university partners and companies to offer 3,800 courses, including 385 specializations, 17 MasterTrack certificates, and 20 degrees. 

Pro: Affordable prices

Fees for courses and degrees costs less than attending classes directly through a university. Users can also access nearly 2,000 free courses that include an introduction to statistics, machine learning, Korean, and brand management. Learners can also sample classes with a seven-day trial. While more than 1,600 courses do not require any fees, users cannot receive a certificate. 

Pro: Learn from anywhere

When you sign up for a program at Coursera, you can watch lectures delivered by professors from major universities and business leaders and when it works for your schedule. Students can even learn offline by downloading materials through the Coursera app. 

Con: Degrees cost money

Entry-level courses that take 4-12 hours cost nothing, but degrees that take 2-4 years to complete start off at $9,000.While degrees at Coursera cost less than universities, calculating the total fees can be difficult since costs depend on your location. Degrees also list tuition ranges, and users pay to complete each module. 

Con: Entry-level courses

"Beginner" level courses may require users to have prior knowledge of the subject. Instructors may move through materials and terminology quickly, which does not suit learners who are unfamiliar with the topic. Coursera offers 827 beginner, 619 mixed-level, 322 intermediate, and 34 advanced classes. 

Popular courses offered by Coursera 

  • The Science of Well-Being: Offered through Yale University, this class aims to help students achieve happier lives by teaching them wellness activities. 

  • Successful Negotiation: The University of Michigan teaches learners in this class negotiation strategies to advance in their careers. Students watch videos and test their skills through mock negotiations.

  • Machine Learning: Learners build smart robots through lessons that cover theoretical principles and through practical hands-on experience. They learn data mining, and statistical pattern recognition, logistic regression, and machine learning algorithms.

  • COVID-19 Contact Tracing: Johns Hopkins University teaches learners how to perform contact tracing. Lessons cover epidemiology and ethical practices.

  • Introduction to Philosophy: Offered through the University of Edinburgh, this course teaches learners about contemporary philosophy. Lessons cover epistemology, political philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysics. 

Who should enroll in Coursera?

Coursera suits busy learners who want to gain new skills or earn a degree but need flexibility and affordability. Degrees, certificates, and specializations provide the flexibility of online and offline learning. This helps busy learners like single parents, students who want to save money on their education, and people who work part time or full time.  

How trustworthy is Coursera?

Since 2012, Coursera has proven that it offers a legitimate education and career training. Many reputable companies and leading universities partner with Coursera, which speaks to its reputation. 

Is Coursera good for my resume?

Yes. Earning a certificate, specialization, or degree from Coursera offers an affordable and convenient way to advance your career. 

Is it hard to get Coursera financial aid?

Learners can receive financial aid or a scholarship if they cannot afford the cost of tuition. Applicants for financial aid must complete an application that outlines their educational background, finances, and career aspirations. 

Are the certificates of Coursera valid?

Completing a course, certificate, specialization, or degree from Coursera adds value to your CV. Coursera also offers verified certificates that students can pay for. 

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