I’ve made mention of Coursera in a handful of my videos & articles as I think it’s one of the best ways to gain new skills and knowledge from some of the top universities in the world at an affordable price (as low as… $0!)
Having been on Coursera for about the last 5 years and taken around 40 courses, I’ve experienced it quite a bit, and in this article, I’ll be doing a comprehensive review of the platform to help you better understand what value you can get out of it to help you skill up and advance your career. Read on!
First Experience on Coursera
So I started using Coursera about 5 years ago mostly to scope out exactly what it is they had to offer and one topic in particular that I wanted to learn more about, being in tech already, was cybersecurity.
Came across a course (actually a specialization track which is a series of courses) offered by NYU called Introduction to Cyber Security Specialization. Really enjoyed the experience, so much so that I did a video review on it that you can find here.
After that, I ended up taking some courses in IoT and a handful of other subjects that I had a curiosity in.
In fact, as part of my MBA program, the University of Illinois uses Coursera as a platform to deliver their prerecorded video content and some assignments as a complement to the main coursework and live lectures that they do outside of Coursera, so across everything I’ve done, I’ve taken around 40 courses on Coursera.
So let me share with you what I think of the platform and I’ll cover 5 areas:
- Variety of Content
- University & Organization Partnerships
- User Interface
- Career Advancement
1. Variety of Content
As far as variety goes, it’s as good as it gets. Coursera has been around since 2012 and in that time, they pulled together content from some of the best universities in the world, and you can learn mostly anything you want to learn. From art and social sciences to business and engineering, it really runs the gamut.
Originally the platform offered courses for free, which they still do, but then they expanded to offering paid skill certificates and even partnering with universities to offer full-fledged masters degrees. So you have A LOT of options and A LOT of content.
2. University & Organization Partnerships
The variety of content is really a testament of the extent to which Coursera has established strong partnerships with not just some of the best universities in the world but also some of the best companies and organizations today like Google, IBM, among others. The primary goal of Coursera is to make education accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
Part of that accessibility, and really the disruption in the education model is that it’s not always about formal degrees; there’s a lot more attention now than ever before being given to certifications, which I consider in many cases to be incredibly viable supplements to a degree.
Depending on the certification and industry, you could even leverage it to make a career change.
Now I’ll talk more about career advancement towards the end of the article, but just know that while universities play a critical role in Coursera’s model, companies and organizations are playing an increasingly significant role here as well.
3. User Interface
User interface, to me, is the best among any online learning platform. Everything is relatively easy to navigate and find, and the courses themselves are fairly straight forward and easy to navigate as you have options on the lefthand navigation panel to move about the course content
The videos themselves have a lot of options for closed caption, for increasing speed if perhaps you’re on a time crunch, and a written transcript, which is very useful if you’re trying to find keywords.
Of course, user interface preference is subjective, but I’m comparing to other online learning platforms like EdX and Udemy – I find Coursera to be the most intuitive and simplified.
Now community is another area, which refers to the ability to collaborate with other people in some form or fashion either getting or providing feedback on assignments or Q&A through forums.
This one is going to vary a bit depending on how popular a course is.
In many courses, you’ll often find open ended assignments, which are written, or uploads of other documents, but all this means is that it’s not a multiple choice assignment that can be automatically graded, so instead, it gets graded by peers, and you grade others in return.
You’re given a rubric of course by which to grade, but this is probably the most common form of feedback you’ll get. Sometimes useful, again, depending on the course, but often times I find people are grading quickly and not really giving your submission a whole lot of thought.
Apart from this, every class has a discussion forum, and the amount of engagement here highly depends on the course popularity and really the type of course, some of which lend themselves better to discussion.
For example, the most popular course is by one of the Coursera co-founders Andrew Ng on Machine Learning, and here you can find tens of thousands of threads and discussions for all the weeks of the class.
Other classes, you might get…nothing. So again, pretty variable here.
5. Career Advancement
Lastly, career advancement, which is, after all, probably why you’re here in the first place.
Simply put, Coursera can absolutely help. And the way that it can help is by what I mentioned earlier in the article, which is through paid certificates or degrees.
The baseline here is that you can access any course you want for free, but you can’t prove that you actually completed the course, UNLESS you pay for a certificate of completion, which is verified by Coursera which gives you verifiable backing to include in a resume or LinkedIn.
These aren’t replacements for degrees necessarily, but they’re excellent supplements to your skill and knowledge base. Enough so that you can use these certificates to pivot your career if you’d like, so long as you’re also able to market yourself well and network to uncover opportunities.
To give you a personal anecdote, some years back I had taken some courses on IoT and I elected to pay for a certificate to show proof that I completed to whoever it might’ve concerned in the future.
Some time after that, there happened to be an IoT product manager opportunity in the organization I was in, and while I had good experience as a product manager, I didn’t have experience with IoT.
However, having taken these IoT courses helped me prove to that manager that I had a legitimate interest in the field and that I had taken concrete steps to educate myself, which gave me an advantage that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
So the opportunity for career advancement is there even with just certificates, not to mention the degrees that they offer in partnership with very reputable universities, which is an even clearer path to career advancement.
So folks, check out Coursera, find a subject you’re interested in, and enroll in a course for free. When you’re at a point where you might be more serious about career advancement or movement, consider the paid certificate options for courses or specializations which link multiple courses together. Or better yet, consider one of the masters degrees if you’re in a position to spend a bit more time and money.
There’s no better time to skill up than now, hope this review helps motivate you to get started, so thank you for reading and I’ll see you around.
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