It’s hard to argue that Coursera is NOT the current leader in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) space. They have 107 partner Universities and Colleges, and 542 courses on offer. The courses are modeled around actual college classes (which have to be adapted to some degree). But you are basically learning the same things as college students who have paid thousands of dollars to be there. All for free.
Coursera also offers “Signature Track” certificates, which require you to prove your identity as you are taking the tests, allowing you to get a verified credential that could potentially be used on a resume or for a promotion at work. It’s a difficult problem to solve, and they have found at least a unique solution to it.
Coursera has the following features:
- Hundreds of courses to choose from in almost every academic subject
- All courses primarily delivered through video, with some classes offering PDF and other support
- During the video lectures, some courses pause to ask a question about what was learned
- Weekly tests, and exams
- Supports peer reviewed work for longer or more complicated content (like programming assignments)
It’s not a perfect system, and I think it can be improved. But Coursera is on a growth path that allows them to tweak their system over time. Things that can be improved include:
A mobile app(Update: They launched one. I review it here.)
- Courses that can start at any time, instead of waiting to a school year schedule
- More flexible in-lecture quizzing
- More organization around the course home page while it’s in progress; it can be confusing to know what the site wants you to do next
- A cleaner course catalog
- Lack of advanced courses – most of them are “introduction to” level
- Organized groups of courses, such as a complete Bachelor of Arts equivalent program or a complete MBA program
I’ve taken a number of courses at Coursera, and here are some of my favorites:
- Introduction to Finance
- Introduction to Marketing
- Computational Investing
- Startup Engineering
- Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior
As you can see , I tend to take a wide variety of courses, not all concentrated on a single area.
Clearly, Coursera is still in the beginning stages in delivering university and college-level education to the world. Ultimately, it is a platform and relies heavily on it’s partner universities to create compelling content. But it’s hard to separate the platform from the content, and so the criticism around missing higher-level courses still sticks. Still, on the whole, having 500+ courses to choose from, and no two exactly the same, means there is a good chance you’ll find something there that interests you.
On the whole, I love what Coursera’s got, and can’t wait to see the months and years ahead as it gets better.
(Updated 3/16/2014 with additional content)