Everyone knows that Coursera is a great place to learn skills fast, but what are the long-term benefits of using the platform? What can dedicated users expect from the Coursera experience and should they consider using the platform’s Coursera Plus subscription model? In order to answer these questions, I’ve spent the last year using Coursera’s service, what you will find below is the culmination of that work, the one-year review of Coursera. It should give you a good idea of what the experience of using Coursera is like for the student day-to-day, some of the pros and cons of using the service long-term are and lastly if Coursera Plus is a good value.
If you can’t stick around for the whole review, check out our Quick Take below:
Question: What is it like to use Coursera for a year?
Quick Take: Students can gain an entirely new toolbox of skills in just one year on Coursera. After a year of use, the benefits of Coursera become quite clear, and for most, they will eclipse the platform’s faults. A strength would be that a dedicated learner will find a wealth of information in Coursera’s library of courses that far exceeds what anyone could accomplish in a year of even rigorous study.
One fault the platform has is it requires a motivated student to make sure that they are taking advantage of the educational opportunities by completing courses and absorbing the material. This is because the educational environment is much less paternalistic than a traditional university and doesn’t hold the student’s hand. However, Coursera is more flexible than most other education options and users can maintain access to the platform for a reasonable subscription price. Access to an unlimited number of certificates through the subscription is a benefit all heavy users should consider.
A Brief Intro to Coursera
Since this is a review intended for users who plan to use Coursera extensively for a year, we will assume you are more familiar with the platform somewhat. However, a brief introduction is still in order. Coursera is an online learning platform that allows users to take courses on a variety of subjects with content provided by some of the best universities in the world. If you want to learn more about Coursera and how it compares to other online learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning, you should check out our full comparisons of the two platforms here.
In short, Coursera is unique in the online learning space because it has partnered with name-brand universities to offer accreditations and degrees for the courses they offer on the platform. The universities that offer certifications, schools like Duke and John Hopkins, offer a great value and their involvement should ease the minds of students about the quality of the education being offered. Besides being a great confirmation of your skills, the certifications you earn in Coursera courses can benefit you professionally through networking and by drawing interest on your resume or LinkedIn Profile. If Coursera sounds interesting to you, and you would like to learn more about what it is like just starting out on the platform, please read our review for users new to the platform here.
The Review: Using Coursera for One Year
Now that we have a good base of knowledge on Coursera, let’s take a look at what the educational environment looks like in practice. For the last year, I’ve used the platform almost every day and have come to have a deeper appreciation for all of Coursera’s specific quirks that I hope to share with you. To help I’ve broken my experiences over the last year into the following categories: educational opportunities, cost, learning structure, and certifications. I’ve written pros and cons for each category, which you will find below.
After a year of study on the Coursera platform, I can safely say that one of its greatest strengths is the wealth of educational opportunities it holds. In the last year, for example, I have taken courses in subjects as varied as “Crash Course on Python“, “First Step Korean” and “Luther and the West” from educational providers as varied as Northwestern University and Google.
Here’s a full list of Coursera’s Most Popular Courses of 2020 (Worldwide)
The platform’s offerings are nearly endless, as this is just a small sample of the courses I was able to take in my available free time. You can learn almost anything and most of the topics are updated with bleeding-edge content frequently. But how can Coursera continue to refresh their course library without sacrificing quality? This is possible because Coursera’s courses are designed by providers, the world-famous universities mentioned above, who are constantly changing and updating their own educational offerings. The up-to-date nature of the content is especially appreciated when it comes to technology-related courses. One such course was the one I took on Python, which was using the latest protocols.
Another aspect of the educational opportunities that Coursera offers that must be mentioned here, but we will be detailing later on in this review, is the ability to obtain certificates and even degrees. Since we will discuss certificates in more detail later, let us briefly discuss the Master’s Degrees opportunities. You may be surprised to know that Coursera has Master’s Degree programs, but the platform actually has 24 Master’s Degree programs on offer from top-notch schools such as the University of Illinois, Imperial College of London, and the University of Colorado. The programs offered range from a Master of Computer Science to a Global Master of Public Health and vary in cost by program but can be as affordable as $12,000 dollars all told, a great value for an accredited Master’s Degree.
In summary, the varied course offerings ensure that you can find a course on almost anything you’re interested in.
Below are some other pros and cons of Coursera’s educational opportunities:
- Access to over 3000 courses touching on nearly any subject one could be interested in.
- Instruction from professors that teach at the top universities in the world, schools you may never be able to attend in person.
- Always updated course catalog that isn’t hindered by physical media like textbooks.
- Majority of instruction takes place through passive mediums.
- Courses may have 1000s of students enrolled, and not everyone is a serious student.
The cost of Coursera is highly variable based on what type of student you are. If you don’t care if you have the most fully-featured experience, or if you don’t need a certification of completion, then choosing to audit a course is a great option that is totally free. If you need all that Coursera offers, however, you will have to pay. The cost depends on whether you pay per course or choose to use the platform’s subscription model. While the price of an individual course is often quite reasonable, starting at around $29 dollars each, the cost can quickly add up if you take several. That is why students who are planning on taking many classes should consider the platform’s subscription surface named Coursera Plus, as they may find it a good value.
As for my experience, I’ve been a subscriber to Coursera Plus for a few months now and much prefer it to purchasing courses individually. Having the option to take as many courses as I want is incredibly freeing, as I no longer have to agonize over which course to take when. It is also nice to be able to drop a course I’ve lost interest in and not have it feel like a waste of money.
Below are a few of the other pros and cons of the cost of Coursera.
- Courses are reasonably priced and usually cost between $29 and $89 dollars each.
- There are many free courses offered and the option to audit courses.
- Coursera Plus is a great option if you are planning on taking several courses in a year.
- The cost of a handful of courses can quickly add up.
- After a brief trial period there is no ability to get a refund.
- Some educational features are locked behind the “paywall.”
Shortly after taking my first class on Coursera, I had an unforeseen change to my lifestyle; I had to move and change jobs. Normally this disruption would have forced me to totally stop any educational pursuits. This is because traditional education requires students to plan their lives around an inflexible pre-ordained class schedule, which can be tough if life gets in the way like it did for me. Luckily, I was able to continue my education thanks to the flexibility that is inherent in Coursera’s learning structure. This shows how great online learning platforms can be for non-traditional students. Course materials are available on-demand, so you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture because you weren’t available on some random weekday afternoon. The only downside of this is that the video-on-demand function robs the student of the ability to interact more directly with the instructor.
At first, I was thrown by a different learning environment. It felt hard to connect to my fellow students without meeting them in a lecture or discussion section. Soon, however, I found that I was making connections through group projects and online discussions. This helped me feel a part of a learning community and I quickly adapted to Coursera’s atmosphere.
In general, it is best to pay for a course if you are truly interested in gaining the skills it promises, as that is how you unlock a more fully-featured course. The quizzes and exercises helped deepen my understanding of the subject in many of the courses and there were even a few projects where my work was judged by a panel of my peers. All of these features are included in a Coursera Plus subscription, which is part of the reason I was glad I got one. You also get an unlimited number of certifications for all of the courses you take with your subscription. This is great because I have come to use gaining certification as a motivation for my reward system. You would be surprised by how addicted one can get to gaining a new certification.
So all-in-all, Coursera’s learning structure can be highly effective for the right student, and a great value for anyone trying to learn new skills fast.
- Learn at your own pace and own your own schedule.
- Good interactive learning options if you pay to enroll in a course.
- More accepting learning environment for non-traditional learners.
- Instructors don’t baby you, you are expected to be prepared for class in a way that may not work for all student’s learning style.
- Environment can be lonely if you aren’t proactive in engaging with your peers and instructors.
- Can take a while to adjust to the learning environment.
Certifications are what Coursera offers students who have completed a course. They can be used as proof of your accomplishment for an employer or educator, though you should check with any educational institutions to see if they will transfer for academic credit. Once you receive a Certification it will be in your “Accomplishments” area for you to download, share, or print for forever.
Coursera is also unique in that they offer Professional Certifications, these certifications are recognized and administered by leading industry groups like Google or IBM. You can also combine many courses on a specific subject into something called a Specialization, which provides an even deeper level of education. Specializations are also great because they allow students to compile what they have learned into Capstone Projects that may later be used to create a professional portfolio. If you are interested in learning more about Specializations we have an article all about if they are worth it right here.
My personal experience with certifications has been revelatory. It has always been difficult for me to finish tasks I start, something happens, and I inevitably will lose my motivation. Often, I think it is because I don’t have a clear goal I am working towards. That is where Certifications come in. They can be a huge tool in motivating yourself to keep up with your schoolwork. The number of times I gutted through a difficult course just so I could look at my certification in the end with pride is too many to count.
In short, certifications are a great way to verify you have been taught skills by some of the best universities in the world and they can also be a great way to keep you on track with your coursework.
- Can be used as confirmation of your skills for third parties.
- Offered by brand name universities, so the accreditation has cache.
- A good way to motivate yourself to finish courses.
- You have to pay to enroll in a course to receive one.
- May not transfer to another university depending on your situation.
What is Coursera Plus?
Coursera Plus is the subscription service offered by Coursera. This subscription plan can be a great option if you are planning on taking many courses or want to completely retool your professional skills in anticipation of a job change. The best part of the subscription is that you aren’t forced to choose between all of the great professors and the nearly 3,000 available courses, well you do have to choose eventually, but Coursera Plus removes the restriction of cost which is huge. The access is also unlimited which means you can take part in all the educational features such as Guided Projects, Specializations, and Professional Certificates.
How much does Coursera Plus Cost?
The subscription is charged on a yearly basis and starts at $399 dollars, but sometimes a sale will drop the price as low as $296 dollars a year. This means that if you regularly took 10 courses that cost $39 dollars each you would just break even on a year’s subscription to Coursera Plus at $399. Clearly, this makes Coursera Plus ideal for heavy users of the platform, who will appreciate the unlimited access to all of the platform’s benefits.
A few things to consider about the cost of a subscription are:
- You will lose access to any certifications you have gained if your subscription lapses.
- You should only subscribe if you think you are going to take many courses over the year.
- You cannot use your Coursera Plus subscription on MasterTrack Certificate or degree eligible courses
Can I get a refund on Coursera?
If there is one major drawback of the Coursera platform, and online learning in general, is that after the trial period you’ve bought what you paid for. This can be annoying if you haven’t done your due diligence and actually sampled a course before the trial period expires, For Coursera, a trial lasts 14- days, during which you may cancel at any time free of charge. This applies to any courses you have taken or a Coursera Plus subscription. Before you attempt to game the system, however, you should know that any certifications you have earned during the trial period will be revoked when you cancel.
A year later the benefits of Coursera Plus are quite clear, thanks to the subscription service you can learn anything and save money while doing it. The ability to gain unlimited certificates means that you have a potential for unlimited new skills. Flexible learning means that you can learn at your own pace and as your schedule allows. I hope you have learned something from my year-long review of Coursera, and if you would like to learn more about online learning platforms, please visit us here, at IQ Unlock. So, go ahead and hit subscribe as I did, and I bet that, just like me, after a year you’ll be thanking yourself for making the investment in your own education and development just 365 days ago!