Coursera Specializations – Are They Worth It?

If you were wondering what a “Coursera Specialization” is, and how it might be the key to landing your next job, you’re in the right place. A “Coursera Specialization” is a certificate of completion offered by Coursera, one of the world’s most popular MOOCs. The acronym MOOC, for Massive Open Online Course, might sound like a new Star Wars character, but it actually is one of several terms used to refer to online learning platforms like Coursera or Udemy. These are services that have made their curriculum available on the internet to anyone, often free of charge. That is, unless you want a “Coursera Specialization,” which is the name of the credential offered on Coursera’s particular platform.

Coursera is one of the most well-respected leaders in the MOOC space. Coursera’s Specialization offerings are growing in renown and according to VentureBeat, Coursera itself had over 30 million users in 2019. So, chances are you probably have heard of it before.

But if all of this is confusing and new to you, don’t worry, we cover it all in this guide to Specializations. You can check out all of IQ Unlock’s reviews and guides for online learning platforms here. In our guide below, we will look at Coursera Specializations, break down all of their features, and see if getting one might make sense for you. But, if you can’t stick around for all of that, you’ll find our quick take below:

QUICK TAKE: Coursera Specializations are a unique way for professionals to add real skills in a short amount of time by taking a curated group of courses. They can be used as a credential during a job hunt, or as a motivational tool. If you don’t need a proof of completion certification, paying for Specializations might not be necessary, but Coursera’s offerings have more intrinsic value thanks to their partnerships with accredited universities.

What is Coursera?

For those that don’t know, Coursera is actually one of the original MOOCs, it was founded in 2012 by two Stanford University computer science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. The co-founders identified technological disruption in the workplace as a key factor for why future workers may lose their jobs and they decided to start a MOOC in hopes of helping to buffet against this looming problem. Coursera has since retained its academic roots while expanding to partner with over 200+ universities and institutions to create content for its platform, in fact it is one of the only online learning platforms where you can actually matriculate courses taken towards a graduate degree!

If you would like to learn more about Coursera, you can check out our review of the platform right here.

In short, the platform offers over 1,500 online courses that students can choose to audit at no cost. Instruction typically takes the form of thorough video-on-demand recordings of lectures from high-quality professors and guest faculty.

Students may wish to pay to unlock additional learning features, such as homework assignments, group discussions and quizzes and tests by choosing to pay to enroll in their course, since auditing leaves them with a mostly passive learning experience.

Paying for Coursera allows students to obtain different types of certificates, one of which is called a Specialization, which we will discuss below.

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What are Coursera Specializations?

Specializations are what Coursera calls a raft of courses students can take themed around a particular skill or topic. A Specialization is designed to be a more rigorous course of study. It aims to move beyond passive methods of instruction to more interactive and participatory activities. Students are often required to submit a “Capstone Project” to be peer-reviewed in order to prove they have satisfactorily absorbed the materials.

Specializations are meant to be completed in a shorter period of time than a conventional degree program, they often can be completed in as little as 4-6 months, which makes them a great way to add new skills fast. Also, because they are taken from accredited universities, they have more credibility than a typical online platform certification. Lastly, the courses taken may be able to be applied in the future towards a Professional Certification or further study, which means that courses taken can be matriculated towards a graduate degree with the proper foresight.

coursera specializations
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How Much Does a Coursera Specializations Cost?

While students can enroll in most of Coursera’s courses for free, they will still have to pay a fee to access features like certifications for a Specialization.

Coursera users can gain access to Specializations through one of a few ways:

  • Users can purchase a monthly subscription that provides students with unlimited on-demand access to the course materials required for their Specialization. The price normally varies between $39 and $89 dollars. The cost is used as an incentive to speed students to completion. Coursera has found that having students pay monthly led to 2.5x more students completing courses, sooner than those students that paid an up-front sum.

  • You may choose to purchase a yearly subscription for $249 dollars and receive unlimited access to all courses. Students also have the ability to earn a certificate for any Specialization, or Professional Certificate that is offered. This is a good option for anyone planning on taking multiple courses, as the cost of doing so can really add up.

  • Students also have the option of enrolling in a course for free, by initially choosing to audit it, and choosing to pay for a certification after completion. This typically starts at around $49 dollars per course.

At this point if you are worried about the potential cost, it is important to remember a few things. There are hundreds of free course options available on Coursera, which can be a great choice for those that are learning for personal enrichment or don’t need certification. Coursera also allows students a 7-day free trial on most courses. This is almost as generous as the month-long free trial LinkedIn Learning is offering to everyone, no hassle to cancel and no charge (as long as canceled before the 2nd month is due.) And anyone interested in Data Science will want to take a look at our list of the 6 best Data Science courses.

The above prices also don’t include the more robust degree options that Coursera offers, but these are also real degrees that will be accepted as legitimate credentials worldwide. For example, the Masters of Business Administration from University of Illinois that is offered on the platform will cost you around $21,000 dollars, which is actually pretty reasonable when compared to conventional options. There is also financial aid available that may be able to help students who wish to obtain a certification but are worried about the associated costs.

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What Are the Benefits of a Coursera Specializations?

Coursera has many different types of certificates that they offer, of which a Specialization is just one. While a Specialization is not as prestigious as a generic four-year degree, they still provide plenty of value, even on their own. They also are distinct from Coursera’s Professional Certifications or graduate school offerings, but they can include courses that may be applied to or help directly lead to both options.

Obtaining a Specialization is a tangible example of skills that you have mastered, and you can use it to promote these skills during a job search. It is hard to overstate what a clear benefit a Specialization offers through the ability to clearly market one’s new skills. This is made all the easier by the prestigious universities that Coursera has chosen to partner with, each university’s brand is effectively leveraged so as to provide a reference to others who may otherwise be skeptical of a Specialization’s value. Over 200+ universities offer courses on the platform, a list far too long for this space, but that can be found on the Coursera website here.

In addition, obtaining a Specialization should be beneficial for anyone who values any of the following:

  • A curriculum shaped and instructed by faculty from world-renown universities.
  • The ability to add new hard skills as part of a career change.
  • Using your Specialization as a motivational tool to complete coursework.
  • The ability to take courses towards a Professional Certification
  • Putting Specializations on your resume to market your new skills.
  • Those looking for credentials that can be recognized worldwide, like a graduate degree, at a fraction of the cost.

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What Are Some Potential Cons of a Coursera Specializations?

To this point we have talked about many of the benefits of Specializations, however, they are not without their shortcomings, which we will now discuss. Potential pitfalls for those interested in pursuing a Specialization mostly relate to flaws in basic human nature. Unscrupulous students could try to game the system when trying to qualify for achievements they don’t deserve. For example, it is easy enough to receive certification without actually taking the time to gain the necessary skills it represents. Some people will always choose the easy way out, even if it ends up hurting them, and combating this type of fraud is a never-ending struggle, not just for MOOCs.

Coursera takes steps to minimize such risk, and their platform is indeed one of the most in-depth in terms of rigorous instruction and what is expected of students. Still, this stigma is something that follows any MOOC and must be recognized. However, if one is honest and forthright about their online learning experience, and most importantly can show tangible skills they have learned through the process, a Specialization can still be a great asset.

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Practical Examples of a Coursera Specializations

So far, we have detailed many aspects of Specializations, but not what the actual academic experience of one is like. As described above, a Specialization typically features a number of courses on a particular subject. The culmination of some Specializations is a Capstone Project, designed to test your knowledge of the material and prove the proficiency required in earning your Specialization certificate.

Let’s look at the Digital Marketing Specialization offered by University of Illinois as an example:

  • This program is offered as six courses and a Capstone with a recommended time commitment of five hours a week and a completion time of 8 months.

  • This beginner-level Specialization’s courses include Digital Media and Marketing Strategies, Digital Marketing Analytics, and Marketing in an Analog World.

  • The program features highly accomplished faculty. The current Illinois instructors are Aric Rindfleisch, John M. Jones Professor of Marketing and Mike Yao, Professor of Digital Media and Department Head.

  • Students can expect to learn skills such as how to evaluate web tools and analytics and how to better measure and understand consumers’ digital intents.

As you can see above, the typical program is rigorous in terms of what it expects from both students and the curriculum.

Below, you can check out the list of the best Coursera Specializations

Computer Science SpecializationsView Specializations
Information Technology SpecializationsView Specializations
Data Science SpecializationsView Specializations
Business SpecializationsView Specializations
Personal Development SpecializationsView Specializations
Health SpecializationsView Specializations
Arts and Humanities SpecializationsView Specializations
Math and Logic SpecializationsView Specializations
Physical Science and Engineering SpecializationsView Specializations
Social Sciences SpecializationsView Specializations
Language Learning SpecializationsView Specializations
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Final Verdict: Is a Coursera Specialization Worth It?

So, after everything we’ve learned, is getting a Specialization from Coursera worth it?

The answer should be clear by now, however, if it’s not:

We believe pursuing a Specialization from Coursera is well worth your time and money due to the platform’s rigorous academic environment and its association with top universities worldwide. The typical Specialization has more in-depth learning features and students should feel secure knowing that they are taking courses taught by professors from accredited, name-brand universities. As far as certifications offered by online learning platforms go, they set the standard for quality.

And there you have it! While clearly not meant to replace a traditional degree or Professional Certification, Specializations have proved they are more than worthwhile and students who apply themselves should feel confident they will gain the skills they are seeking when they take one.

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Conclusion

So does that final verdict surprise you? Do you agree or disagree? If you want to learn more, be sure to stop by IQ Unlock to check out our guides for other major online learning platforms, and to find out what certifications are worth your precious time.

And if you happen to be wondering, “Hey, will putting a MOOC on my resume actually help me get a job?

Well, we have an answer for that, too, find out what it is here.

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