How Does Coursera Work?

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Coursera is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider founded in 2012 by two Stanford University computer science professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. Like all online learning platforms, Coursera seeks to provide flexible online education and training for learners anywhere.

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Coursera stands out for its top-notch educational partnerships and degree programs. Coursera's 2021 Impact Report states that Coursera courses have welcomed ​92 million learners​ and ​189 million​ enrollments since 2016. How do they do it – and is Coursera's online education worth it for you?

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How Does Coursera Offer Degree Programs?

Coursera itself isn't accredited, but its more than 175 university partners are. Coursera offers ​4,400​ university courses, ​33​ degree programs, ​39​ certificate programs and ​490​ specializations. Coursera delivers the online learning platform and marketing, and university partners provide the course content.

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Coursera's goal is to provide "the best learning to every corner of the world." As a Harvard Business School article noted, Coursera must invest in being a robust education platform and partner with educational institutions for content design and delivery. That is exactly what Coursera does.

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The partner list includes: Yale University, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania, John Hopkins University and Princeton, to name a few. The only online platform that rivals Coursera in this way is edX, a similar platform partnering with institutions like MIT and Harvard.

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Top universities deliver online courses, postgraduate studies and online bachelor's and master's degrees through Coursera. For instance, through Coursera, learners can earn an iMBA from the University of Illinois for about ​$23,000​, less than half of the on-campus cost.

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A Coursera Master Track Certificate is a portion of a master's program. Once completed, you receive a certificate. If you go on to complete the degree, the Master's Track module counts toward your master's coursework.

All degree coursework is online and results in a credential or degree administered by an accredited institution.

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Coursera Course Content & Instructors

More than 80 percent​ of Coursera learners gave their course a 5-star rating, and ​94 percent​ would recommend Coursera to a friend. The fact that top universities offer degree programs through Coursera also speaks to the high quality of content.

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The learning materials resemble any online course: a syllabus, short video lectures, reference materials, quizzes and assessments, a discussion forum and instructor feedback.

Coursera instructors are university instructors and lecturers or industry professionals. The partner institutions employ them. Coursera pays partners and instructors through revenue sharing.

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Coursera itself isn't accredited, but its more than 175 university partners are.

Types of Coursera Courses & Certificates

Coursera has other learning programs and formats, too. Time commitments differ, depending on the type of course:

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  • Guided Projects (1 to 2 hours): Quick job skills and real-world industry training
  • Individual Courses​ (4 to 12 hours long): Stand-alone or part of a specialization
  • Specializations (1 to 3 months): A series of courses geared toward skill mastery, with a certificate of completion issued by Coursera after a capstone project is completed
  • Professional Certificates (1 to 3 months): Certifications for career growth, with a certificate of completion issued by the organization offering the course

Industry partners deliver professional certificate programs and specializations, but the credential given differs.

For instance, IBM awards an IBM badge for its Professional Certification in data science, Python and SQL, but IBM's machine learning specialization results in a Coursera Certificate. Certificates and badges can be added to your LinkedIn profile or resume.

The Cost of Coursera Courses

You can try Coursera free of charge by setting up an account and perusing their selection of over ​1,600 free courses.

When you enroll in a free individual course, there is an "audit only" option, which is truly free but may not grant you access to the complete course materials, assessments, discussion forums or instructor feedback. You can purchase the course and receive a Coursera Course Certificate. That upgrade cost starts at ​$29 per course.

Coursera Specializations begin at ​$39 per month​, MasterTrack Certificate Programs start at ​$2,000​ and degree programs start at ​$9,000​.

There is financial aid available through a link on every Coursera course. Visit Coursera's Financial Resources page for more ideas to cut the cost.

If your employer reimburses for professional development, you can use your Coursera certificate and receipt of payment for reimbursement. If your employer participates in Coursera for Business, you may have complimentary access to more than 5,000 Coursera courses.

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Coursera Plus

The Coursera Plus program grants unlimited access to more than 7,000 Coursera courses, Guided Projects, Specializations and Professional Certificate Programs. The current cost is ​$59​ monthly or ​$399​ for the year. You can sign up for a seven-day free trial to sample the program first.

If you plan to take multiple courses throughout the year, you can save money with Coursera Plus.

Is Coursera Worth It?

Whether you are looking for personal enrichment, skill-building or career advancement, you can find a class in one of Coursera's format options and price points. The best things about Coursera are the high-quality content and the opportunity to complete online degree programs through real-world institutions at a fraction of the cost.

If your goals and budget align with Coursera offerings, you can count on getting a quality online education through this MOOC provider.

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