Have you been looking for a real education platform? One that provides legitimate courses that have certificates or even bonafide degrees?
I’ve been struggling to find a platform like this.
So many online education platforms give you the coursework without the proof that you put in all the hard work.
For those of you looking for a platform that offers accredited coursework, look no further than coursera — an online learning platform with connections to over 200 universities.
But how much does coursera cost? Is coursera worth it?
I’ll answer all these and more in this in-depth coursera review.
Let’s jump to it!
What is Coursera?
Coursera is an online learning platform that specializes in certificated (is that a word) and accredited courses, as well as focused programs such as professional certificates and degrees. All of these courses are designed to:
- boost your knowledge-base
- help you acquire hard skills, and
- further your career.
Coursera offers 3900+ accredited courses that you can take with the click of a button, giving you access to college-level courses that, when completed, will provide you with certificates that you can present to future employers and educational institutes, signifying that you have mastered the material at a high-level.
This sets coursera apart from other online learning platforms like masterclass or the great courses, which focus more on delivering engaging and entertaining content.
Coursera is different. Coursera isn’t “edutainment” like masterclass. Coursera is a real, accredited learning platform.
How Coursera works
The typical course is structured around video lectures, online quizzes, readings, and practice exercises. Courses last about 4-12 hours, and can be completed in a week.
The next level above courses is called “specializations.” These are, in effect, multi-week courses that focus in on a specific skill. They last 1-3 months.
Beyond that, they have professional certificates, which last up to 6 months. These focus primarily on boosting career potentials.
A step above that: they offer MasterTrack Certificates, which are courses through accredited programs (like University of Michigan).
Then, finally, they offer full-degrees as well.
This is a huge platform with many different levels of engagement. I’ll examine them in greater detail later in the article.
For now, let’s keep chugging along!
Who teaches at Coursera?
Since coursera courses are linked to major institutions (like university of michigan), the classes are typically taught by professors attached to big-name colleges.
For example, the science of wellbeing is taught by laurie santos, a professor of psychology at yale university, who hosts a popular podcast called “the happiness lab.”
The caliber of professors at coursera puts it above places like skillshare (which focuses on teaching quick skills), masterclass (which uses celebrities to teach all its courses), and mindvalley (which relies on self-help personalities) in terms of teaching ability.
Coursera probably has the best teaching depth of any online platform i’ve come across. The teachers are all high-quality, respected professors, and the classes they teach can actually lead to completing accredited degrees.
That’s something that’s unique to coursera, and something any prospective student should keep in mind.
How much does Coursera cost?
Let’s take a quick look at the different levels:
Guided projects are 1-2 hour ways that you can quickly learn skills for your job. They typically cost $9.99
These courses last 4-12 hours, and help you “gain new knowledge.” the vast majority of these courses are free.
But, there’s a catch!
The courses are free — but you don’t get access to any of the assignments, and you don’t get a certificate upon completion.
If you want the full class — which gets you class assignments, quizzes, instructor feedback, and a certificate; then you’ll need to pay for the course.
Certificates (an official statement from coursera stating that you completed the course), it’ll run anywhere from $30-100.
Think of the free version like auditing a college class. The certificate is like actually paying tuition and completing the class.
Specializations, which run 1-3 months, start at $39 per month per specialization. So, on the low end, you’re paying $39. On the high end, you could pay $270 per specialization.
These function as multi-month classes, more akin to a semester-long college course. They are led by professors from elite colleges, and also provide certificates upon completion.
Professional certificates run up to 6 months. These also start at $39 per month per certificate, but are longer, and more career-focused than specializations. They’re almost like mini degrees.
What is Coursera Plus
Is there a Coursera subscription?
Yes! You can get access to projects, courses, specializations, and professional certificates through coursera plus — coursera’s subscription service, which costs $59 a month or $399 for the year if you pay all at once.
The coursera plus subscription gives you access to the thousands of courses, specializations, and certificates for a flat price. Plus, each course you complete gives you a certificate — no extra fees required!
Coursera Plus allows you to take as many courses, projects, specializations, and Professional Certificates as you like.
As mentioned, it costs $399 annually, or $59 per month.
This gives you access to 3,000+ courses, all taught by professors attached to major universities like Yale, Arizona State, Michigan, Duke, and many others.
What’s included with coursera plus?
Curious about what you get when you sign up with coursera plus? Me too! It’s a little confusing to figure out what all you have access to.
Here’s what you get when you subscribe to coursera plus.
Courses. You get access to over 3,000 courses when you sign up for coursera plus. These have some big name courses taught by professors from heavy-hitting universities like yale and duke.
Guided projects. You get access to 100 projects — the short, 1-4 hour projects that help you nail a new skill in record time.
Specializations. You get access to over 1,000 specializations — those 3 month intensives that help you go deep into critically needed skills.
Professional certificates. You get unlimited access to eleven certificates. That may not sound like a lot, but remember: these are 6 month (or more) programs that require an intense amount of dedication. They’re basically mini degrees.
How much does Coursera Plus cost?
Coursera plus has two price points, depending upon if you pay monthly or annually.
If you pay annually, you pay $399 up front. That factors out to $33.25 per month.
If you pay monthly, you pay $59 per month. That factors out to $708.
So you’re paying almost twice the price if you pay monthly. But, you have the flexibility of using it for only as many months as you need. It’s up to you to decide how you want to swing it.
Can i try coursera plus for free?
Yes! You can sign up for a 14-day free trial of coursera plus.
This way, you can decide for yourself if coursera plus is right for you. It’s a great way to dip your toes into the program and possibly grab a course or two without a financial commitment. After your 14-day trial is up, you’ll be auto-enrolled at the annual rate — $399.
You can also get a free trial if you enroll at the monthly rate of $59.00, but this free trial is only good for 7 days. Decide for yourself which one you’d rather do!
Can I get a refund on Coursera Plus?
Yes! You can request a refund within 2 weeks of a payment for either coursera plus or a coursera course. It’s pretty easy. You go to “my purchases,” then go to the item you’d like refunded, find the “refund deadline” column, and then click “get refund.”
Is Coursera Plus a good deal?
Coursera plus can be a great deal! It all depends upon how many courses you take.
Let’s take that $399 annual number. If you’re taking a specialization that costs $69 a month, and it runs 3 months long, then the specialization would cost $207.
Not quite there yet.
Take another at the same price point, and now you’re looking at $414 vs. $399. So the breakeven point for specializations is around 2 specializations a year.
If you look at professional certificates, the prices can be even higher — up to $89 a month for 6 months. If you take two of those, that would cost $1,068 if purchased separately. When you use coursera plus, that’s a savings of $669.
When it comes to individual courses, it’s best to look at it month to month. Certified courses are anywhere from $30-$100 each, so coursera plus is worth it if you take 1 a month.
Want to learn more. Check out the official coursera plus page here.
Can I get a degree from Coursera?
Yes you can!
There are degree programs from coursera that are offered in partnership with major universities such as university of penn and the imperial college of london. These degrees take anywhere from 2 years to 4 years to complete, and start at $9,000.
Can i use coursera plus to get a degree?
Coursera plus is only for guided projects, classes, specializations, and professional certificates. You can’t do the mastertrack program or the degree programs with coursera plus, though you are welcome to purchase them separately.
How to access Coursera
Coursera is available through your browser, through mobile, and through tablet.
For mobile and tablet, coursera has dedicated apps that you can download and then access course materials. It’s a nice addition that is becoming increasingly necessary as people learn on the go.
Who is Coursera for?
Coursera is a great learning platform for someone who is looking to get hard skills and knowledge, along with documentation that they’ve completed the courses.
That’s what coursera has going for it — the courses are accredited and offered through major universities.
After you complete a psychology course through the imperial college of london, you can put that on your linkedin. You can add that to your resume. You can tell a future employer that you’ve completed this program through an accredited institution.
That’s a huge career-booster.
This is what sets coursera apart from other platforms like skillshare and udemy. While skillshare and udemy will provide you with the knowledge you’ll need to improve your skillset, you’re not going to get that all-critical accreditation or certificate.
And while i hate to say that education has become a commodification, it absolutely has. In today’s world, it’s critical that you be able to easily sell what you’ve learned, how you learned it, and where you learned it (god, i hate hate typing that).
The truth is, employers want to know that you learned real skills from accredited institutions. Is it fair? Maybe yes, maybe no. But that is the truth.
This is why coursera is valuable. It offers access to accredited courses at a low price point. In-person college tuition is often thousands per credit hour. At coursera, it can be as low as $39. That’s an amazing savings that comes with the all-important certificate.
So, coursera is very valuable for people looking to complete accredited education.
Who else is Coursera good for?
Coursera is good for learners who like video learning. Coursera, like many other online learning platforms, is built around watching video lectures, and then responding to the lectures through assignments.
Coursera does have quizzes and (in some cases) teacher moderated homework assignments, which gives it an extra level of immersion that other platforms lack.
Coursera is great for learners who are focused on gaining hard skills that they can apply in the job market. With its use of certificates, accreditations, and online degrees; it serves as a real alternative to higher education.
Who won’t like Coursera?
Coursera isn’t great for learners interested in celebrity teachers.
If you’re aching to learn writing from malcolm gladwell, storytelling from shonda rhimes, or cooking from gordon ramsay; might i suggest masterclass? That platform is focused on having the biggest names in their respective fields teach their talents to you in a casual setting.
Coursera isn’t about that. It doesn’t use big names to sell you on its courses. Instead, it uses the weight of the institutions, the quality of the teaching, and the value of the certificate as its selling points. If you’re looking for casual edutainment from celebrities, coursera isn’t your best bet.
Similarly, coursera isn’t great for people looking for self-help and self-improvement courses. While it is true that learning anything is great for self-improvement, coursera courses tend to be about things like “learning python” or “human psychology,” as opposed to the self-help topics of “chakra healing” or “how to be a better parent.”
If you’re looking for more soft-style self-improvement, i’d suggest mindvalley.
People who don’t like online learning will also not like coursera. It is all online. While coursera replicates the collegiate experience more closely than platforms like masterclass, it still is an online course and needs to be understood as such.
Lastly, if you’re hoping for more “edutainment” than entertainment, then coursera isn’t right for you. Coursera classes deliver real, high-quality learning that you can use to better your knowledge base and improve your career prospects almost immediately. It’s not something you binge like netflix.
My experience taking COVID-19 Contact Tracing
It’s all well and good to hear who coursera is good for and how much it costs — but it’s another to get a deep dive into a coursera course. I want to show you the ins and outs of a course, so that you can decide for yourself if this is a good fit.
Let’s take a look at a course called covid-19 contact tracing.
Starting a coursera course
When you first select a coursera course, you’ll get an about us page, which tells you which institute offers the course, what you’ll learn from the course, who your instructor is, and a lot more info.
There are six tabs on this page: about, instructors, syllabus, reviews, enrollment options, and f&qs.
The about page tells you what you’ll learn and how long the course is. For the covid-19 tracing course, it’s 7 hours long. You’ll learn the history of covid-19, the disease’s infectious period, how to perform contact tracing, obstacles to tracing, and the ethics of quarantine.
The course will also present you with a shareable certificate upon completion. Nice!
The instructor for covid-19 contact tracing is emily gurley, phd mph. She is a professor at johns hopkins university. Further detail shows that she has 6 courses on coursera that have enrolled over 1 million students.
1 million! That’s astounding. This is proof positive that coursera can make a positive impact upon education. 1 million people are taking courses that a college lecturer couldn’t reach without coursera’s platform.
The syllabus explains what you’ll cover and when you’ll cover it. In this case, the course lasts 1 week.
The week of learning is broken out into 6 lessons:
- Basics of covid-19
- Basics of contact tracing
- Steps to investigate cases
- Ethics of contact tracing
- Skills for effective communication
- Final assessment.
Each of these lessons has a video lecture, along with readings, practice exercises, and quizzes. The final assessment only has instructions and an exercise — no additional video.
The reviews tab is a nice addition. It lets you see every published review, a breakdown of reviews by stars (1 through 5), and then an average star for the course. In this case, the course has a 4.9 out of 5, with over 24,000 reviews. 88% of the reviews are 5 stars.
I always like when platforms allow user reviews to be shown, though it helps when the reviews are moderated. With a topic like covid-19, it isn’t out of the question that some reviews may bring in some disinformation or questionable politics. From my examination, that didn’t seem to be the case.
Plus, they have “top reviews” which are reviews that other students marked as helpful — showing that they value how students communicate their opinions to others. All in all, this seemed like a very user-friendly element.
This is a pretty simple tab that just shows you how you can enroll in the course. It also lets you know that you can share your certificate on linkedin. That’s a big benefit.
The faq section is a mixture of general questions (can i enroll for free) that are asked about every course, as well as more specific questions (how do i apply to become a contact tracer) that are about the material of the course. It’s not terribly deep, but it’s a nice touch.
Great! You love the course, you’re ready to take the plunge.
You click enroll.
You’re now taken to an overview page. This shows you your overall progress, your weekly goal, notes from the instructor, and every lesson + sub-lesson that you need to complete to mark the course finished.
It’s pretty simple. Just follow the instructions, check off the assignments, and move through the course.
On the left hand column, there are tabs for overview, grades, notes, discussion forums, messages, resources, and course info.
You’ll spend most of your time in overview, as that’s where you access the videos and the lessons. But it’s good to familiarize yourself with the other sections, like grades and the discussion forums.
For this class, the forums were empty, which was surprising, as most online platforms tout their robust forums features. I am unsure if this was turned off for fear of disinformation around covid, or if this were an organic result, but it was surprising.
Who would like this course?
Covid-19 contact tracing great course for anyone who wants to learn more about covid, and for anyone who’d like to help be a part of the solution to the pandemic. I especially enjoyed how there was a real skill attached to this course — contact tracing — as opposed to it being a general knowledge class (say, covid 101).
This seems to gel with coursera’s overall mission, providing courses that will give you actionable and marketable skills in the workplace.
If you’re curious to know more about covid-19, or wish to become a contact tracer to curb the spread of the disease, this is a great 7-hour course to get you started on the right foot.
Who wouldn’t like this course?
If you’re not interested in the material, you won’t like the course. That’s what’s great about coursera, the courses are very much what you see is what you get. If you don’t want to become a contact tracer, then don’t take this course.
Each course is built around a career goal. It’s up to you to decide beforehand if the course aligns with your ideal career trajectory.
Covid-19 Contact Tracing Pros
Short and sweet! The covid-19 course is just 7 hours long, allowing you to get valuable knowledge and skills in less than 1 week.
You gain a skill. You learn how to perform contact tracing, something that is sorely needed at the moment.
There are graded assignments. Your knowledge is tested, ensuring that you actually know the material
You get a certificate. You can share your completion on linkedin, giving your profile a boost
Covid-19 contact tracing is an excellent example of a coursera course.
It’s a 7-hour course, led by a distinguished professor, that provides you with applicable knowledge and skills, helping you boost your career. To ensure that you’ve mastered the material, there are quizzes and exams, but they are much more low-pressure than anything in a classroom.
Plus, upon completion, you gain a shareable certificate, letting you show off your mastery to the entire world.
I would definitely recommend this course to anyone!
Check out covid-19 contact tracing on coursera here.
The pros of Coursera
It’s time in my review to break out the pros and cons for coursera. This way, you can easily see for yourself what parts stand out (in a good way), and which parts of coursera i think need some work.
Let’s take a look at the pros.
Certificates and Degrees
This was, by far, the biggest selling point for me. Coursera courses provide you with a certificate upon completion. This certificate can be shared to your linkedin, letting people know that you mastered the material from an accredited institution.
This is a huge boon for career development, and sets coursera apart from many other platforms like skillshare.
Plus, coursera offers degree tracks (though these are much more expensive), allowing you to complete online bachelor’s and master’s programs from your home. In today’s hyper-connected world, that’s increasingly valuable.
Major university buy-in
There are some big name universities that offer courses through coursera. I’m talking about yale, duke, johns hopkins, and many others. This means that you can take a yale course, and get a certificate of completion, for a fraction of actually taking a class in person at yale.
This gives coursera added legitimacy; you’re having your class taught by a professor from a university, not just some random person who signed up to teach on a learning platform.
This partnership and curation makes coursera’s offering quite valuable and impressive.
The courses don’t just teach knowledge for knowledge’s sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rather, the courses provide you with applicable skills that you can use to further your career.
The combination of academics and skill acquisition was a balance that coursera struck excellently. I haven’t seen this in other learning platforms — they typically dip too far one way or the other.
Multiple ways to pay
You can use coursera in multiple ways:
- You can take courses for free (though you don’t get a certificate)
- You can pay for courses individually.
- You can buy a monthly subscription.
- You can buy a yearly subscription through coursera plus.
The flexibility that coursera offers for signing up and payment is unexpected and much appreciated.
The cons of Coursera
Like every program i review, there were a few things i think could be improved. Let’s take a look at the cons.\
Confusing terminology and pricing
The user experience for coursera can be a little confusing.
Differentiating between projects, courses, certificates, mastertrack, and degrees was downright frustrating. Additionally, coursera plus covers some but not all of the offering on coursera. It was confusing to see which was offered under coursera plus and which was not.
Additionally, the pricing of individual courses was not readily apparent. It would say “starting at $39,” but then courses were $89 a month. Okay, sure i guess that’s above $39, but it wasn’t very clear.
I’d appreciate it if they’d clean that up.
Accreditation vs. Certificate is confusing
This was another instance where i wound up scratching my head.
You can get a certificate from an accredited institution, but that doesn’t mean the course itself is accredited. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. It may sound like it’s splitting hairs, but the difference is important. I found the delineations to be unclear, and i hope that coursera clears that up.
What are the alternatives to Coursera?
There are a lot of big names in the online learning space, and it can be a little confusing to figure out what each platform offers, how much each costs, and which one is best for you.
That’s why i’ve put together a little guide which compares coursera to some of the more popular learning platforms. This way, you can see how they all stack up!
Coursera vs. MasterClass
Masterclass is a real heavyweight in the online learning game. I really love their platform (check out my masterclass review here), but their specialty is not the same as coursera’s.
Masterclass is all about you learning from some of the biggest names in their respective fields. I’m talking about usher, neil gaiman, natalie portman, helen mirren. These are big names who sit with you for quite a few hours to teach you what they’ve learned over a lifetime.
Most of these courses are craft-based — like writing, cooking, gardening; but some are more philosophical, like how neil degrasse tyson teaches critical thinking. The classes are highly engaging, but they’re more of a hybrid between entertainment and education than hard education. They’re like documentary series on netflix — engaging and informative. It’s pretty easy to binge 6 hours on masterclass.
By contrast, coursera is all about teaching you hard skills. The coursera classes are accredited (masterclass is not), and present you with certificates on completion.
The prices are also quite different. Masterclass runs $180 for the year while coursera costs $399 with the annual membership. That’s more than double.
But it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison. Masterclass is entertaining. Coursera helps you build a career.
Coursera vs. Skillshare
Skillshare is a platform that is slightly closer to coursera than, say, masterclass. Slightly. Coursera does focus on helping you learn skills that can help your career (hence the name skillshare), though it doesn’t just focus on hard skills. You can learn coding or baking or photography or any number of things.
The difference with skillshare is that these aren’t college professors teaching you these courses. They aren’t celebrities either. Instead, it’s a grab bag of teachers who in some cases are quite excellent and in other cases are kind of meh. There is a rating feature to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, but curation is not a selling point of skillshare.
Instead, the selling point is that these classes are short. Like, 30 minutes to an hour short. That’s the upside of skillshare: learn a new skill in an hour.
How much does it cost? $144 for a yearly subscription. This is less than half the price of coursera.
But, with coursera, you’re getting accredited courses taught by professors attached to major college institutions. That’s the selling point.
If you want to learn a skill fast, try skillshare.
If you want to complete an accredited course for a relatively low price, coursera is the right choice.
I’ve written a pretty comprehensive review of skillshare here.
Coursera vs. Udemy
Udemy has a massive library of online courses — over 130,000 courses! That’s like the spotify of online learning platforms.
(read my full udemy review here).
By contrast, coursera has around 4,000. The difference being that coursera’s courses are more curated and attached to institutions of higher learning.
Udemy, on the other hand, has classes taught by all kinds — like skillshare, though there are lots of applicable classes that can help you further your career.
With udemy, you pay by the class, which can cost anywhere from $12.99 to $300.
Coursera does allow you to pay by the class, but it also has the coursera plus option at $399 per year.
Udemy will provide certificates at the end of the course, but their courses aren’t accredited.
By contrast coursera does provide certificates for courses that are led by accredited institutions. Now, to be clear, not every coursera course can be brought to an in person college and swapped for college credit. There are degree tracks through coursera that do provide real college credit, but these aren’t available through coursera plus. Instead, you’re getting real courses from accredited institutions — but not all classes itself count toward college credit hours. Some do, some don’t. You need to read the fine print!
Confusing, i know, but it’s important!
Coursera vs. Mindvalley
Mindvalley is a very different learning platform than coursera (i wrote all you need to know about it in my mindvalley review). Mindvalley is all about self-improvement and self-help, and it caters to a very different audience than coursera.
Mindvalley has around 30 courses that revolve around daily learning, videos, lessons, and check-ins from teachers.
These classes can be relatively practical, like “money eq” by ken honda, lifebook by jon & missy butcher, or super brain by jim quick.
Other courses can be much more spiritual, like “awaken the species” by neale donald walsch — a noted spiritual author.
Some classes can get downright paranormal, like “the silva ultramind” method by vishen lakhiani. This class teaches that you have latent esp powers.
These courses are a pretty accurate reflection of mindvalley classes. It’s a lot different than coursera, right? If you’re looking to balance your chakras, boost your meditation, or learn how to consciously uncouple, you should check out mindvalley. Heads up, the price is an eye-watering $499 a year for 30 classes.
Coursera, of course, is a lot different than that. Coursera focuses on hard skills that are attached to accredited universities. Followers of the scientific method will breathe a sigh of relief. With 3,000 courses for $399, coursera plus is less expensive and has more content than mindvalley.
Coursera vs EdX
Edx is perhaps one of the closest platforms to coursera. Edx provides free college courses (which you can pay and get a certificate of completion) on a variety of topics from high-end institutions such as mit, harvard, and wellesley.
If you don’t want a certificate, the class is free. If you want a certificate, it’ll run you around $50.
The difference between edx and coursera is mainly the amount of content. Edx is significantly smaller, and doesn’t offer degree programs. Instead, edx feels much more “non-profity” (but i don’t know if it actually is non-profit) in that it’s trying to make higher education more accessible to all.
Coursera, on the other hand, is a bigger and more robust platform. It has 4,000 courses. Additionally, coursera is more career-oriented with classes like coding. Edx has language classes, religion classes — it’s a more liberal arts-centered learning platform.
Coursera vs. The Great Courses
The great courses is the oldest learning platform on this list, having gotten its start 30 years ago. Back then, you would purchase courses which were delivered by video. Now, you can purchase them online and watch them on your computer.
The great courses courses are strictly video lectures and supplemental readings. The classes are usually around 24 hours (quite long), and typically cover the material at an intro-college-course-level. Classes are typically taught by college professors, but other professionals in their fields are used from time to time.
Unlike coursera, these courses don’t provide certificates and don’t have quizzes and grades. They’re strictly informational. The closest analogue to them i can think of is history channel documentaries. They cover the material quite well, and they’re academic in nature.
Standalone courses vary in price, but are usually in the $50-200 range.
You can purchase the great courses plus — their subscription service — for $360 a year, giving you unlimited access to their thousands of courses.
This isn’t too much less than coursera’s price.
Coursera, though, is more practically-oriented than the great courses — offering skill-based and academic classes that have certificates upon completion.
My the great courses plus review dives into this platform in more detail.
Coursera: Is it worth it?
Yes, without a doubt, coursera is worth it.
Coursera is a great program that brings higher education and skill acquisition to the world for competitive prices. If you’re looking to learn a new skill, gain some certificates for your job hunt, or finally complete that degree, coursera is an awesome and legitimate platform for you to achieve these goals.
I highly recommend it.