My Recent Thoughts on Coursera Courses

MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has gained a lot of attention since 2011 and it was really really “hot” in 2012. Although the temperature of this topic  has dropped in 2014, the market revenue mechanism seems getting more mature, based on my observation on people who are taking courses on Coursera and paying for the certificates.

I remember that the first time I noticed there were options of paid certificate for courses on Coursera. You can take still take all the courses for free, but you can also choose to pay about $49 (sometimes more or less) per course to get a completion certificate. When I first saw this, my reaction was: if learners need to pay for the certificates, should the courses still claim to be “Open”? In my mind back then, probably also in many others’, “open” equals to “free“. So I was against the idea of charging money for  MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).

However, my idea about “paid” MOOC courses has changed, after I started taking a series of courses on Data Science last Friday. I chose to take this series of courses because “Big Data” is hot right now, and I want to know more about how I can apply data mining strategies (possibly) in education. This course series seem to be a good fit. I noticed that the course series have the option of “Specialization” and I said to myself: let’s take the first course, and see what happens. After two days of working on the course, I felt the course was totally worth it. I paid the 49 dollars for the signature track of the course and plan to do so for the rest eight courses and the capstone project in this specialization series.

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Ok, now let’s look at and summarize what I learned about Coursera, MOOC, and paid certificates within MOOC:

  1. First of all, now looking at the price of $49, I think: “should we even call this a paid course if paying $49 for a certificate”? I’ve come across quite a few Coursera MOOC courses and I admit that some of them are not that good. But when they are good, they are good. So for a well organized, carefully designed and lectured course, with a lot of useful information, skills, and techniques that I’ve learned, I think $49 is merely nothing. Think about how much those online programs charge for a “program certificate” (here, here, and here). In this case, I think even with a paid certificate option, MOOC is still “free” and “open”.
  2. Coursera is really smart by restricting their course providers to accredited institutions (usually top institutions). When the time Coursera started, there were many other similar MOOC providers/platforms, such as Udacity, Udemy, edX, etc. By now, all of them have chosen their own business (or non-business) module. Coursera chose to stay with the traditional top institutions. This idea wasn’t very attractive at the first place, and didn’t sound very “open” and “grass-rooty” to me. But now that I think about my experiences of taking the courses, I think this might have been the simplest way to ensure the course quality. We can argue that non-top universities and institutions, or even personnels can also create high-quality MOOC courses, but to just select the top institutions as their course providers may be the smartest thing that Coursera has done so far – top institutions usually have more resources, in terms of the instructors, graduate assistants, the course materials development, etc. On the contrary, top institutions attract more learners because of their names in the traditional education field.
  3. Will the Coursera Certificate and its kind become more and more “useful” and “popular”on resumes and job market? I think so. I think the meaning of having a MOOC certificate is more than just taking an online course – that means that you were interested, you were willing to learn, and you took the action. The potential employers would definitely be more impressed with a job applicant’s resume who has MOOC certificates than one’s without. I think it is becoming a trend for life long learners to take online courses and therefore MOOC certificates is a future destiny too. I just took this Coursera poll this morning around 9:30 am EST on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 from the right side of Coursera’s homepage. I made a screen capture of the result after I clicked on “Submit” button because I think it is interesting. You can see from this screen capture, 33% of poll participants thought it is very important to earn a certificate after completing a Coursera Course, and 24% chose important, whereas another 24% chose Somewhat important. Although we can argue that the sample group itself is probably biased, since people who would take the poll might have already been very engage with the learning process via Coursera. Yet I think it backs my point here perfectly. Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 9.37.27 AM

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