What is Coursera and How Can it Be Used to Teach? Tips & Tricks

(Image credit: Coursera)

Coursera is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider that partners with universities and businesses to offer a variety of self-paced online courses, certificates, and even degrees. 

For educators, the courses offered on Coursera provide a great opportunity for continuing education, and the site can be a resource for students. While many courses tend to be college or masters-level, there are also classes aimed at general audiences that might be appropriate as supplemental material on a given topic for advanced younger students. 

I’ve used Coursera for personal reasons and have recommended it to my college students. Here is what you need to know about Coursera and how it works.

What is Coursera?  

Coursera is a MOOC platform founded in 2012 by Stanford University computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. Today, the company is publicly traded and it partners with more than 275 universities and companies that host various courses on the platform. Universities that work with Coursera include the Imperial College London, Yale University, and the University of Illinois. In addition, companies such as Google, Amazon, and Meta offer courses and certificates through Coursera. 

These courses can be taken individually but many are part of certificate programs, including the MasterTrack® Certificate, which is a university-issued online graduate certificate that can count toward a full master's at the university from which it is issued.  

Most Coursera courses feature a series of short, 5-10 minute lectures from the course instructor, often alongside readings and interactive quizzes. The courses are built with current educational best practices in mind and are designed to be consumed in small increments. 

I personally use Coursera on my phone and set it on the counter as I’m doing dishes or other morning chores. When I’m in the right frame of mind, it can be a nice alternative to a podcast or audiobook. However, the quality of courses does vary significantly. Certain videos are clearly professionally shot while others seem to be of the one-take-on-a-webcam variety. And, of course, there is wide variation between the presentation skill of instructors. 

A person using the Coursera phone app and taking notes

(Image credit: Coursera)

How Much Does Coursera Cost  

Many of the courses on Coursera are offered for free in audit mode. Though you’ll have access to most course videos and materials, you may not be able to submit all course-related assignments in audit mode. 

To receive a specific course certificate, you can pay a per-course fee, which varies depending on the course. 

Subscribe to Coursera Plus for $59 per month and you receive access to more than 90 percent of Coursera’s courses. Degree programs hosted on the Coursera platform are comparable in price to online degree programs hosted elsewhere. 

What Are Some Coursera Tips and Tricks  

Use Coursera Like Podcasts or Audiobooks

You don’t have to sit down and listen to videos. Instead, you can download the Coursera app, pop in your headphones, and listen as you walk, clean, or exercise. However, because the videos are short and there are sometimes quizzes as well as visual examples interspersed, listening to the audio only is not always ideal. 

Use Coursera To Test Interest in Continuing Education 

Many educators think about returning to school but are unsure of what path to take. Because Coursera offers many different courses attached to various programs, it can be a good testing ground. For instance, a few hours of a Norse Mythology course taught me that I’m interested in that topic more as a layperson than any kind of academic. In contrast, a course on medical statistics was more intriguing than I suspected and has led me to explore additional Coursera courses on the topic.

Use Coursera to Develop Specific Skills 

For educators looking to advance their careers, Coursera offers many courses that can help you hone specific skills. From leadership courses to classroom management and courses in instructional design, there are many options to help hone your approach as an educator. 

Encourage Certain Students to Explore the Platform 

Students love learning via video and technology. Coursera offers high-quality instruction that can help students build a deeper knowledge of certain material outside of class. For instance, one of my independent study journalism students wants to focus on marketing this semester. While I have a basic understanding of the field, I’m not a marketing expert, so have suggested the student audit a marketing class and we can discuss what they learn. 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.