Friday, 3 May 2013

A review of Coursera

Coursera is a Massive Open Online Courses platform launched in April 2012 by two computer science professors from Stanford University, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.

Coursera is a venture-backed for profit company but its founders regularly state that its courses will forever be offered free of charge.

The specificities of Coursera:

Coursera does not develop courses in house but partners with other institutions to host their MOOC on its platform (hosting is free of charge and Coursera’s contract specifies a revenues and profits sharing scheme).

Coursera initially offered courses from Stanford University but quickly partnered with other prestigious universities from all around the world.
This model allows Coursera to offer the highest number and the widest range of courses of the big MOOC platforms (370 as of May 2013) and consequently attract the highest number of registration at 3.5 million as of May 2013 (the actual number of students being much lower due to the well documented retention issue).

Coursera’s strong points:

  • Prestigious partners

Coursera is contractually bound to only admit to its platform members of the prestigious Association of American Universities or top five universities in countries outside of the United States.

  • Wide course offering

Thanks to its partnership model, Coursera has quickly been able to offer a very varied selection of courses, from the University of Edinburgh’s Equine Nutrition to Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Engaging Students through Cooperative Learning.

  • Multilingual offering

As early as July 2012, the Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne announced it would be partnering with Coursera to offer MOOCs in French. Since then, Coursera has added Courses in Spanish, Chinese and Italian.

Coursera’s Signature Track allows student to earn a recognized certificate for a fee (between $30 and $100) for a selection of courses. Unlike other courses where the only requirement is to enter a valid email address, Signature Track students provide Coursera with proof of identity and are monitored via their unique typing pattern.

  • Courses for credit

Coursera is working with the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service to get courses approved for college credit recommendation (5 courses approved as of May 2013).

Coursera’s not so strong points:

  • No content curation

Coursera relies on prestigious university partners for its courses. It does not seem however to be exercising quality control on the courses. The pedagogy and the production value of the content can all vary greatly from one to the next.

  • No curriculum

Coursera is offering very diverse courses from prestigious sources but so far has done nothing to organise those courses into coherent curriculums.

  • No corporate backers

Unlike Udacity, Coursera hasn’t sought corporate backing for its courses, relying instead on the prestige of its university partners to attract participants.

Not all courses offer the option of being awarded a certificate of completion.

With its high number of courses and registered users, Coursera is often perceived as the leader of the MOOC platforms. Coursera could go a step further by focusing more on the quality of the courses offered rather than on the prestige of its partners, perhaps even going beyond being a repository of content by outlining curriculums for its students.

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