Coursera - An online short term course initiative

In this article I will discuss about online courses, their advantages and challenges and will write about a popular and growing online course initiative - Coursera, started with an aim of providing world class education to everyone for free.

Online short term courses

Short term courses are helpful in gaining knowledge of a new subject or enriching knowledge of an already studied subject. The degrees/certificates earned as a part of the course may help in attracting good employers or aid in growth in the present profession. People are mostly aware of the courses provided by the universities in their campus but there is very little awareness about the online initiatives. Online education is a new and growing methodology of imparting education. This form of education is made available over internet and anyone having a computer and internet connection at home can use this method of education. With the growth of computer usage and easy availability of internet, this form of education is gaining popularity.

Advantages of online courses

The advantages of online courses are as follows.

1. Education at home: You do not need to go anywhere to take an online course. Sitting right at home just by having computer and internet connection, one can avail the course making it quite convenient.
2. Flexibility: One can take the course at any time of the day. There is no need to follow strict timings of the class. Whenever one gets time to concentrate on the course he/she can take it. Also the online course video/audio can be listened any number of times as against the on-campus class which is only once per day.
3. Access to best education: It is difficult to access education from top class universities for everyone. But through this online methodology which is now being followed by almost every top university whether Indian or abroad, one can get high quality education.
4. Cheap: Most of the online classes are being provided for free with the aim of imparting high quality education to everyone. The only cost is of purchasing a computer and internet connection.

Thus online courses are courses for everyone which can be taken with almost no financial strain and at anytime of the day.

Challenges for online courses

Though online courses are growing in popularity and have many advantages but many challenges do exist.

1. Not a replacement to traditional system: Online courses cannot yet replace the traditional system of imparting courses where examination form an important part to test the student's understanding and impart degrees/certificates. Conducting fool proof examination for imparting degrees to the students taking online courses is presently very challenging.
2. No direct student-teacher interaction: The direct student-teacher interaction which exists in traditional system is missing in online system due to which sometimes there is lack of proper guidance, motivation, discussion, correction of mistakes and clearance of doubts.
3. Lack of discipline: Traditional system imparts discipline in the students. They need to come on time for the class, complete assignments on time etc which are missing in online system. Without a teacher on one's head a person can loose track and distract from the course. In online system all depends on the self motivation of the student taking the course.

Though online courses currently cannot replace on-campus courses but they are gaining popularity as one can get high quality education for free sitting at home.

Coursera- A popular online course initiative

Coursera is a free online short term course initiative started by Stanford University (USA). It was started by professors - Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller in April 2012. Till now almost 2 million people from all over the world have joined Coursera to take various courses. Coursera not only provide courses from Stanford University but also from many other top international universities. Till today 33 universities have become part of it. Following universities form the part of coursera.

Universities participating in Coursera

Berklee College of Music
Brown University
California Institute of Technology
Columbia University
Duke University
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Emory University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Johns Hopkins University
Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Ohio State University
Princeton University
Rice University
Stanford University
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The University of British Columbia
University of California, Irvine
University of California, San Francisco
University of Edinburgh
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of London International Programmes
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Melbourne
University of Michigan
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Toronto
University of Virginia
University of Washington
Vanderbilt University
Wesleyan University

Category of courses

Coursera currently offers free courses in following 20 categories.

Biology & Life Sciences
Business & Management
Computer Science: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Vision
Computer Science: Programming & Software Engineering
Computer Science: Systems, Security, Networking
Computer Science: Theory
Economics & Finance
Electrical and Materials Engineering
Food and Nutrition
Health and Society & Medical Ethics
Information, Technology, and Design
Music, Film, and Audio Engineering
Physical & Earth Sciences
Social Sciences
Statistics, Data Analysis, and Scientific Computing


There are currently 212 courses being offered in total. Some of the courses, for example, being offered are as follows.

Natural Language Processing
Design and Analysis of Algorithms I
Model Thinking
Probabilistic Graphical Models
Software as a Service
Computer Vision: The Fundamentals
CS 101
Introduction to Logic
Machine Learning
Introduction to Sociology
Introduction to Finance

Enrolling for a course

The steps for enrolling for a course in Coursera are as follows.

1. Register free with the coursera website using your email id.
2. Browse through the coursera website to select the course which you want to take.
3. See the course startup date. If it has started or is going to start soon, there is an enroll button which you can click and register with the course for free.
4. Once into the course site, there is a short description, prerequisites and FAQ of the course. Also there is a biography of the instructor and a video containing an introductory message from the instructor.
5. Once registered you can start taking the course free by watching each week's videos, completing assignments, participating in group discussions etc.
6. The update about the course you have enrolled in is provided in your registered email id from time to time.
7. Any new information about Coursera is also provided in email id.

Course Duration

The duration of a course varies from course to course. Generally it is from 6 weeks to 15 weeks.

Course Structure

The course structure is as follows.

1. Course videos (4 to 5) of 15-20 min duration each will be put every week on the course website.
2. Each video will generally contain quiz to test the student's understanding.
3. Every week there will be an assignment to be completed within a week's deadline. This assignment is graded.
4. There will be a 3 hour online examination after the course finishes.
5. The marks in assignments and examination will be used to form the final result.
6. On successfully meeting the minimum marks required for the course a certificate of completion is given to the student.

The assignment and examination are expected to be completed by the student himself/herself without any cheating.

Benefit of course certificate

Coursera is recognized worldwide as it is being provided by the topmost universities. The course completion certificate will thus add value to one's resume but make sure you have taken the course seriously and have all the knowledge in order to attract good employers.

Employment Service

Coursera has recently started an employment service where students can register themselves including their bio data and courses they have completed. Currently this service is for computer science students for jobs mostly in US in companies like Facebook, Twitter, AppDirect and TrialPay but soon this service will spread to other fields and countries. Coursera will share the students information with these companies and if found suitable the company will contact the candidate.

Coursera website

You can visit and enroll for the Coursera courses on website

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Author: Deepika26 Jan 2013 Member Level: Gold   Points : 0

Good my article is helping others. Yes go ahead and enroll for the courses. They are worth going for. Best of Luck!!

Author: P Govind Raju02 Jun 2013 Member Level: Silver   Points : 0

It is a wonderful opportunity for students who can't afford to take vocational courses outside. Thank you for your article atlast I could find some good certified courses for free.

Author: Naveed Ahmed17 Jun 2013 Member Level: Gold   Points : 3

Coursers and some other platforms like it are doing a wonderful job in serving the noble cause of education by promoting completely free online courses and certification programs. To know more about other such platforms which offer free courses, read this article at ISC;

Guest Author: rinkoo singh23 May 2015

I am rinkoo singh, interested in business and management course

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