Coursera offers motivated learners immense online educational variety

Coursera: even m-learning is possible E-learning and MOOC: Coursera offers immense educational variety

If you are a student, a teacher with an active interest in e-learning, or a professional looking to develop your education and career prospects, Coursera may well be of interest to you. This leading online training and university course elearning provider offers an almost unparalleled range of course titles.

Here, we review some of the benefits of learning online with coursera.org – a relatively new MOOC (massive open online courses) provider that was founded in 2012 and has achieved widespread success remarkably quickly. Coursera offers students throughout Africa free access to online education with the possibility of a certificate of achievement on successful completion of their chosen course.

Access to world class educational providers

Originally set up in North America, Coursera owes its beginnings to two original founders, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller of Stanford University. An edtech (education technology) start-up, the company has grown rapidly over recent years and now provides online learners with universal access to the world’s best standards of education through MOOC.

This online platform provides hundreds of titles of educational content from leading universities, with the ability to search for courses that are of professional or personal interest to the potential student.

One of the main advantages of Coursera is that its wide choice of courses includes titles that are developed in conjunction with leading universities worldwide. These organisations are based mainly in the USA and the courses are delivered during a defined period, backed with support from the organisation concerned.

 

A global provider which offers a local presence in Africa

Coursera is very well known and has almost become a synonym for MOOC. The company has 146 training partners based in twenty-eight countries, with approximately two thousand different courses on offer. This provider has an office in South Africa; this relatively local presence is a considerable advantage for potential and new African students who sometimes have detailed enquiries and, quite understandably, look for a reasonably prompt response.

It is much more convenient to be able to contact a company with a subsidiary on the African continent which has a local presence to answer questions and provide support. This means there is no need to navigate the extra hurdles of having to contact an office that is geographically remote - in the United States (for instance), with the associated inconvenience of different time zones and possible extra expense of international telephone calls to other continents.

 

A world of choice and diversity

Courses may be searched by category; almost every subject is covered in the diverse range of titles from which self-starters can choose for their studies. Most courses are available in English, while a minority is available in Chinese. Many titles are available free of charge, with subjects ranging from computer science to the history of art. Business, maths and logic or physical science and engineering are complemented by social sciences, language learning and even teaching, such as with TESOL Certificates in staged parts.

Business English Communication Skills or Intermediate Grammar (University of California) are on offer in the course listings, along with an abundance of alternative titles including the chance to learn Mandarin Chinese, perhaps best suited for those students with a certain linguistic ability and a degree of motivation. Online courses such as these are especially of value to students who are interested in foreign culture as well as in learning a particular language, or who plan to travel to a country for travel or business. This type of introductory e-learning course is designed for beginners and focuses on basic phonetics and everyday expressions. In this example, students do not need to study Chinese characters; this simplifies the syllabus and makes the course easier to follow and complete.

Coursera AH Purple Design 2

Registration and setting up a student profile

On an initial visit to the cousera.org website, checked at the time of writing, the web page will initially display in English and a progress indicator increments while the page automatically checks the language settings on the site visitor’s PC or mobile device. On completion of these checks, typically after a few seconds, the Coursera page then changes to the local language, based on the device's country settings.

This may work well for most visitors to the site, but there are exceptions – an African person working in Spain, Italy or France who speaks Spanish, Italian or French only at an elementary level, for instance. Such a visitor may well prefer to work on his or her e-learning registration application in their main language. At the time of writing, there did not appear to be an option to adjust this language setting as a guest visitor. Fortunately, this can be adjusted successfully once the visitor registers a profile using an email address or other social network logins such as Facebook or Google Plus.

 

Distance education delivery and the online interfaces

In addition to an online web page interface for access via PCs and tablet devices, as is typical in the edtech field, an m-learning (mobile learning) smartphone app is also available. Students often find that m-learning offers them additional flexibility and increased opportunities to take advantage of travelling time to learn on the move, or use unexpected delays and free periods to advance their studies and progress.

Students are able to programme their study and learning activities according to their own timetables, to complement work schedules, family commitments or even other current courses in progress. Course content includes interactive quizzes, short video lecture presentations, peer assessment and the ability to connect with fellow students and course instructors.

In addition to the course content, which is presented by video, there are regular tests to check understanding. These tests (or quizzes, to use Coursera terminology) are by questionnaire - or by machine, with automated corrections. Additionally, other students carry out the peer reviews and there is a final exam before the end of the mobile learning course.

Peer assessments are not only useful for the learner, but they benefit those carrying out the assessment and represent a valuable learning experience for al concerned. Review by fellow students provides a human input, as distinct from the computerised marking of work.

The Coursera approach is to help the student learn more quickly and more efficiently. The online web and m-learning platforms are based on verified teaching methodologies that have been accredited by educational research experts and have withstood the test of time.

 

A four-pronged approach towards educational excellence

The Coursera vision and focus on the student has been shaped by four important factors. Firstly, the effectiveness of online education means that, given easier access to online platforms, it can now play a significant part in students’ lifelong learning.

Secondly, some of the courses on offer involve blended learning – i.e. face-to-face tutorials or in-centre lectures, complemented with a distance education component delivered as on-line elearning. This methodology appears to work well for conventional universities too; it has been found that a combined approach such as this tends to be more effective and produces superior learning outcomes to instruction that involves only face-to-face elements.

Conversely, this approach of combined learning methodologies can be used to balance the predominantly online element of e-learning courses with a partial on-campus element. Some of the institutions on Coursera who provide distance education find that a mixture of elearning and physical attendance at the sponsoring educational provider’s centre or faculty helps to foster student engagement, higher attendance and better performance.

Mastery is key to success. According to leading educational psychologists including Benjamin Bloom, best results are obtained by successfully completing one topic before moving on to the next stage. Coursera provides timely feedback and – if necessary – randomised repeat assignments for additional practice.

 

Fees, certificates and covering costs

Fundamentally, Coursera is a business that provides an online educational platform. As a company, it operates professionally and has formed partnerships with top universities and leading organisations worldwide to offer online courses which any motivated student who has Internet access is able to take. Nonetheless, there are costs that any business would naturally wish to recover; as an organisation, Coursera is currently supported by venture capital fundraising.

Accordingly, not all the courses are free of charge – though, for the courses that do charge a fee, potential students may apply for support with those costs if their financial situation so dictates. Additionally, a fee is charged for certain course completion certificates.

On successful completion of a course, students are currently entitled to receive a Coursera statement of accomplishment, free of charge. There is no need to produce identification for this. Alternatively, a fee is payable if formal qualification or attendance certificates are required. This paid service gives the successful student an ID-verified certificate; the cost is between USD $29 and $95 per certificate depending on the course title. Additionally, there is the possibility of financial assistance for students who cannot afford to pay the fee. Students who excel receive a certificate that is annotated with a distinction.

In the words of Coursera themselves, verified certificates ensure academic integrity. Courses from this provider seem to be generally well respected as having a high level and, in the eyes of companies and potential employers, constituting official education.

 

Completion rates

Usually, MOOC completion rates are relatively low; many would-be students start courses but then do not go on to fully complete them. This could be due to a number of possible reasons; the general rate for completion of MOOC courses by all starters is approximately 15 percent. Notably, this proportion increases significantly when, as is the case with Coursera, students can opt to pay a fee for a certificate.

Strengths, weaknesses and feedback

The challenge for learners and course providers is to combine all these well-established e-learning methods and suitable data security checks with the content and processor needs of mobile learning via a smartphone application. Sometimes a relatively basic mobile phone may be sufficient, though generally the courses are better experienced with a more powerful smartphone. The popularity of smartphones in Africa has led to a strong market demand for Android and other applications on devices. Characteristically, throughout Africa, Internet access by phone is more widespread than access to the World Wide Web through fixed ADSL broadband or standard telephone lines.

Feedback in the Coursetalk forum mentions that Coursera offers some of the best university professors from the world over, including computer science and neurobiology. Coursera was reported as offering suitable learning programmes for skill tracks, with subjects ranging from statistics to first aid, or science to astronomy.

According to largely positive recent reviews such as in the online edition of PC Mag, Coursera is credited with offering the most extensive and eclectic list of courses for an online training and higher education provider of its type. Self-paced on-demand lessons are available, in addition to timed classes over periods ranging from four to twelve weeks. Discussion boards are reported to be well administered, although some users report that in the case of humanities courses, assessments may be inadequate.

Some experts consider that smaller educational institutions and junior faculties are not proportionately represented in the course catalogue, due to the entry requirements (money, time and support) acting as a possible barrier to access.

 

Conclusion: e-learning with Coursera online courses

During a recent interview, Richard Levin (the Coursera CEO and a former Yale College President) went on record saying that few educational experts, if any, expect Coursera to replace four-year university courses.

Nonetheless, the fact that Coursera does not provide the same credentials and personal networking opportunities - or even the same overall communal experience of a more conventional university degree course - does not mean that its free online courses can not be enjoyed, used to develop new skills and satisfy old curiosities.

If you are a teacher, lecturer, university professor or other educational professional, a student or indeed anyone who wishes to find out more about online courses with Coursera, you are invited to click here (-repeat-affiliate-hyperlink) for further information, free of charge and without obligation.

Testimonials

Happy Buzaaba

Experienced with Coursera

Coursera offers a verity of courses from all areas of specialization. I personally take data science courses and they are rich in content, it has both videos and texts as well as other resources related to the course. It is flexible you can re-do the course if you want to, you can pause and reply the video, it also has a discussion forum and a help desk. It is always fun to take coursera courses.

María Alejandra Monsalve Acevedo

Experienced with Coursera

I love Coursera!

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