Online courses with Coursera
Even though online courses have been around for a while, they have never been so widespread and seen as a solution as now.
We live in an era where anything that can accelerate the readiness of professionals without an IT background, like in bootcamps, will be seen as part of a solution for the lack of professionals in the workforce and online courses are a big part of it.
Despite the hurdles of managing a company, lay-offs, price adjustments and so on, the number of users keeps growing year over year with apparently Coursera growing up to 40-45 million registered users by the end of 2019 and Udacity to be expected to hit the 11.5 million mark by the same time.
Launched in 2012, the “year of MOOCs” (massive online open course), Coursera rapidly became one of the biggest educational platforms online.
The pricing seems similar in the vast majority of the courses, with monthly subscriptions of 37-60£ per course or an annual payment of 304£ to access over 2000 courses, specialisations and certificates.
Paying for a subscription not only provides you with a set of learning materials and videos from the lecturers but also with quizzes, assignments and a mini project to consolidate the topic you just studied.
For the past months, I have been doing the User Experience Research and Design Specialisation which consists of 6 courses, with each one taking around one month to finish.
Courses are then subdivided in a set of weeks, with weeks having 2 to 4 videos ranging from 5 to 20 minutes, as well as, quizzes, assignments and a mini-project at the end of the course.
By the end of course one, I had to do a Heuristics evaluation of the Coursera forums and write up to 10 issues in the user experience that are not following good practices. Each finding should have the following structure:
Finding 1: Short description
Heuristic Observed: Heuristic #1, Heuristic #4
Description: A brief description of the problem
Recommendation: Provide a solution to fix the problem
For course two, the main goal was to understand the user’s needs in one particular feature of any app of our choice. After conducting interviews designed by ourselves with at least two people, we would then create an “affinity wall” which is a set of columns organised by topic, each containing a few post-its with quotes and observations from the participants.
|Lack of personalisation||Lack of reminders|
|[User1] Observation #1||[User2] Observation #2|
|[User1] Quote||[User1] Quote|
From all these topics, we would then extract the main issues of the app.
I realise now that this is the third time I write about education, after reviewing the Design for Mobile Developers course on Udacity and then by doing a retrospective on my Master’s degree four years later.
Online courses, in particular, are an interesting topic because even though software companies might hire someone with one and without a degree, the same doesn’t happen in the public sector.
Meaning that you might get a job in a private company but you will be unable to secure a job in schools or public companies. And it’s not hard to understand why.
In online courses, videos last no longer than an hour combined per week, which is nowhere near the minimum of what formal institutions require you to attend. Most platforms' courses, Coursera being one, are peer-reviewed which means that the grades you get are not assigned by a credited professor but by another amateur/non-graded students.
This doesn’t mean that online courses can’t be almost as important. To stay relevant in the software industry, IT professionals must keep learning and diversify their skills throughout the years.
If you plan to be as vertical and as specialised as possible in a career path, researching and focusing on that one field is crucial. But if you want to have a broader view on how a product gets developed, shipped and managed, an horizontal knowledge across all the disciplines involved is more valuable.
In my group of friends, the question to whether pay for a certificate or not, has always been at the core of our discussions. However, today I am sure that if the goal is to learn properly about a subject, practising it is mandatory, either by the form of quizzes or assignments, and that comes only with a subscription.
The main problem now is which platform to choose, but what if they were equally valuable in different scenarios? Maybe even at different points in your professional life?
Udacity seems to be a great platform if what you are looking for is learning about a topic in a “close” relationship with a specific private company.
Since most of their courses are prepared in collaboration with big names of the industry, and sometimes even lectured by their professionals, the price naturally reflects this with courses going for several hundreds of dollars per month.
Udemy, on the other hand, is more like a battle-royal of courses where anyone can create their own and sell its content. Consequently, there is a lot of dubious and sketchy courses, but among them, you might be able to find a few gems.
If what you are looking for is to get to know as much as possible about a particular topic, or even personal perspectives and uses of technology, Udemy might have courses that contain unique content that does not exist anywhere else.
Coursera seems to have more of a classical approach to education, by providing content designed and developed by universities, which tends to focus more on the conceptual side and not so much on specific tools or technologies.
Currently for me, Coursera makes the most sense because I want to learn about UX research and the thought/planning process behind it, which means the concepts and techniques used by designers and not the technologies they use.
For example, I was happy to see that by the end of the first course of the UX specialisation, there was a video with two interviews to professionals where they described the design process behind their products, which was something that I felt missing in the Udacity’s course:
“…I was hoping that at the end of all the lessons, there would be an extra video explaining how a real-world app like Google Keep or Google Music was designed.” - Udacity’s UX for Mobile Developers
If you intend to secure a job in the industry, an online course might not be enough, but it certainly gives you a substantial resume boost. Moreover, if that course is about a field of expertise that is adjacent to yours like design is to development, you will have the skills to communicate effectively between teams and understand how they work, which would make you a professional that most software companies lack.
If you are fortunate to be in a company that provides an educational budget for your professional development, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of it. As a former teacher of mine used to say “Education is the only investment in life with a guaranteed 100% return..”
Isabel Costa (@isabelcmdcosta)
Software Developer at GeoPhy
1. How do you think companies see online courses and other non-college institutions, like bootcamps?
I think companies might see this in different ways. It depends on the recruitment process and people in charge of it. From my perspective, as a college degree graduate, I think some companies may see it like the candidate is interested in learning and evolving as an engineer, and end up valuing this continuous learning attitude.
2. Which courses did you finish and what benefits did you take from them?
I did 2 courses on Coursera back in 2015, one on Computer Networks and the other on Web Application Architectures. I think as a student at the time, this could show potential employers I was interested and eager to learning about technology besides what I was taught in school.
I also, got to learn some more development focused and less theoretical focused concepts important for web development, that I actually was not taught in college. Today, I’m using Udemy as a way of learning core knowledge I need for work.
3. What do you think about all the different options available?
Regarding online courses, I can’t think about any format being missing. I think that are a lot of options out there, from video courses, to interactive web applications that teach you software engineering concepts and technologies.
- How Coursera Makes Money by Investopedia
- Udacity Competitors, Revenue and Employees by Owler
- Udacity’s 2019: Year in Review by Class Central
- Coursera’s 2019: Year in Review by Class Central
- User Experience Research and Design by Coursera
- How valid are Coursera or other online certificates as compared to proper degree? by on Quora
- Heuristics evaluation by Nngroup
- Affinity diagram by Nngroup