Guide to Taking Free Coursera Courses

An Online Learning Platform for Everyone

Online education
Online education booming. Getty Images/Emrah Turudu

Coursera is a leading online education service launched in 2012 to offer college courses online to anyone for free. Free Coursera courses (at are available in all kinds of subjects, and typically thousands of students simultaneously take each one at the same time.

Millions of people are signing up to take the hundreds of available free courses, typically taught by professors at dozens of well-known universities that have partnered with Corsera.

(Each course is known as a MOOC, an acronym for "massive open online course.")

Partners include Ivy League schools like Harvard and Princeton as well as large, top-tier state universities such as the Universities of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan.

(For a full list of participating schools, visit the Coursera universities page.)

What You Get from Coursera Courses

Free Coursera courses offer video lectures and interactive exercises (at no charge to students, as previously stated.) They do not typically offer official college credit, which could be applied toward a college degree. However, Coursera has begun to experiment with offering a form of certification by providing people who finish all of the coursework a signed "certificate of completion." Students must pay a fee, though, to get a certificate, and they are not available for all courses, at least not yet.

Courses offered by Corsera typically last up to 10 weeks and include a couple of hours of video lessons each week, along with interactive online exercises, quizzes and peer-to-peer communication among students.

In some cases, there's a final exam, too.

What Courses Can I Take at

Subjects covered in Coursera's curriculum are as diverse as those at many small and midsize colleges. The service was started by two computer science professors from Stanford, so it's especially strong in computer science.

There's a full list of available courses on the website that you can browse. See the course catalog here.

What Learning Techniques Does Coursera Employ?

Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller did a lot of research into pedagogical approaches and using artificial intelligence to boost student learning and engagement. As a result, Coursera's classes typically rely heavily on requiring students to actively do things in order to reinforce learning.

So, for example, you might expect a video lecture to be interrupted multiple times to ask you answer a question about the material you've just seen. In homework assignments, you should get immediate feedback. And in some cases with interactive exercises, if your answers suggest you haven't mastered the material yet, you may get a randomized repeat exercise to give you more opportunity to figure it out.

Social Learning in Coursera

Social media are applied in Coursera classes in various ways. Some (not all) courses use peer-to-peer evaluation of student work, in which you will evaluate the work of your fellow students and others will evaluate your work, too.

There are also forums and discussions allowing you to communicate with other students taking the same course.

You may also be able to see questions and answers from students who previously took the course.

How to Sign Up and Take a Coursera Course

Go to and start browsing the available courses.

Note that the courses are usually offered on specific dates, with a starting and ending week. They are synchronous, meaning students take them at the same time, and they are only available at the state times. That is different from another type of online course, which is asynchronous, meaning you can take those any time you want.

When you find one with an interesting title, click on the course title to see the page explaining the course in more detail. It will list the starting date, state how many weeks it lastsĀ and give a short summary of the workload in terms of the hours typically required from each student. It usually offers a good description of the course content and bio of the instructors.

If you like what you see and want to participate, click the blue "SIGN UP" button to enroll and take the course.

Is Coursera a MOOC?

Yes, a Coursera class is considered a MOOC, an acronym standing for massive, open online courses. You can read more about the MOOC concept in our MOOC guide. (Read our guide to the MOOC phenomenon.)

Where Do I Sign Up?

Visit the Coursera website to register for the free classes.

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