How to Take Free Coursera Courses Online

A (mostly) free online learning platform for everyone

The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
Introduction

Coursera is an online education service that offers college-level courses online to anyone for free. Classes are available in a range of subjects, and thousands of students may take a single course at the same time. Coursera courses are taught by professors from dozens of well-known universities that partner with Coursera. Each educational course is known as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

Coursera homepage

Partners include Ivy League schools like Harvard and Princeton Universities, as well as large, top-tier state schools 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 include video lectures and interactive exercises at no charge to students. These courses do not typically offer official college credit, which could be applied toward a college degree.

However, Coursera does offer a signed certificate of completion for students who finish the assigned coursework. Students must pay a $49 fee to receive a certificate, but not all classes on Coursera offer a certificate.

Coursera offers a few degree programs from major universities through its platform. Including bachelor's and master's programs, Coursera degrees typically cost less than online or on-campus degrees but may range up to $25,000.

Coursera Syllabus

Courses offered by Coursera 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 may also be a final exam.

What Courses Can I Take at Coursera.org?

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. Coursera also offers a robust business catalog. Some of these courses include the following:

  • Cloud Engineering with Google iCloud
  • Technical Support Fundamentals
  • Digital Marketing
  • Methods and Statistics in Social Sciences
  • Music Production

Degrees offered through Coursera include the following:

  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • Master of Business Administration 
  • Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences

Visit the Coursera website for a full list of available courses.

Coursera category listing

What Learning Techniques Does Coursera Employ?

Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller researched pedagogical approaches and the use of artificial intelligence to boost student learning and engagement. As a result, Coursera's classes typically require students to perform tasks that reinforce learning.

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

Social Learning in Coursera

Social media techniques are applied in Coursera classes in various ways. Some courses use peer-to-peer evaluation of student work, in which you evaluate the work of fellow students and they evaluate yours.

There are 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 for Coursera

Follow these steps to sign up for Coursera and begin browsing the course offerings.

  1. Go to Coursera.org and select Join for Free in the upper-right corner to initiate the sign-up process.

    The Join for Free button on Coursera
  2. After you sign up, you are asked to provide information about your work experience, education, and career goals. When complete, select Continue.

    Coursera course browsing
  3. You are now free to browse the available courses and register for a class.

How to Register for a Class on Coursera

Courses are usually offered on specific dates, with a starting and ending week. Courses are synchronous, meaning students take the course at the same time, and courses are only available at the stated times. This is different from asynchronous online courses, which you can take any time you'd like.

Follow these basic steps to register for a Coursera class.

Instructions may vary somewhat depending on the course in question.

  1. Navigate to the class you would like to take or browse the Coursera catalog until you find one that suits your interests. Select the course to open a detailed profile of the class and its instructors. It lists the starting date, duration, and a summary of the workload in terms of hours typically required from each student. It usually offers a description of the course content and a bio of each instructor.

    Coursera enroll
  2. Select Enroll for Free.

    The Enroll for Free button on a Coursera course
  3. You can pay for a certificate acknowledging your completion of the course, or take the full course without the certificate. Make your selection, then select Continue.

    Coursera certificate
  4. Select Start Learning to access the course materials and begin learning. You may have to wait for the course to begin to access certain lecture videos or materials.

    Coursera start learning

How to Take a Course Through Coursera

To successfully complete a course through Coursera, you must complete a series of tasks and assignments, the extent of which depends on whether you opted for the free version or paid for a certificate.

Free courses provide full access to pre-recorded video lectures that you can watch at your convenience. These courses may also include student discussion forums, homework assignments, quizzes, and exams.

Coursera portal

Generally speaking, the paid courses are more involved and require certain steps to complete successfully to achieve a certificate or degree. Assessments of student performance are usually behind a paywall.