When college shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of March, a lot of us were left clueless as to what to do and how to make the best use of our time during a rather uncomforting and troubling time. A lot of students scourged to get online remote internships while some others chose to turn to certain required and essential skills like cooking, art, music, and dance. Most people had a singular objective – since we don’t know exactly when the college will reopen, it would be in our best interests to improve ourselves as much as possible. Then, one fine morning we got a notification on our class groups, tons of people put it up as their status and there was a lot of discussion regarding the same – Coursera, the world’s leading online MOOC(Massive Open Online Classroom) platform was offering a vast catalog of more than a thousand courses, specializations, and guided projects for free till 30th September(Yeah, you have two more months to make the best out of it). This was all thanks to Centre for System Design(CSD), Prof KV Gangadharan and IRIS NITK.
But has it been useful? What are the thoughts of students? What about the subsequent release of edX? And are those Coursera certificates really useful?

For starters, the entry of Coursera into our lives and the free courses they provide created a lot of interest. Many people enrolled in a lot of courses and lots of them even completed the same. The courses ranged from technology, computer science, engineering, pure science to business, economics, finance, arts, psychology, and marketing. It allowed students from all branches to explore new fields, gain skills required in the same and also in some cases even complete a project to apply what they learned to a real-world issue, problem, or case study. Based on general feedback from people, Machine Learning has been one of the most sought after courses along with Python and web/app development. Needless to say, the tech and IT-related courses are the ones that have generated maximum interest. Business-related courses have also generated a decent interest and people have explored a rather diverse array of courses in the field. 

A lot of people have taken to LinkedIn to express their gratitude to Coursera and the college while also showcasing their skills and certificates in the process. A quick overview of the 3 main offerings which Coursera has provided – A course is a series of lectures by a particular university/organization which is either stand-alone or connected to other courses offered by the same provider. A specialization is a combination of 3 or more such courses, sometimes ending in a capstone project. The aim of a specialization is to ensure a certain level of mastery over a field/topic. Finally, guided projects are 1-3 hour long projects which can be done side by side as you learn a topic. The screen is split in half and on the right, the instructor teaches you real-time on what you must know and do while on the right a remote computer with all software preinstalled lets you implement and experiment the same. 

After a few months, we got another notification this time by another leading MOOC provider – edX. However, edX did not unlock the whole catalog for us. They provided every student with 1 code, which could be used to unlock any course on the platform for free. Additionally, around 50 students were given another code on request. A general observation is that edX did not receive the same degree of excitement and interest as Coursera. Although much of it relies on speculation, based on general comments the two main reasons were the inability to access the whole catalog and a comparatively lower UI/UX as compared to Coursera. This, however, is subjective as many students have preferred edX over Coursera. 

Following are some of the feedback and opinions of students who took up courses on Coursera and edX-

I took up the course on Entrepreneurship Strategy: From Ideation to exit by HEC Paris (Coursera). It was a really good course. Although it was just introductory in nature whatever they taught was really good, highly practical. The peer-graded assignments were good and the overall experience was terrific. They covered a decent amount in a really nice manner and the teacher was simply terrific.
Jai Mandal, Third year, Mech

I took up a specialization in Mathematics for Machine Learning by Imperial College London (Coursera). Overall, I believe I must confess myself disappointed. The course did not go in-depth and merely scratched the surface. There were other sources like OpenCourseWare which did a much better job on this topic. I also believe that tons of people just do the courses for the certificate and merely google the answers making it rather ineffective. The only great thing is the flexibility and teaching quality. But overall I would prefer if it went more in-depth and the evaluation criteria were stricter giving more weight to the courses.
Anusha Mishra, Final year, EEE

Introduction to Financial markets by the Indian School of Business (Coursera) was an eye-opener on how an individual can invest his/her income in multiple ways. This course covered stock markets, currency markets, bonds, and derivatives in extensive detail. Although it was mentioned that this course was for beginners, it did take a little while for me to understand a few concepts which were explained. Overall, it gave a deep insight into financial markets. The course was compact and well structured. To anyone who is interested to learn about financial markets, this course will definitely help you develop interest and also help you plan your financial future.
Bharadwaj M, Third year, Meta

I took up a course on Identifying Security Vulnerabilities by the University of California, Davis (Coursera). The entire course was really well structured and was well explained. There were really good tutorials on how to conduct and mitigate a variety of security attacks and was perfect for me, as a beginner in the field of Web Security to obtain a solid foundation. I definitely had to do my own research and delve deeper into certain topics to get a clearer understanding, but overall the course provided me with the tools and basic understanding of various topics to move forward.
Meghna Kashyap, Third year, IT

Financial Markets by Yale University(Coursera) was a pretty good course on learning how the market works. Professor Shiller, who takes the course, is very passionate and nicely explains the importance of markets. However, the course does have a few flaws like some of the concepts were not explained in detail so it might be difficult to understand them, and also all the content is focused on the US. But overall, it’s a pretty good course which will help in understanding some basic concepts about the market and how it works.
Tarun Hegde, Third year, Mech

I took up Marketing Analytics by The University of Virginia(Coursera). The course was easy to follow and videos were to the point. There are a ton of case studies that help you better understand the concepts taught. This course aims to provide a broad picture of the processes involved in marketing. It covers topics like brand personality, brand architecture, brand value, CLV, marketing experiments, and basics of regression. The quizzes along with the two peers graded assignment require you to truly understand the concepts before attempting to solve them. Marketing decisions cannot be made based on intuition, this course equips you with knowledge on how to conduct marketing experiments to find the net lift and break-even lift and predict whether spending on marketing would be of economic significance or not. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in this field as it covers almost all important topics and is a great starting point for someone looking to dive deeper into the world of marketing analytics.
Rujutha, Third year, Civil

The course on Introduction to Psychology by Yale University(Coursera) was a 6-week long course, with continuous assignments and discussions. I enrolled myself in the course because it was a short introductory course on the topic and had a little bit of all major aspects of the field. The thing that differentiates this course from others is the Additional Reading material which was included. It was a really enriching experience to go through some of the research papers that were being discussed in the course, allowing me to have a stronger grasp on the subject. Would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in knowing how the human brain works.
– Kartik Nayak, Third year, Mech

I took up the course Modeling and Design for Mechanical Engineers using Autodesk Fusion 360 by Autodesk(Coursera).The course helped me understand the various aspects of CAD through Fusion 360. The videos were thorough and well-paced, giving clear instructions on how to move ahead with our Gear Reduction model and how to apply these techniques to other models. I’m especially thankful for the weekly assignments, having a consolidated assignment at the end of the week greatly helped me retain my knowledge. I would recommend this course to anyone who is enthusiastic about CAD but is unsure where to start.
Mallikarjun, Second year, Mech

I have completed two courses on edX so far. One was Entrepreneurship in Emerging economies by Harvard University and the other was an Introduction to Fintech by the University of Hong Kong. The first course was one of the most insightful courses I’ve taken across all MOOCs in that they not only gave a number of examples to illustrate each point but also brought in a number of successful entrepreneurs and interviewed them about their journeys and hearing about such real-life narratives helped a lot with respect to understanding the course far beyond a theoretical level which is something crucial for entrepreneurship. Mandating the discussion forums was a great step in ensuring you’re always actively involved and not just answering questions to pass the course. The second course on FinTech was quite informative and covered a wide array of topics. However, the one thing that was very disappointing was the disparity between the level of questions asked during evaluations and the level of knowledge they imparted. Bridging this difference and making the tests harder to pass both by asking harder questions and introducing questions that aren’t just about choosing an answer but framing your own is something I would look forward to. Having taken many courses on Coursera and Udemy as well, I feel the edX platform could improve a lot in how it’s structured as the design of their website was one thing I did not enjoy in both these courses.
– Ankit Sandeep, Second year, Civil

CS50’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence with Python offered by Harvard University (edX) sure sparked a strong interest in the world of machine learning. The course explored concepts and algorithms at the foundation of modern artificial intelligence, game-playing engines, handwriting recognition, machine translation, and all things AI.  It’s a fun, interactive, 7-week long course with interesting yet tricky projects and I assure you, it’ll leave you curious and wanting to dive deeper. The course, however, does require prior experience in CS50 or Python. The course instructors managed to explain complicated concepts in a way that was fascinating and easy to learn. Overall, I really enjoyed it and would recommend the course to anyone with an eye for the same.
– Fidha P, Third year, EEE

Do these Certificates and courses hold value during the recruitment and by the corporate?

Another important question which most students have is regarding the value of the certificates. There are many mixed and varied opinions regarding the same. However, the most common opinion is that in an interview these courses indicate that the person is a self-learner who is passionate and curious to take learning into their own hands. As for the value of such certificates, it is widely disputed with some individuals agreeing that it is a learning experience and similar to classroom learning and hence carries weight, while others beg to differ citing easy copying and googling of answers ensures that such certificates hold little to no value. A very common and well-respected point in the corporate is that although these certificates may not exactly be the deciding factor in selecting a candidate or a metric to understand the knowledge and competency of the candidate in the field, it definitely helps build one’s profile. Having relevant projects, work experience and MOOCs definitely strengthens your overall portfolio and shows a keen interest and dedication to the field. This is also true with respect to admissions for colleges abroad although there is little to no evidence to build on or justify the stance. However if one notices the main chunk of Coursera’s revenue it comes from corporates who buy these catalogs for their employees to improve themselves and gain new skills – this clearly points to one simple fact – MOOCs and other platforms to learn and upskill are given a lot of importance by employers of all disciplines

Irrespective of whether or not the certificates hold value, the learning experience is simply terrific and ensures that the entire lockdown period can be used productively and effectively. One thing is for certain, September 30th will be a very sad day for many when the Coursera free privileges will be taken away. However, those who have explored and grown with the platform in the past few months can be assured that they can still audit most of the course material although certain quizzes assignments and the certificate will be accessible only on payment. Nevertheless, we have two more months to that day, so full steam ahead!