Coursera is a popular platform offering micro-credentials – its Professional Certificates, including Google’s Career Certificates. A new snapshot analysis puts them through their paces.

What they are: Certificates are marketed as career-focussed, affordable (go as fast as you like, pay only after a seven-day free trial), on demand (start when you’re ready) and “hands-on”. Most are provided by companies such as IBM, Google, SAS, Salesforce and Facebook, rather than traditional educators. Most are IT-related, though a few are in areas such as customer engagement and sales development, and many take less than six months. Over half are targeted at beginners, although this is a rather loose category.

Do they work?They are attractive to learners: over a million have signed up so far (no mention of how many complete). About a third rate their courses, and those results that are published are very positive. There is some evidence, particularly from Google, that their short courses enable learners to get jobs and launch new careers, including those who would been unlikely to enrol in higher education. By any measure, these certificates are relatively inexpensive as long as the learner can maintain commitment and pace. It is unclear how much personalised support is available. Final assessments appear to be peer-reviewed rather than assessed by educators. It is hard to see how “hands-on” these certificates really are.

What we can learn from Coursera and GoogleCoursera set out to be a disruptor, and now it has partnered deeply with companies that have become its educators, at least for most of these certificates.

They have taken industry-integrated education to a new level. Traditional providers should take note, particularly if they plan to compete through micro-credentials. Better outcomes data would be good, but Coursera is braver than many in how much of this information it publishes. Learners need transparent data to be able to make better decisions and judge their chances of success when they’re enrolling in new credentials of any size.

Beverley Oliver PhD
Principal Consultant, EduBrief
Emeritus Professor PFHEA ANTF GAICD



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