Coursera is one of a number of online learning platforms offering these MOOCs with both free and low-cost options to choose from. With the pandemic forcing droves of people for online learning, these free or affordable courses are seeing their enrollment skyrocket. 

A key question on everyone’s mind is: are they worth it? How do Coursera degrees earned online compare to traditional ones?


Are Coursera Programs Worth the Price?

The main attraction of taking MOOCs is free or affordable access to education on-demand. Learning how and when you want to and without needing to worry about the cost of the degree. A student looking to earn their MBA, for example, will find themselves having to drop six figures to make it to the finish line.

A verified certificate of completion on Coursera starts at only $49. Coursera’s secure verification process, including ID verification, offers sufficient security to prove that the person doing the work is indeed the person earning the certificate. Coursera’s monthly subscription options cost roughly the same as a verified certificate and give you access to an entire course package.

The entire MOOC model is serving to democratize the entire industry by giving students more choices and allowing the demand to provide higher quality content at lower prices than those of the uber-expensive brick-and-mortar university.


The Growth of the Industry

In 2008, the first “official” MOOC took place, connecting thousands of students from across the globe in a course about Connectivism. A few years later, in 2012, the Coursera community was first established.

It was modeled to work directly with universities to create their online content in both live and on-demand formats using videos and readings. Around this same time period, Harvard and MIT joined up to create a similar platform, edX, which is also now an industry leader.

One of the biggest criticisms of MOOCs is that very few people who enroll in them actually complete them. In fact 96% of learners drop out of their online programs within 5 years, according to a study conducted by MIT. Still, the fact that this comes with little consequence means that, even though learners are well-aware of this low completion rate, their desire to participate in MOOCs only continues to grow.

By 2019, tens of thousands of unique MOOCs exist, coming from nearly a thousand universities from around the globe with the expectation that these numbers will only grow in the coming decade.


If you may take free Coursera courses online, why pay then?

Coursera costs you nothing if you want to learn a new skill set. The large majority of Coursera MOOCs provide the option to access the content free-of-charge. This option, known as “auditing,” allows you to access and learn the material, and participate in class discussions, but does not allow you to submit assignments, receive grades, or earn course certificates of completion.

For that, students must purchase the Verified Certificate option (which also requires them to earn a sufficient grade on their assignments), which will serve as proof of their learning.

A smattering of courses on the Coursera platform is fully accessible, including graded assignments, for free, but do not provide the option to earn verified certificates of completion. A few others provide access only through the paid option.

Keep in mind that the actual price of each course may vary. You’ll be able to see those prices by clicking on the Enroll button on the pop-up for each course. Note that this does require you to have signed up and be logged into their platform. You may also have the option to subscribe for access to a bundle of free Coursera classes on a monthly basis or pay a set price for each individual course you complete.

Not sure you can afford to pay for the certificates necessary to earn your desired credentials? No problem! Coursera platform allows students to apply for financial aid or a scholarship as a way of funding their experience.

So, what are the most in-demand free Coursera courses with certificates this past year? We’ll discuss the top 15 here:

Related: Coursera Review 


Data Science and Statistics Courses

1. IBM Data Science Professional Certificate

This IBM Professional Certificate program includes 10 individual courses to provide you with the skills to work in one of the most popular professions as a data scientist.

At the end of the program, you’ll be in-demand by employers for your skills in languages like Python and SQL and your expertise in data analysis and visualization, database management, open-source libraries, tools, and methodologies, machine learning basics, and more.

Using the IBM Cloud you’ll gain hands-on experience using real tools and data sets, giving you the practical edge you need to land your first job. 

2. Data Mining Specialization

In this 5 course specialization, you’ll build toward a Capstone project which will allow you to apply your newly acquired data mining skills to a real-world problem, using data from the restaurant review site Yelp.

Along the way, you’ll learn to work with both structured and unstructured data sets and work with pattern-based and natural language data. You’ll learn techniques such as data visualization, pattern discovery, clustering, text retrieval, and text mining and analytics.

The last four classes of this program are the lecture portion of the online Master of Computer Science Degree in Data Science. You can apply directly to the Masters program or wait until you’ve finished the Specialization to apply.

3. Statistics with R Specialization

This specialization will help you build a portfolio of projects to clearly demonstrate your skill in statistical data analysis on topics from basic exploratory analysis through modeling and interference, giving you an edge as you enter the job market.

Throughout your coursework, you’ll learn to use R to analyze your data as well as to create various visuals and reports.

You’ll cement your foundation in concepts of statistical inference, including the frequentist and Bayesian inference models. You’ll be able to use models such as these for analysis of the natural phenomena and to aid in data-based decision-making.

You’ll learn how best to communicate and present the results of your statistical analysis, avoiding confusing jargon and providing appropriate context. You’ll also learn to critique claims made by others based on their data analysis and evaluate their data-based decisions.

4. Business Statistics and Analysis Specialization

This is one of the specialized free Coursera courses online that will provide you a foundation in data analysis tools and techniques applied to business. The Capstone Project at the end of the specialization allows you to apply these skills to a real-world business problem.

You’ll begin with mastery of Microsoft Excel spreadsheet functionality and how to use it for data modeling. Statistical concepts explored in this specialization include basic probability, including distributions and the Linear Regression Model, and measuring and modeling uncertainty.

You’ll learn how to apply this understanding to analyze and inform various decisions that businesses need to make every day. Note that you’ll need Microsoft Excel 2010 or later Windows edition in order to successfully participate in these courses.

Machine Learning and AI Courses

5. Machine Learning by Stanford

In the past, to get a computer to complete a task, a human programmer needed to explicitly tell it exactly what to do, and how to handle every possible decision that might come up along the way. Machine learning is all about teaching computers how to handle those decisions without all that programming.

This relatively new science has already provided us with a number of innovations including web searches, self-driving cars, speech recognition. It even helps us unlock the human genome.

These days, you probably interact with machine learning systems several times a day! In the future, machine learning experts even believe it is the key to developing human-like Artificial Intelligence.

These types of classes will help you learn some of the best machine learning techniques and how to implement them on your own. You won’t just learn the theory behind them, you’ll also gain practical skills to help you apply these powerful tools to new problems after you’ve left the class. You’ll also spend time learning innovation best practices direct from Silicon Valley.

6. Deep Learning by deeplearning.ai

With the completion of this specialization, you’ll be able to demonstrate your mastery of the most desired skill sets in the tech industry. You’ll develop an understanding of Artificial Intelligence, with a focus on Deep Learning. This program includes five courses to help you build your foundations in these areas and apply them to a number of projects.

Skills covered include Convolutional neural networks, LSTMs, Adam, and BatchNorm along with many others. You’ll have the opportunity to apply these skills to real problems across a broad application space including natural language processing, public health, autonomous cars, music, and sign language translation.

You’ll not only learn the theory behind each of these Deep Learning approaches, you’ll also get a practical understanding of how they’re actually applied. You’ll get a chance to learn how to work with these tools in both Python and TensorFlow. If you’re a beginner in either of these languages, don’t worry! You’ll be provided with what you need to know to succeed.

You’ll even get advice to achieve your career goals from real leaders from the field as they speak with you and share some of their personal stories.

7. Mathematics for Machine Learning Specialization

This Specialization is a great primer for the math skills necessary to succeed in any of the Machine Learning of Data Science specializations. Whether you need to dust off math skills you haven’t used in a while or get a more natural understanding of math that may not have been taught well the first time around.

This specialization will help you lay a stronger foundation of key mathematical concepts. The courses will touch on different mathematical concepts:

  • Linear Algebra: The first one of these Coursera courses will relate linear algebra concepts to data analysis as well as cover all you need to know about working with vectors and matrices.
  • Multivariate Calculus: Here, you’ll cover finding and optimizing best fit functions to your data, including drawing in your work with vectors and matrices from the first course
  • Dimensionality Reduction with Principal Component Analysis: In this course, you’ll start using Python, in combination with what you learned in the first two courses to aid you in working with high-dimensional data.

8. Data Engineering, Big Data, and Machine Learning on GCP Specialization

This is an accelerated specialization intended to be completed in five weeks. As a student in this program, you’ll learn all you need to know about the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), getting real experience in building and working with data processing systems and end-to-end data pipelines.

You’ll also learn how to use tools like Cloud Dataproc, Cloud Dataflow, Google BigQuery, Tensorflow, and ML Cloud to complete a variety of processing and analysis tasks on structured and unstructured data. This course will help you to generate useful interpretations of massive datasets and build valuable machine learning models.

This program is designed to prepare you for a career that requires regularly working with, transforming, and validating data, designing architectures to pipeline data processing, regularly maintaining machine learning models, and automating queries, visualization, and report generation from data.

You’ll get the opportunity to complete an Applied Learning Project on the Qwiklabs platform to immediately apply what you learn in our video presentations in a skill-building virtual laboratory experience.

Web Design and Coding Courses

9. Google IT Automation with Python by Google

This program offers six free Coursera courses online where you’ll learn how to code in the in-demand language, Python, setting you up to advance in your career as an Information Technology professional, including how to use Git and IT automation.

You’ll learn how to automate a variety of administration activities along with how to debug your code and troubleshoot anything that comes up. Finally, you’ll use configuration management and Cloud-based automation solutions.

10. Google IT Support by Google

Whether working in an office or even as part of a remote help desk for companies from small local businesses to global organizations like Google, this program will give you all the foundation you need for the job of your dreams.

You’ll learn how to do all of the typical daily tasks of customer service and troubleshooting, operating systems, security, system administration, and networking.

You’ll learn this material through recorded lectures, virtual labs, and graded assignments as well as hearing directly from folks in a diverse set of careers at Google, all of whom started out in IT support. If you’re willing to spend about 5 hours each week working through the material, you’ll be ready to start your job search in six months.

11. Web Design for Everybody: Basics of Web Development & Coding Specialization

In this specialization, you’ll be prepared to build websites of the highest quality in mobile and web formats, compatible with various web browsers.

You’ll learn the proper syntax for writing sites using HTML5 and CSS3 as well as JavaScript. By the completion of this program, you’ll be armed with a portfolio of professional-caliber to help you demonstrate your expertise in web design and development.

Your projects will demonstrate your ability to utilize a vast arsenal of development techniques to build sites accessible for all. You’ll even learn about building sites that address cognitive, audial, visual, and physics impairments.

12. Game Design and Development Specialization

This specialization will equip you with everything you need to know to gain entry into the video game industry. You’ll use the Unity 3D game engine to develop and test top-notch game concepts. Offered by experts at Michigan State University, you’ll be learning from faculty with combined decades of relevant experience.

Not only will you be provided with a solid theoretical foundation, but also practice skills that will help you apply for jobs as a programmer, producer, technical designer or artist, or level or gameplay designer.

You’ll also be given an overview of the business aspect of video game design and production. Finally, you’ll complete and upload a real project onto Kongregate, an online game portal that allows for the distribution and monetization of your project. 

The included Applied Learning Project will help you understand how to design and build effective levels, develop the game asset pipeline, and deploy your project. You’ll have the opportunity to develop your project using Unity3D and C# programming. You’ll interact with our community of developers to receive supportive feedback to make your game ready for market.

13. Functional Programming in Scala Specialization

This specialization will help you build a strong foundation in Scala, a popular functional programming language. You’ll learn what’s unique about programming in a functional language and how to use functional programming to solve problems small and large. You’ll apply these basics to a number of assignments, including those that will help you understand the utility of parallel and distributed programming.

You’ll look at multicore architectures and clusters. At the end of the program, you’ll build a large application using a large real-world dataset. The Applied Learning Project will include all of these skills as well as large data set manipulation, property-based testing, functional reactive programming, and higher-order functions.

Business Courses

14. Digital Marketing Specialization

You’ll learn appropriate strategies for effective brand communication including search engine optimization, digital analytics, 3D printing, and marketing on social media platforms.

When you’ve completed this specialization, you’ll be armed with a broad set of real-life examples to help you intuitively promote and price a business’s offerings digitally by creating and distributing cutting edge marketing materials. The culminating Applied Learning Project allows you to complete a real-world project for Grainger, one of the top Internet Retailers according to the 2015 Top 500 Guide.

This Specialization also lays the groundwork for the Masters of Business Administration degree offered by the University of Illinois. 

15. Business Foundations Specialization

In this specialization, you’ll be provided with a strong foundation in finance, accounting, operations, and marketing.

You’ll learn all the basic lingo and terms of business to help you in your own business venture, whether that’s starting a new career in business, opening or growing your business, or even continuing your education by applying to a more formal business school program. In the Capstone course, you’ll even have the opportunity to apply everything to a real-world project to build a go-to-market strategy. 

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Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah Pierce is a writer with a B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University and a Master’s in Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh. She has worked both as a college admissions counselor as well as a high school English teacher and has also written extensively on topics related to educational technology and the college selection process.

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