There seems to be quite a bit of ambiguity surrounding courses taught on platforms such as Coursera. The confusion seems to stem from whether the courses are accredited by the universities that proved them.
Whether an individual course is accredited or offers credit towards a degree, depends on the course and the university. All the universities that provide courses on the Coursera platform are accredited. Many also provide degree credits but check the course description and FAQ to be sure.
The complexity around whether a course is accredited stem from the sheer volume and variety of courses offered on the Coursera platform, both by Universities and leading global companies.
In this article, we'll look at the different enrolment options on Coursera, what it means for a course to be 'accredited' and whether it should affect your decision.
What does it mean to be accredited?
In the US, six regional accrediting agencies determine whether universities in their regions are officially recognised. These six agencies are themselves approved by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Department of Education. If you're uncertain whether a school or university is accredited, a reliable indicator is to check the institution's website. If it ends with a .edu domain name, it almost certainly an approved higher education institution. Alternatively, you can check on the CHEA website.
Many occupations or professions also offer educational programs and certifications. Perhaps the most famous of these is admission to the Bar by the Bar Association, which permits lawyers to practise law.
Tech companies like Cisco, VMware, Microsoft, and Apple all have their own certification programs and qualifications. Holders of these certificates are recognised as being an expert in the company's products.
Rather than train students themselves, tech companies partner with training institutions. These institutions are accredited to teach, test and certify students on behalf of the tech companies.
Whether studying for a degree or a professional qualification, studying at an accredited institution assures the student that both the tuition and the certification will be officially recognised.
Is Coursera accredited?
Coursera itself is not accredited by CHEA, but many of the courses on their platform are. Coursera has five different types of certification programs. These are:
One of the benefits of using Coursera is the ability to enrol in single classes. Each class is usually one component of a broader 'Specialization', MasterTrack or Degree program. However, on Coursera, if you're only interested in a particular class, you can enrol and start immediately.
At the end of the class, you can choose to pay for a Coursera certificate. The certificate displays your name, the course title and the logo of the university who provided the course. A Coursera certificate is not an official qualification or transcript from the university; it merely acknowledges you completed in the class. It also does not display any score or grade.
Whether the course can be used as credit towards a more extensive degree program depends on the course. You should check in the course FAQ before enrolling if this is important to you.
The Power of Continuous Learning
Just because an individual class does not result in an official university qualification, should not deter you from enrolling. Knowledge is knowledge, you either know something, or you don't. While many professions will expect you to hold a Bachelor or Masters degree, you should not view a degree as an end to your studies. Continued learning is only going to have a positive impact on your career.
Coursera's "Specializations" are courses that combine several related classes on a specific subject area. They usually include a final 'capstone' project to practise your newly acquired expertise.
As with individual classes, on completing a Specialization, you will receive a Coursera certificate (assuming you have paid either the monthly subscription or one-off payment). These certificates are not official university qualifications or transcripts.
As with completing individual classes, the certificate simply acknowledges you completed the Specialization. Your name, the course name and the university logo are all displayed on the certification. Information in the Specialization's description or FAQ will confirm whether it counts towards an official degree from the university.
MasterTracks are relatively new to Coursera. These programs are accredited and can count towards a university degree. Like Specializations, they are a collection of classes, assignments and projects. However, whereas Specializations tend to be pre-recorded, MasterTracks include live video classes provided by the university. This also means that they have fixed enrolment dates throughout the year and class timetables.
If you are considering enrolling in a degree but do not have a sufficient points score, you can enrol in the MasterTrack instead. Completing the MasterTrack with a high enough grade point average permits entry into the Degree program. Course grades from the MasterTrack classes will also count as credit towards the overall Bachelors or Master's Degree qualification.
Students who complete a MasterTrack course on Coursera receive a certificate from the university, regardless of whether they choose to continue onto a Degree program. While the certification is not a Degree or Masters, it is an official document from the accredited university.
Full online Degree programs are the future of online learning, and it is likely to be where Coursera sees its future. Fully-online Degrees on platforms such as Coursera and EdX enable universities to sell courses to a far wider audience than they can accommodate on campus.
Online Degrees also benefits the students since they are significantly cheaper than studying on-campus.
Online Degree programs on Coursera are accredited by the university offering the course. On completion, you will receive an official transcript of your grades from the university, as well as your official degree certificate.
The final type of course offered by Coursera is Professional Certificates. These are Coursera's version of industry recognised certifications. Microsoft, Google, IBM and other leading companies all have courses on the Coursera platform. As with Specializations and individual classes, those who complete a Professional Certificate receive a Coursera certificate, with their name, the course title and the company logo.
Coursera is not accredited to offer industry qualifications so it is not possible to become an MCSE - Microsoft Certified Engineer - or a CCNA - Certified Cisco Network Administrator - by studying on the Coursera platform. However, many of the courses are closely aligned with Company's certification syllabuses. Details often usually provided in the course FAQ.