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Coursera's homepage in March 2016
Type of site
Online education
Available in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Ukrainian, Hebrew, German, Italian
Headquarters Mountain View, California
Founder(s) Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller
Key people Rick Levin (CEO)
Employees 120+ (August 2014)
Alexa rank Increase 577 (October 2016)[1]
Commercial Yes
Registration Required
Users 15 million (September 2015)[2]
Launched April 2012; 4 years ago (2012-04)
Current status Active

Coursera /kərˈsɛrə/ is a venture-backed, for-profit, educational technology company that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs). Coursera works with universities and other organizations to make some of their courses available online, offering courses in subjects such as physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing, and data science, among others.

Business model[edit]

The current phase of business development is focused on user acquisition.[3] Currently some of the courses are available for free.[4] A list of ways to generate revenue includes verified certification fees (started in 2012 as Signature Track), specialization in areas of expertise.[5] Other possibilities include introducing students to potential employers and recruiters (with student consent), tutoring, licensing, sponsorships and tuition fees.[6][7] As of 2012 Coursera was reported to have 1.5 million students signed up for its programs[8] serving at 100 online courses.[9] In September 2013, it announced it had earned $1 million in revenue through verified certificates that authenticate successful course completion.[10] As of December 2013, the company had raised $85 million in venture capital.[11][12] John Doerr suggested that people will pay for "valuable, premium services."[13] Any revenue stream will be divided, with schools receiving a small percentage of revenue and 20% of gross profits.[7][14]

In January 2013, Coursera announced that the American Council on Education had approved five courses for college credit.[15] As the journalist Steve Kolowich noted,[15] "whether colleges take the council's advice, however, is an open question." The courses that were recommended to degree-granting institutions for college credit are:[15]

Coursera will offer proctored exams at the end of these courses through ProctorU, an online proctoring service that connects proctors and students via webcam. The service will cost $60–$90.[16]

Coursera reduces the cost of courses it offers by using instant computer-based marking where appropriate, making students grade their peers' homework in some cases, where computer-based marking cannot be used, such as for poetry composition exercises[17] and employing statistical methods to validate the assessment.[citation needed]

Coursera provides a Financial Aid program that is designed for those who face significant economic hardships, so that those individuals with genuine needs may be given the chance to earn a Course Certificate at no cost.


Coursera offers all its courses "accessible for free";[5] some courses have the option to pay a fee to join the "Signature Track". Students on the Signature Track receive verified certificates, appropriate for employment purposes. These students authenticate their course submissions by sending webcam photos and having their typing pattern analyzed.[18]

Many specializations are fee-based, but even these courses can be audited for free, with the restriction that one cannot give the quizzes for that course. Courses such as "How To Create A Website In A Weekend" restrict the peer-review or collaboration function of the curriculum to students who have paid a required fee.

The website provides courses in a variety of areas, including humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing and data science.[19] Each course includes short video lectures on different topics and assignments to be submitted, usually on a weekly basis.[17]

Coursera courses last approximately four to ten weeks, with one to two hours of video lectures a week. These courses provide quizzes, weekly exercises, peer-graded assignments, and sometimes a final project or exam.[20] Courses are also provided on-demand, in which case users can take their time in completing the course with all of the material available at once. As of May 2015 Coursera offered 104 on-demand courses.

Coursera also offers "specializations" - sets of courses that help increase understanding of a certain topic.[21] As of May 2015 the website listed 28 specializations.[22]

Coursera and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have partnered to offer a business degree that will be available to anyone. Students have options to register and complete business courses offered by University of Illinois on Coursera. This option is available in a free version (which lets the student watch the video lectures and do the assignments, without being graded) and a paid version (which includes the certification at the end of the course). In addition, students may register for University of Illinois iMBA program to achieve fully accredited Masters in Business Administration. This iMBA degree would cost about $20,000, which is just a fraction of what the MBA degree costs at any other top-ranked school in the United States of America. Coursera and University of Illinois iMBA websites give details and requirements.

Web forums are provided for courses, and some students also arrange face-to-face study meet-ups using, or online meetups. However, the Coursera Honor Code prohibits copying answers, therefore the discussion should not exchange answers but should practice healthy debate.[23]

Coursera offers a mobile app for iOS and Android operating-systems.[24][25]


  • Founded in 2012 by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University.[26]
  • Penn hosts the Inaugural Coursera Partners' Conference on April 5 and 6, 2013.[27]
  • As of October 2014, Coursera had reached 839 courses and 10 million users.[28]
  • As of May, 2015, Coursera had more than 1000 courses from 119 institutions and 13 million users from 190 countries.[29]
  • As January 11, 2016 Coursera offers 1,563 courses from 140 partners across 28 countries [30]


Coursera started in 2012, working with Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania.[31] Twelve partners (including Johns Hopkins University and Caltech) were added in July 2012,[14] followed by 17 more in September 2012.[32] In February 2013, the company announced another 29 partner universities.[33] The current total number of partners is 133, across 26 countries, offering 1,467 courses[34]

In late October 2013, Coursera teamed up with the United States Department of State to create learning hubs all over the world.[35] In January 2014, the State Department told Coursera to block access to its courses from Iran, Sudan and Cuba.[36]

On June 3, 2014, Coursera says it has been "working closely with governing authorities to navigate licenses and permissions" and, as a result, "Iranian learners will now regain access to the majority of Coursera's courses".[37]

In May 2014, Antioch University announced that it was the first US institution to offer college credit for Coursera courses. Antioch said it hoped the partnership would allow them to reduce student costs to complete a degree.[38]

On September 17, 2014, Coursera was launched in Brazil, introducing Portuguese language course. It has tie-ups with big universities like University of Sao Paulo (USP) and State University of Campinas (UNICAMP).[39][40]

Keystroke biometrics[edit]

Analysis of keystroke dynamics during typing is used in combination with webcam images to confirm the identity of fee-paying "signature track" students during tests and quizzes.[41]

IT infrastructure[edit]

Coursera runs the nginx web server on the Linux operating system on the Amazon Web Services platform with the primary stack in Scala on the Play framework. Data is stored in Amazon S3, and site search is handled by CloudSearch that indexes over 4.3 million documents on the site. Each month Coursera's database servers (running on RDS) answer 10 billion SQL queries, and Coursera serves around 500 TB of traffic per month.[42] Coursera uses OAuth2 protocol for user authentication and LTI 1.1 protocol for interaction with courses.[43]

Coursera API[edit]

Coursera has a set of APIs called Coursera App Platform, allowing third-parties to create apps and make them integrated with the Coursera functionality. Coursera App Platform is currently in beta.[44] Now, there are a number of integrations available for third-parties.

  1. OAuth 2 API
  2. Learning Management Systems integration via LTI
  3. Catalog API, enabling third-parties to obtain the list of all courses, sessions, instructors and more
  4. Shibboleth/SAMLv2 for partner schools

Country restrictions[edit]

In January 2014, Coursera blocked their courses for users in Cuba, Iran and Sudan as a result of US sanctions to those countries.[45] The company has made progress in restoring access to non-STEM courses in these countries.[46]


  1. ^ " Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2016-10-05. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "How Coursera, A Free Online Education Service, Will School Us All". Fast Company. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  4. ^ "How MOOCs are flattening corporate training and education - TechRepublic". TechRepublic. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  5. ^ a b Carson, Erin (2014-06-20). "How MOOCs are flattening corporate training and education". TechRepublic. United States. 
  6. ^ "Possible Company Monetization Strategies". Schedule 1 of the contract between Coursera and the University of Michigan. The Chronicle of Higher Education. p. 40. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Jeffrey R. Young (19 July 2012). "Inside the Coursera Contract: How an Upstart Company Might Profit From Free Courses". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Coursera, edX, and MOOCs Are Changing the Online Education Business | MIT Technology Review". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  9. ^ "The Single Most Important Experiment in Higher Education". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  10. ^ Heussner, Ki Mae. "Coursera hits $1M in revenue through verified certificates". Gigaom. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Kolowich, Steve. "Coursera Snags [Additional] $43-Million in Venture Capital". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Coursera Receives $20 Million in Funding to Create and Deliver Better Learning Experiences". 
  13. ^ Markoff, John (18 April 2012). "Coursera Plans to Announce University Partners for Online Classes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Lewin, Tamar (17 July 2012). "Universities Reshaping Education on the Web". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  15. ^ a b c Kolowich, Steve (7 February 2013). "American Council on Education Recommends 5 MOOCs for Credit". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  16. ^ a b "Online learning goes official as five Coursera courses get approved by the American Council on Education". Retrieved 7 Feb 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Coursera: Pedagogy". Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Anders, George (2014-01-21). "Coursera Flirts With Diplomas: Online 'Specialization' is $250". Forbes. 
  19. ^ "Coursera: About us". 
  20. ^ Kamenetz, Anya (2012-08-08). "How Coursera, A Free Online Education Service, Will School Us All | Fast Company | Business + Innovation". Fast Company. Retrieved 2014-04-19. 
  21. ^ "Coursera". 
  22. ^ "Coursera". 
  23. ^ Terms of Use, 2014-01-02 
  24. ^ "Coursera on the App Store on iTunes". 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2014-04-19. 
  25. ^ "Coursera - Android-apps op Google Play". 2014-04-09. Retrieved 2014-04-19. 
  26. ^ Lewin, Tamar (2012-07-17). "Consortium of Colleges Takes Online Education to New Level". The New York Times. 
  27. ^ "Coursera Partners' Contest". Retrieved 2014-12-09. 
  28. ^ Larson, Christina (2014-10-27). "Coursera CEO Richard Levin Plans to Expand the Company in China". Bloomberg Businessweek. 
  29. ^ "Coursera - Online Courses From Top Universities". Coursera. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  30. ^ "Coursera: Partners"
  31. ^ "UK university joins US online partnership". BBC News. July 17, 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  32. ^ Lewin, Tamar (19 September 2012). "Education Site Expands Slate of Universities and Courses". New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  33. ^ "Coursera adds 29 new universities to bring total to 62, offers first courses in Chinese, Italian, and Spanish". The Next Web. 21 February 2013. 
  34. ^ "Partner universities". Coursera. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  35. ^ Lewin, Tamar (October 31, 2013). "U.S. Teams Up With Operator of Online Courses to Plan a Global Network". The New York Times. 
  36. ^ Collins, Katie (2014-01-29). "US government forces Coursera to block course access in Iran, Cuba, Sudan (Wired UK)". Retrieved 2014-04-19. 
  37. ^ Coughlan, Sean (4 June 2014). "Iran's students to have US online courses". BBC News. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  38. ^ "Antioch University Becomes First US Institution to Offer Credit for MOOC Learning Through Coursera - News - Antioch University". Retrieved September 8, 2014. 
  39. ^ "Coursera launches in Brazil, becomes first online education provider to partner with its public universities". 2014-09-18. Retrieved 2014-09-18. 
  40. ^ "Coursera Now Launched in Brazil with USP & UNICAMP". 2014-09-18. Retrieved 2014-09-18. 
  41. ^ Young, Jeffry R. (9 January 2013). "Coursera announces details for selling certificates and verifying identities". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  42. ^ "Coursera on AWS - Customer Success Story". Coursera. Retrieved Aug 10, 2013. 
  43. ^ "Coursera App Platform". Coursera. Retrieved Nov 16, 2014. 
  44. ^ "Coursera Building". Coursera. Retrieved Aug 26, 2016. 
  45. ^ "Update on Course Accessibility for Students in Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria". Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. 
  46. ^ "Coursera Now Accessible in Sudan and Cuba". 

External links[edit]