I haven’t had much time for MOOCs recently, but when I find an interesting one, I try to fit it into my schedule. Thankfully, this task gets easier all the time. While about a year ago one could pick among a plethora of free courses from Udactiy, Coursera, and EdX, nowadays the landscape is a lot less interesting. Udacity discontinued free certificates some months ago, and switched to a subscription-based model. Coursera has been phasing out their free certificates, “because employers and others found the two different kinds of credentials confusing”, as was stated in the course forum for Advertising and Society. Further, they’ve divided courses into much smaller units. What used to be one large course may now be delivered as four or five separate courses, for which you’d have to pay individually. EdX flirted with the idea of discontinuing their free ‘honours’ certificates, and silently dropped them some time ago. However, they were (silently) reintroduced some months later.
Coursera used to be my favourite MOOC provider, but I can’t stand what they have become. The absolutely worst aspect is that they constantly shove advertising for their “verified certificate” in your face. It used to be the case that if you got a decent result on a quiz, they served an ad for the verified certificate. Those ads you could close. Currently, though, Coursera displays ad you cannot close. After you’ve taken the quiz, the screen is overlaid with an ad for a verified statement of accomplishment.
In the example below I scored 100%, so there wasn’t much of a need for reviewing my answers to the questions. However, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have reviewed my answers, because the ad is permanently displayed even when I navigate back to the quiz section. First you get to see this:
But guess what happens if you click on “Review”! Well, I couldn’t believe it either, but Coursera keeps serving you this ad, presumably until you pony up the cash for a verified certificate:
This is utterly inexcusable. I’d expect behaviour like that from a website selling some kind of scam product, but not on a website that purports to be a reputable business. Well, profit-driven higher-education arguably qualifies as a scam, so this move by Coursera may be fitting.
Fortunately I live in a country where I have access to high-quality higher education for free, so paying for an automatically generated PDF is simply out of the question. To me, those certificates are a neat motivation to finish a course, but they are essentially worthless. Without the certificates, I see no advantage of a Coursera MOOC over MIT OCW, at least in the areas I’m interested in. That Coursera chose to dramatically worsen the user experience for those who refuse to pay for a verified certificate by showing ads you cannot remove seems absurd to me. Coursera’s numbers arguably demonstrate that this move increases revenues in the short term. Sadly, their numbers don’t capture that this incredibly short-sighted move might alienate a significant part of their user base, which they nowadays call “learners”.