Sep 14

Using Coursera for my Homemade MBA: Thoughts on Coursera so far

In my previous post about my homemade MBA curriculum, I mentioned that I am dependent on Coursera for 100% of my homemade MBA courses, and that I think that’s a good thing.  I’d like to take a minute here to explain why I like Coursera based on my experience so far of taking three Coursera classes.


Prior to starting my homemade MBA endeavor, I had already completed three courses on Coursera.  The courses were:

  • Energy 101
  • Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present, and Future
  • Social Network Analysis


My experiences with, and opinions of, each course did vary, so I’ll give them some individual attention first, then draw my overall conclusion second.


Energy 101


  • Parent University: Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)
  • Course Description: Energy 101 focuses on the big energy picture giving perspective and context to the details one reads in the daily onslaught of energy news in the headlines. The material is fact based with conclusions being drawn from the facts presented. As the number 101 indicates, there are no pre-requisites and no particular training or background needed. The course will review the driving forces of energy used in transportation, building heating and cooling, and manufacturing. The current facts and trends of the resulting demands placed on coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, biomass, solar and wind used to meet these energy demands are then covered. The technologies and characteristics of different energy processes and infrastructure used to convert the renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy into the desired form necessary to accomplish a given task are then described; such as powering a vehicle, heating and air conditioning a building, driving an electric motor or providing lighting. The natural laws of thermodynamics limiting these processes are described, as well as future technologies and their potential.


My Thoughts:  This course was a great introduction to the Energy industry, and provided the background necessary to be an informed conversationalist about the Energy issues of today.  The class was probably too easy (I scored 99.7%), but then again it was an intro course, so perhaps easy is appropriate.  The workload estimate of 5-7 hours per week was a bit high, as I found it took about 3-4 hours of focused effort to complete the weekly tasks (video lecture, quiz).  I liked that this course posted all the material at once, so you could “get ahead” if you had extra time.  The teacher, Prof. Sam Shelton, was a bit America-centric in his lectures, but did a good job of presenting only fact-based arguments and information free of personal opinion.  Overall, I enjoyed this course and would recommend it to others looking to learn the basics of Energy.


Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present, and Future


  • Parent University: University of Florida
  • Course Description: This course will cover concepts of work and energy and their relationship with our modern society. Each aspect of this relationship with energy will be analyzed including consumptive patterns for the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors of the economy. Geological sources for fossil fuels will be examined as will the differences between reserves and production. Energy capacities and limitations for new sources of renewable energies will also be examined. All of these topics will be examined within a national and international context. A comparison between other countries and peoples will be an integral part of this course.

My Thoughts:  This course was more demanding than Energy 101, and included my first exposure to the discussion boards on Coursera.  Posting on discussion boards and responding to other discussion board posts was required as part of the weekly assignments.  The idea here was to facilitate discussion amongst students like you would have in a traditional classroom.  Although skeptical at first, I was really surprised at how well this worked.  I found that I followed and participated in many threads on a weekly basis, and other students were engaging in conversations via the discussion boards as well.  This really did add to the overall impact and to my enjoyment of the class.  Overall, this course was pretty good, but focused a bit too much on energy auditing and what we can do to reduce our energy consumption.  However, Professor Wendell Porter did a great job of showing students where to find reliable energy consumption information online.  I would recommend this course to anyone interested in consumer renewable energy.


Social Network Analysis


  • Parent University: University of Michigan
  • Course Description: Everything is connected: people, information, events and places, all the more so with the advent of online social media. A practical way of making sense of the tangle of connections is to analyze them as networks. In this course you will learn about the structure and evolution of networks, drawing on knowledge from disciplines as diverse as sociology, mathematics, computer science, economics, and physics. Online interactive demonstrations and hands-on analysis of real-world data sets will focus on a range of tasks: from identifying important nodes in the network, to detecting communities, to tracing information diffusion and opinion formation.


My Thoughts:  This course was a very thorough introduction to social network analysis that progressed rapidly to practical use of social network analysis tools on real datasets.  Professor Lada Adamic flew through the intro material in the first week, and got us started with the “meat” of the course as quickly as possible.  It was great.  We made network diagrams of our personal Facebook networks, and performed analyses to see which nodes and connections were important in various ways.  This class made excellent use of free networking analysis software available online, as well as peer-reviewed projects and automatic grading of assignments.  The workload was pretty high, and stayed at the top end of the 5-7 hours per week range given in the course description.  I would recommend this course to anyone interested in social networks, especially those with some decent computer programming skills.


My conclusion on Coursera – it’s awesome

As you would expect, individual results may vary.  The courses did range quite a bit in both workload and difficulty level, but overall I found that the content was high quality, and the Coursera interface was phenomenal.  Also, I actually learned and retained the material presented in each of these classes.  It is because of my positive experiences with these courses that I focused solely on Coursera for my homemade MBA.  The course material is top notch, the exercises and discussion boards provide great feedback, and you will definitely learn what you set out to learn.


Have you taken any classes on Coursera?  Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

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