Coursera’s Commitment to Learning: How We Support Skill Development

Coursera’s Commitment to Learning: How We Support Skill Development

By Kara Behnke and Alexandra Urban, Teaching & Learning Team

We at Coursera care deeply about helping learners everywhere gain the skills needed to reach their goals. Whether an open course, a guided project, or an entire Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program, content on Coursera includes tight alignment from the learning objectives to the assessment activities and finally to the instructional materials. Our pedagogy principles are based on Coursera’s experience with millions of learners around the world, both their success stories and their challenges. Insights from internal data, combined with research findings on the science of learning, are at the core of how we support meaningful learning. 

Starting with learning objectives

To start, clear learning objectives are defined to outline the desired skills that learners will gain. These are actionable, specific, and include a criteria for success so learners know why these skills are important and how to reach them. We use action verbs, such as “explain,” “apply,” and “evaluate,” to help frame how each skill can be used inside and outside of the course as well as specific examples to contextualize the purpose of these goals.

Building meaningful assessments

The learning objectives are then achieved by completing assignments, which include quizzes, programming assignments, and hands-on projects. Assessments are a crucial part of learning because they evaluate and measure learners’ progress as they work towards mastery. These questions and projects are how we help learners validate that they’re gaining the skills they’re looking for. These assessments can be just for practice or act as a final demonstration of mastery. They can also be quick questions or multi-step projects. Either way, assessments are an opportunity for learners to test what they’ve learned thus far, receive tailored feedback on their understanding, identify any gaps in their knowledge, and be directed back to relevant content they should review. For example, a pre-recorded lecture can include a brief in-video question to test a concept you’ve just introduced, and a degree program may require a student to complete a more involved team project before graduating. In more technical content, in-browser coding such as Coursera Labs and javascript plug-ins are often used to help learners refine their coding skills.

Validating learning through backwards design

With clear learning objectives and meaningful assessments already designed, we can turn our attention to how to build up a learners’ knowledge. These instructional materials scaffold the learning path step-by-step as learners work towards mastering new skills. To streamline teaching, we encourage the use of Backwards Design, which starts at the end learning objectives and proceeds backwards towards how those will be assessed through authentic projects and finally how those concepts should be taught directly to learners online. This process helps ensure the teaching materials directly prepare learners for assessments so that they can achieve a course’s overarching learning objectives. Plus, designing the assessments before the instruction helps ensure all concepts are appropriately introduced and minimizes the chance for any content gaps in a course. For these teaching materials, instructors on Coursera use videos, text, interactive plug-ins, labs, simulations, discussion prompts and more.

Measuring outcomes

This conscious alignment of learning objectives, assessments, and instructional materials creates a strong basis for learning and fuels the impact of learning programs on Coursera. This is reflected by the 4.6 out of 5 average star rating across the more than 4,000 courses on our platform. We are proud of this high level of learner satisfaction and are continuously leveraging learner feedback to improve our learning experience. Plus, for learners seeking career impact, more than 85% report career benefits from the content they complete on Coursera. These benefits include getting a new job or receiving a raise in their current role. We remain committed to connecting the world to high-quality learning programs by partnering with top institutions around the world, implementing research-backed teaching best practices, and responding to the ever-changing needs of the more than 53 million learners who come to Coursera to learn something new. We are grateful for continuing to learn from our community, and we encourage you to share your feedback with us in the Coursera Community.