I took a specialization course at Coursera in which I have learned a lot of insights that would be essentially useful while writing my master's degree dissertation. How can I refer to them?

I've already found a paper that does this for another lecture at Coursera but I'm not sure if that is right:

Tieleman, T. and Hinton, G. Lecture 6.5 - RMSProp, COURSERA: Neural Networks for Machine Learning. Technical report, 2012.

Could I use this same "model"?

  • 1
    The answer to this question depends upon your specific university, department, and possibly even advisor's and committee members. I would either cite it as a webpage (which might be inline or a formal reference) or similar to what you have, but replace "Technical report" with "Coursera course". Have you talked to your advisor about it yet? Jun 8, 2018 at 19:02

4 Answers 4


A citation like that would be fine, although I wouldn't include 'Technical Report'. Some citation styles have formats for lectures or other presentations.

However, the Coursera lecture may not be the best thing to cite.

  • Does the instructor communicate the insight in writing somewhere? For example, in a paper or in published lecture notes for an in-person course?
  • Does the instructor provide a source for the insights? In which case you may want to cite that. The source may be indicated in supplementary readings or lecture notes.
  • Do you need to cite it? When in doubt, you should always cite, but you often don't need to cite things that you would ordinarily learn in a class on the subject. The line for this one is pretty fuzzy and nuanced, though, and it depends on how cutting-edge the insight is.

I would not let the ephemerality of Coursera stop you from citing it, but if you can find a better citation you should use it. It is better to cite something that disappears than to not cite.


Sorry to respond to this old topic, but I had exactly the same question and found this example for an APA-style reference: https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/references/examples/online-course-references
I would use this style, maybe formatted as an @misc in BibTeX.

  • Welcome to Academia! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. Dec 4, 2020 at 14:42

I'm afraid this will not be a direct answer, but first a series of questions to help you think through what you are asking.

(1) Did the insight come from the lecturer or someone/something the lecturer taught about? In other words, was this insight the creation of the person teaching the course? Or did (s)he quote someone else/some other study?

(2) If it wasn't an online course, and you physically attended the course, would you cite something you learnt there?

(3) Is this insight peer-reviewed, or does it have any other basis for it's validity?

(4) Can another researcher easily access this insight using your reference? (Easy here is referring to effort required, not cost).

(5) Are you confident that you are allowed to reveal this insight in your work, i.e. it does not run afoul of the license used by the course/course aggregator?

If the answers to most of these are 'no', you probably shouldn't add it as a formal reference. Remember, teaching aids are teaching aids, you don't see them cited unless they are published textbooks or reports. If it's an oral insight, it's all the more difficult to fix accountability in case of misuse. If it's not reviewed or published, one may rightly question why you believe it to be true. If it is sourced from other material, you should cite the original material, not the lecture. A reference should be verifiable by a researcher. If I want to access this insight, I wouldn't want to have to sit through a course for that. The licensing issue speaks for itself.

This is not to say that only peer-reviewed literature should be cited; I asked a related question about non-academic documents and received helpful answers here on ASE, you may like to take a look.

  • Is something wrong with the content of this answer, or the way it is formatted? Jun 9, 2018 at 0:39
  • I gave that -1. The socratic method of teaching is fine, but this website needs clear, to-the-point answers to questions, that is why I downvoted. After writing my own answer I tried to remove my downvote because I thought it was unfair, but could not do so anymore. Sorry.
    – Louic
    Jun 9, 2018 at 9:26

You should not cite coursera courses. The purpose of citations (even in an MSc thesis) is twofold:

  1. Acknowledge the inventor. It is unlikely that the inventor is the coursera teacher.
  2. Make is easy for the interested reader to follow the reference and learn more about the subject. It is unlikely that the reader wishes to follow an online course that takes weeks when he can also read a short chapter or research paper.

It is not unlikely that the coursera course will disappear or its URL will change in the (very) near future, making your reference useless.

So your options are to either find the original source of the information and cite that, or not cite the course at all. You don't "cite" your mother or your physical university teachers either, even if they gave you "valuable insights".

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