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I took up an introductory course to forensic science in Coursera, because it was actually the only forensics course I could find that was accessible, however I do wonder if it is worth anything in my CV, as a student it is obviously better than nothing, but is this something good enough to show?
How does it compare to courses completed directly through MIT open courses, or those from another famous university? And if these are assets to a CV, if I go ahead to complete enough for a degree, how does it fare in comparison to the proper degree from the corresponding institution?

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Value in an academic environment: zero. Everything you learn at Coursera you'd simply learn from a textbook in a few days if you needed it for your academic research or teaching.

Value to a non-academic employer: marginal, mainly as a signaling device (this person will sacrifice his spare time over a non-trivial amount of time to improve himself), but certainly lower than a certification in a field or skill directly related to your job.

Value to a prospective spouse (as suggested by earthling): depends. I'd certainly look favorably on someone who took a Coursera course instead of watching TV.

Value to yourself: again depends, but could be highest of all. I certainly know that those courses I took were mainly for my own pleasure and benefit.

  • Coursera certificates are the new bar-bragging stories. – Davidmh May 30 '14 at 9:44
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    I disagree, they have some value in academia. I listed MOOCs on a scholarship application and was told that the MOOCs wen't to my benefit, as I was awarded the scholarship. But I do agree that the real value is personal gain/knowledge, etc. – SoilSciGuy May 30 '14 at 13:57
  • @Stephan agree in almost everything, but although what you can learn in a Coursera MOOC is comparable to what you get reading a book, you do not usually get certificates for reading, and people usually rely a lot on certificates for applications. – user7116 Oct 16 '14 at 15:16
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    While I was in high school, I took several MOOCs on Coursera related to a field, and listed them on a scholarship application. I ended up getting the highest scholarship available at my institution. I feel that it showed my genuine interest in the field. It's cute for a high school student to brag about - but I think it's inappropriate for an academic. – ᴇcʜo Jan 3 '15 at 19:31
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    If "Everything you learn at Coursera you'd simply learn from a textbook" is true, shouldn't then the value in an academic environment be "same as reading/working through a textbook" (and "value on CV" same as listing textbook in reading interest?) – cbeleites supports Monica Jan 6 '15 at 12:03
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One of the commentators mentioned that MOOCs might be seen in a negative light in some fields, such as software engineering. Especially for this particular field, I would not at all be surprised: Many of the current professionals got their hands-on training through working on projects on the internet in their youth, and such projects would obviously go well beyond a simple introductory course. As such, MOOCs provide only introductory material to the field, and this material has been available in an easy to access format on the internet for a long time, anyway (YouTube tutorial videos predate contemporary MOOCs by years, and simple websites even more so).

I should point out that for other fields, often more specialized in scope, the sort of lectures offered by MOOCs have not been available unless you went to university to study the stuff. Sure, books have existed, but there is a difference in learning from books and listening to lectures (the latter being much more passive, and therefore often more enjoyable, while perhaps not as deep or efficient).

Having said this, I strongly feel that taking MOOCs on your spare time shows that you have motivation to deepen your knowledge, be it in your own profession or just enlarging your horizons and understanding other fields. While reviewing the basics of a field that you are supposed to be an expert in could be viewed in a negative light, a basic understanding of project management and economics would probably help your application even if you were a software engineer.

I have heard some recruiters say that they appreciate an internet presence, and joining in on all the new fun would certainly show that you are technologically capable and follow what is happening in the world. In the software engineering world, one could well put their StackOverflow alias on their CVs. I am sure that some recruiters disagree, though.

Finally, to address your point about how online courses compare with real live universities. Traditional courses usually have a higher workload, and more stringent control on passing a course. MOOCs being very new, it is nigh impossible to know just how difficult it is to pass a particular course or whether you even know the stuff now that you have. Granted, a traditional university degree does not guarantee these things either, but prospective employers better understand how much one can expect one to remember from the courses taken at a real institution. I think MOOCs will play a slightly bigger role in the future than they do now, but we are not quite there yet.

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MOOCs like those taught on Coursera are a matter of differing opinions. I think they are great for the students since they provide a great free tool for helping learn content that may be difficult to learn, interpret or even access alone. Unfortunately, they have problems with verification: students do not have to do very much to confirm their identity, and there is much speculation of plagiarism within the classes (even The Guardian wrote a small piece on that recently http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/mar/14/students-cheating-plagiarism-online).

Have I taken classes on Coursera? Yes. Do I put this on my CV? Yes...for internal purposes anyway, under a "continuing education" or "professional development" section to show my employer that I am continuing to improve myself and stay up-to-date where necessary. I'm a scientist.

My husband (a software engineer) tells me that, while MOOCs or similar training is good on a personal level, it is considered a negative thing for people in his profession, and usually only added to CV to make up for a lack of real technical training or experience. So, unfortunately, I guess the area of your work will make a difference to how others perceive your good intentions. But, yes, Coursera is better than TV!

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Actually these courses for self-paced learning. Those who are really interested in a subject and could not study in any regular university course in any subject of choice, can learn following a path offered by these online courses. It is Similar to "learning on your own". Practical course like programming in any particular programming language currently preferred by industry is good but certificates won't count as much as a regular university degree. In these practical value oriented courses will prove nothing because at the end efficiency will matter and industry will hire those people who have this efficiency and regular degree will always score high. This certificates won't get you an entry in any reputed University for going further with the study of the subject. Professionals take these courses mostly owing to the fact that a curricula offers better disciplined and structured way of learning in which testing what you learn provision within the curriculum is there. Professional, already in a field learn better in self paced learning way. These are the benefits among few others. But one other thing for these online courses associated with university can not be ignored. All over the world private university funding and "Live On your own" and "Live on your own earning" policy for the Universities are one of the causes for them to offer online courses to the people which in the past and still is for only a graded few is for earning money. People who are willing to earn a certificate which might give them an edge over others in the competitive market pay few dollars to enroll and at the end spending few hours earn a 'certificate of value'. These dollars are one of the ways for the universities to earn a fraction of cost to run universities.And not all subjects can be learned this way, suppose Genetic Engineering or Medicine can never be learned through online courses. Yes you can expand your horizon of your knowledge in any particular field of study of your choice. And that's the primary reasons of these courses, i.e MIT open course ware.

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Alone, listing an MOOC on a resume has about the same value as expressing other interest in a topic. It serves only to get you past early (automated) screening steps of a selection process. This is valuable in that it might save a little time establishing common ground between interviewer and candidate.

But the I can see an opportunity for this to change with the integration course information with evidence of participation in online forums on a topic. As a screener/interviewer, if I could and see the questions asked and answered in a classroom setting, that starts to add value.

The challenge however is scaling this to massive open online learning. In many cases, the "good" questions one might asked and answered online and forums like stack exchange. Posting duplicate questions often gets discouraged (voted down) in this sort of environment. But if a MOOC platform could also let me see the related searches and clickstream generated by a candidate the possibilities are there that MOOC's might differentiate themselves through participation (even somewhat passive participation) in activities related to the course. I've not yet seen this in practice, but it seems like what might be needed to increase the value of online information resources over textbooks.

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