Let’s learn something new! And let’s do it with Coursera: one of the leading company providing massive open online courses.

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Okay, it looks like big universities are teaching here, this make me feel better.

I have a quick look at the featured courses and they look VERY technical. Hmmm… let’s use the search bar at the top and look for course about design because that’s something I care about.

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387 matches. Wow. That’s a lot… I could try the filters to the left but doesn’t seem to help much.

Maybe I could have been more specific. I’m into product design so let’s try with product design.

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Okay same number of matches… that didn’t work. Or maybe it did? Now at the top I can see a title that catches my attention. It’s actually about product design. Also I’ve heard of “design sprints” but never really studied them. Let’s learn more.

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The about this course section looks crammed even though it’s the most important one. But I guess when you’ve thousands of courses you’ve to go for more structured data: that’s why there’s so much more space reserved for less important meta data: like the author, the school, the language etc.

Still I can expand and read the description in just 1 click. Sounds like a good fit.

I like to clearly see the commitment required and the duration.

Actually I notice this is course #2 of a 5 courses sequence (apparently they call this bundle of courses a “specialization”). Let’s click on it to learn more.

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In a new tab I can see more about this specialization. The page looks very similar. I have a quick look at the course #1 but it looks less interesting to me.

Let’s go back to the other course

Before looking at the syllabus let’s jump to the reviews because those can tell you a lot, when you’re lucky.

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SURPRISE! It’s rated 4.5 stars. Like most “okay to excellent” stuff on the internet these days.

Let’s dig into the negative reviews for some insights. I’ll save you the screenshots. Most of the negative reviews critique the quality of the course compared to the first one of this series of courses (this is #2).

Specifically they say “Some lessons are just boring and way too exhaustive” or “most of the information is far too specific and tied to one scenario”.

Anyway these are just 4-5 isolated voices amongst 60 ratings. They won’t stop me.

Let’s have a look at the syllabus.

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This is how week 1 is summarised. It looks like most of the “lessons” will be video lectures. Other than that I can’t really expand this index without enrolling. So let’s “Enroll Now”. If anything to make this button disappear (it’s been following me all along!)

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Standard and sleek modal signup. Let’s go with Facebook and save some clicks.

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I’m in. Woohoo!

Again the text content is hidden away in a Read More corner of the website. Also this 14px font size is driving me blind. Let’s zoom to 125% and make it more readable (hoping it won’t break the layout).

Nice, now let’s click the continue button. It looks like the week 1 is due in 3 days and I better do it.

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it looks like I’ve 3 things I can do. Upgrade but no thanks I haven’t even started trying it.

Then I can go to forum to discuss this week’s module.

Or start the lesson. I guess I’ll invest 10 minutes with the the first lesson about overview & requirements.

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This is easy to scan read content. Thanks!

The typography sucks thought. It’s too many words per line, a too small font. In short it’s not designed to aid reading. Here’s a comparison with a well designed site to make the point clearer.



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At the bottom of the page there’s a Please Note note about session-based course. I’ll follow the link but it bring me to a 404 page.

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It doesn’t matter.

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I flag this page to leave feedback so that they can fix. I like to discover the interface and how they’ve split technical and content feedback.

I click “Mark as completed” to… complete the lesson.

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I didn’t get redirected to the next page or anything. No big deal I’ll just scroll at the top and go to the next lesson.

The next page is a nice “Get to Know Your Classmates” message. An invitation to present myself and update my profile.

The thing is it says to go to the meet and greet forum but there’s no link to it in the content, not even in the page.

Let’s go back to the overview section because I remember there was a discussion forums section there.

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It looks like the forum is organised by week and on top of that we have a general discussion and meet and greet section. Let’s meet and greet some fellow students.

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I read some of the presentations. There are only 3 of them with 0 replies each. Rather than starting yet another thread I decide to reply to an existing one, to make it more social.

Before replying I want to add a profile picture to make it more personal. I’ve encountered some technical glitches but in the end I manage it (side thought: since I signed up through my Facebook account, couldn’t they pull the pic?).

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Cool! I’ve met Daniel: a big Coursera fan.

Now let’s navigate back to the next lesson. Click click click click.

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The first video! I’m happy to see they’ve multiple playback rate. And also an interactive and searchable transcript.

I’m not that happy, instead, to see that the forum is completely separated from the content.


I keep moving on from one 5 minutes videos to another, until I end up in a new type of content

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It’s a question. I can’t see answers from other people until I actually submit mine – even if it doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

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It looks like I’m not the only one just saying no.

This is the kind of integration between forums and learning material that I’d like to see more. If only they were more flexible and refined… I believe they could drive a lot of engagement. Anyway let’s go back to the walkthrough.

The experience continues with video lectures and 1 question quizzes until I end up on the exam page for this week of the course. Tah dah!!!

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The questions are challenging and all the options are credible. I’ve 3 attempts every 8 hours so I’m very relaxed as I attempt it.

Then I try to submit it for grading and I see this.

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It looks like this is a premium feature. Some quizzes and a shareable certificate It’s not worth 99$ so I’ll just keep going without the graded exams.

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Looking at the assignments page in the course overview I can tell in the third week there’s a new kind of activity that’s peer graded. Too bad I won’t make it. I’ve found the materials of this week a bit too academic so I’ll just drop out of this course and move on to something else…

In the meantime… in my inbox

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Right after signing up for the course I get two emails from Coursera.

One is clearly the same template for every course (featuring an oversized image and a big blue button to get started). Nothing useful or special really.

The other is a more discursive email that address the critiques we’ve read in the negative reviews and feature one happy testimonial.

In the following days I’ll only get email reminders about assignments that are due.

Wrapping up

I’m not impressed by the quality of the user interface or the user experience in general.

I get it that having thousands of courses you’ve to standardise. And you have to impose more strict design requirements overall. But still there’re too many confusing points and considering they’ve raised 146 millions of dollars, I would have expected better design standards.