Category Archives: Reviews

My online learning experience with Coursera

I have been working in the financial industry for six  years now and the closest thing I took to a finance class was economics. I also have not taken a class or course since college ended just as long ago. When someone mentioned that Coursera was offering an Introduction to Finance class on our internal company forums, it was an opportunity to both learn something about finance and try out online learning.

Coursera is “a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.” They offer a wide range of topics from a large number of schools.

Introduction to Finance is taught by Gautam Kaul, a professor at the University of Michigan. It is ten weeks long and purports to, “This course will introduce you to frameworks and tools to measure value; both for corporate and personal assets. It will also help you in decision-making, again at both the corporate and personal levels.”

What I like

The way the course is structured allows me to accomplish the necessary work within my schedule. There is usually about 1-2 hours of video lectures divided into roughly 20 minutes chunks, followed by a assignment that takes another 2 hours.  This allows me to fit it into my schedule. I do some at lunch time, then more after the kids go to bed. Professor Kaul is enganging, considering he is lecturing to a video camera. He does manage to say some pretty wacky stuff and has his own facebook page.

What I dislike

The weekly assignments contain questions that are considerably more difficult than the examples done in class. I would expect some increased degree of difficulty. One anonymous student who had decided to drop the course explained,

“The difficulty of some of the problems far exceeded any of the examples Gautam provided in the online lectures. At least one of the examples provided during the lectures should have been at the same level of difficulty of these difficult homework exercises. (An analogy: The lecture taught me how to doggie-paddle the length of the pool. But I felt like at least two of the homework exercises were asking me to backstroke the length of a lake. And I wish we had been shown some backstroke techniques during the lectures.)”

Unfortunately because of the online nature, the course doesn’t give you an answer sheet after the assignment is due. If you get a question wrong, you aren’t given the right answer or even an explanation of what you did incorrectly. The Professor has made it clear that a considerable amount of work goes into creating the questions for each week. They can’t use questions from textbooks because of copyright. They have to come up with new original questions. If they gave out an answer sheet, they would not be able to use the questions again in a later iteration of the course. But I don’t think that is a valid excuse. I find it a major issue to give out assignment but no solutions.


Unfortunately the problems do not end there for this new experiment of free online education. There have been reports of widespread plagiarism in other courses. Regardless, I think that what Coursera and its ilk offer is awesome and should be encouraged. Today’s colleges are scarily overpriced and only help out those who are mature enough to take advantage of the situation. Too many colleges churn out 6 year party animals with useless degrees. They focus is on certification, not education.

I will be taking a long break after this course is complete, but have already browsed Coursera’s catalog to see what I could take next.

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Class Central: A complete list of free online courses offered by Stanford’s Coursera, MIT and Harvard led edX (MITx + Harvardx + BerkeleyX), and Udacity