Thoughts on Sessions versus Self-Paced On Coursera

I was asked by a colleague to summarize my thoughts on whether courses should be session based of self-paced on Coursera.

It depends on a few things:

  • If there is low enrollment, self-paced works better because the forums feel less “empty” to a new student. If you are starting a new scheduled session every few weeks and there are only a few hundred students – if can be problematic.
  • One disadvantage of instructor paced is that there is a temptation to put “events” at the end of classes – special instructor hangouts, etc etc. We initially felt that Coursera Capstone courses needed this special attention for each session. While these events are fun the first time a course is taught and when enrollment is high, after a while they are less fun – especially when they happen every 5-6 weeks and few students show up. We moved toward having events for the “whole specialization” and not just for students currently enrolled – that way when you have live or other special events you get the most benefit for the investment of faculty time. My office hours work perfectly for this. Every 8 or so weeks I meet my students in a bar, make a simple YouTube video and send it around. Reasonable effort – high visibility.
  • A key to scheduled is the ability to “roll forward” if a student drops out – Coursera is masterful at this. There is a “session” but if you drop out, and a bit later a new session starts you get an email that says – “Hey – we miss you – a new session is just starting and if you join now your homework results will roll forward to that session so you start part-way done”. Brilliant blend of self-paced and scheduled.

In summary, we went from 100% scheduled 10 week courses 3x per year, to 100% self-paced with five 8-week courses, to this hybrid “scheduled but with easy re-enrollment”. For high enrollment courses like our Python course (1400 new students per week), the semi-scheduled is the best arrangement. For my Internet History low-enrollment course (146 new students per week) – self paced seems to be the right balance.

One thought on “Thoughts on Sessions versus Self-Paced On Coursera

  1. Edward Daciuk

    Thanks for this post Charles. We get asked this question frequently by clients and I think this is a nice way to think about it and a reasonable option.

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