Should I Pursue a Verified Certificate for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)?

Verified certificate logo, from edx (

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. MOOCs provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and deliver quality educational experiences at scale. MOOCs cover a broad spectrum of online courses in leadership, analytics, data science, professional skills, engineering, business & management, humanities, computer science, and much more. These courses are usually offered by top universities across the world like MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, EPFL, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, The University of Queensland, and much more. Some courses are also offered by big corporations such as IBM, google, and Microsoft. The greatest advantage of MOOCs is the opportunity to learn from leaders and experts, and the privilege of taking courses from the world’s top universities. The most popular providers of MOOCs include the following:

a) edx:

b) coursera:

c) DataCamp:

d) Udemy:

e) Udacity:

f) Lynda:

Some of these providers of MOOCs would let you audit their courses free of charge, while some require you to pursue a verified certificate (which can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 per course). So the natural question is: Should I pursue a verified certificate for an MOOC?

Let me provide my take.

Pursuing a verified certificate could serve as an incentive to keep you focused. Most often, audit learners do not complete the entire course, neither do they take seriously the homework assignments. I think there is value in something that you pay for. However, if auditing the course allows you to have access to all course materials including homework assignments, and if you are motivated enough to complete these assignments, then I think auditing the course would be the better route to take. In some disciplines like data science, and some other professional fields, learning is achieved only by practicing, for example you can’t learn programming just by listening to lectures. You have to take part in the homework assignments and discussion forums, these will help you to develop practical skills.

If you are new to a certain field and you need something to showcase your knowledge, then pursuing a verified course could be good. If you already have a solid background, and you are just interested in increasing your knowledge or advancing your career, then you don’t really need to pursue a verified certificate. For example, in fields like computer science, software engineering, data science, and analytics, its more about what you can do than what certificates you have. So if you already have some background in a quantitative discipline like physics, mathematics, statistics, and computer science, then you could audit courses in data science and analytics in order to explore and learn about the field. There are other important ways of showcasing your work, for instance you could showcase your projects and accomplishments on other platforms like LinkedIn, github, and Kaggle.

There is just too many good courses out there. For someone who is a lifelong learner like myself, there are lots of options to choose from. If you want to pursue verified certificates each time you take an MOOC course, you may end up spending lots of money. When I started taking MOOCs some 3 years ago, I was excited at pursuing verified certificates. Today, I care more about what I can do with knowledge as opposed to accumulating verified certificates here and there. I always search for courses that I can audit, but that also allows me to complete the homework problems as well. Hence at the completion of the course, I am in no way different from someone who pursued a verified certificate, the only difference being a piece of paper called verified certificate of completion which can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 per course.

In summary, MOOCs provide a unique opportunity for learning new skills, advance your knowledge, and professional development. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to pursue a verified certificate as a means to showcase your skills, but for the most part, audit learners can acquire same skills and experience. Always search for courses that you can complete free of charge, only in exceptional cases should you pursue a verified course.

Thanks for reading.

Physicist, Data Science Educator, Writer. Interests: Data Science, Machine Learning, AI, Python & R, Personal Finance Analytics, Materials Sciences, Biophysics

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