Udacity vs. Coursera, FIGHT!


Anyone taking classes on both platforms? I'm interested in hearing how they compare. I'm currently working through last fall's Stanford database class at my own pace. I have to say, while the content is great, the platform for that class just doesn't stack up to Udacity. So far the in-lecture quizzes are less numerous and consist exclusively of multiple-choice questions. Also, at 10 - 25 minutes, the instructional videos tend to be longer than those of Udacity. This makes it more difficult to stop and start within a unit, and I have to commit larger contiguous blocks of time to working on the course (tough when you have two small children.) However, since the DB class is not actually on the Coursera platform, this isn't really a fair comparison.

Any thoughts from people with experience with both?

Also, I have to think Udacity gained some first-mover advantage after the Coursera classes were delayed due to issues with Stanford administration. Honestly, I was initially planning on taking a Coursera class over Udacity. However, once those classes were delayed I signed up here for CS101 and now I'm locked in. I'll be taking three more Udacity classes starting in April. Who knows when I'll get around to Coursera.

Edit: Man, everyone is so gracious. I was really hoping to stoke the fires of an online university rivalry. Udacity vs. Coursera could be the unaccredited online computer science program version of Ohio State vs. Michigan, Alabama vs. Auburn, or Oxford vs. Cambridge (for you Europeans).

asked 16 Mar '12, 16:55

Dan%20Ryan's gravatar image

Dan Ryan

accept rate: 33%

edited 16 Mar '12, 22:45


Thanks for posting this danryan1011. I was not aware of coursera.org and now have signed up for the "Model Thinking" course and have found it quite instructive.

(26 Mar '12, 20:23)


jwjb's gravatar image

One one hand we have the visionaries who are leading this massive change in education and on the other the traditionalists who are trying to follow them.

I have two comments:
First comment: The Professors at Udacity are amazing, often the best in the world at what they do and often with real world experience that is rarely seen in the traditional academic world.

Second comment: Style is everything: When looking at Udacity I see innovation, vision and creativity in an online course that has, for me at least, been a personal experience. A personal experience where I feel like I am engaged in a wonderful learning journey. Comparisons to recordings of traditional lectures seem misplaced.

I thank the Udacity team for their raw guts in driving this huge venture and I am excited to see how they will take on the competition from the traditionalists.

(21 Apr '12, 14:33)

Andrew Cardno

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30 Answers:

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Udacity vs. Coursera

Video Host: Udacity

  • YouTube is just better than whatever Coursera is using, which is difficult to navigate, and can be accidentally exited with just a click outside the video.

Forums: Coursera

  • They have tags too and upvoting too, but they split up the forums first into discussion about lectures, homework, quizzes and so on. Just makes the whole thing more organized. Plus it's not separate from the course content.

Grading: Coursera

  • Partial credit, a grader that tells you what went wrong, multiple submissions, option for turning in things late. All things I hope Udacity eventually adopts.

Design - Udacity

  • Udacity just looks better.

Content/Difficulty/Teachers - Tie

  • These things are harder to rate cause it just varies by the course/teacher. Right now I'd probably give them a tie, they all have some useful things to teach and have professors that know what they're talking about.

Right now overall I prefer Udacity, although part of the reason is superficial (ie comparison #4). But I also just like the spirit or culture or whatever you call it better. It's more cohesive since it's all being developed in one place and they've made their content free to distribute. But I like both.


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:16

Takanzi's gravatar image


edited 16 Mar '12, 17:34


Exactly right on all counts. One addition: the lectures for the CS101 course are far more engaging than the SaaS course at Coursera. The algorithm course at coursera, however, has strong lectures and an engaging professor.

(16 Mar '12, 17:36)

Amy Anuszews...

Amy%20Anuszewski-4's gravatar image

YEAH! The algorithm guy is awesome!!

(17 Mar '12, 06:25)

Binesh Banne...

Binesh%20Bannerjee's gravatar image

The algorithm class is pretty awesome, for sure. Any chance that Udacity can steal him? :-)

(17 Mar '12, 09:19)

David Harris

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@amykhar I find the SaaS course lectures extremely engaging.. And one should also note they are the recording of the actual lectures being given concurrently at Berkeley. The lecturers are extremely strong and compelling and engaging. The material is however signficantly (exponentially actually) more advanced than this course; which may be what you struggled with.

(18 Mar '12, 14:23)

Ilan Pillemer

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"option for turning in things late"

This is precisely why I like Udacity. I get the appeal of "go at your own pace" classes, but it's easy to slack off or procrastinate. With Udacity, even though the grading doesn't really mean anything, having the real hard deadlines to finish material is helping to keep me on track.

(18 Mar '12, 20:26)

Andrew Kaplan-1

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Have you ever heard this little parable: if you gave a caveman a stove, you'd think they'd cook on it. But they wouldn't because they wouldn't change their concept of cooking; instead they would use the stove to start their campfire and keep doing what they've been doing.

Pedagogically, Udacity is cooking on the stove.

In the Coursera crypto class, the professor there even said directly that the questions during the lectures are just there to make the video more interesting. I can attest that the in-lecture questions are not learning steps, as they are in Udacity. By the way, with Udacity I wouldn't even use the phrase "in-lecture" because here it isn't just a 20 minute desktop lecture with some superficial interactivity thrown in.

The Coursera algorithms class is better, but it still isn't skill-building in its structure like CS101. Like the crypto class, the algorithms class so far is in its essence an information delivery system, and not a training program.

We shouldn't be surprised as they are the regular Stanford classes; they're required to cook over the campfire. And to be clear, I don't mean to belittle traditional instruction. I'm belittling the failure to get full use of new tools through changing the way things are done.


answered 24 Mar '12, 15:45

Jeffery%20Morgan's gravatar image

Jeffery Morgan


Awesome analogy! This is the exact impression that I get from the DB class. The in-lecture questions feel like an afterthought. They're all multiple-choice and there's typically only 3-4 per 20-25 minute lecture. It's weird too, because this seems more like a design decision than a technical limitation. I've found the interface for the actual coding assignments to be really well done. It seems like it would have been easy for the creators of the course to insert some of the SQL/xpath/xquery/etc assignments into the videos. This oversight may be due to the creators of the course staying closer to the physical classroom model in which instruction is separated from practice (homework), or (as you describe it) not cooking on the stove.

(24 Mar '12, 16:17)

Dan Ryan

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This has been my experience with the Coursera classes too. I started Software as a Service, but quit after the first week.

The videos and reading materials were all abstract theory. That was fine, but then when it came time to do the homework (which required very specific, practical knowledge) the only real help you got was a link to some documentation. All of the homework was in Ruby, and neither the class textbook or lecture videos covered anything practical about that language. If you relied on just the course materials, you wouldn't even know what IDE to use for Ruby or how to run/debug a program.

I thought the class was going to teach me how to use all of these new tools and languages. Instead, they taught some abstract theory and then said "Alright, now go read the documentation on these tools and languages so that you can do the homework." I basically felt like I was teaching myself more than I was learning from the course materials. It was frustrating. After spending hours on the Week 2 homework without getting anywhere, I decided to just drop that class and put all of my focus into the class that I actually enjoyed: Udacity's CS101.

(27 Mar '12, 11:05)

Ricky Steele-1

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They are both excellent. I look forward to taking lots of courses from both... :-)


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:19

Rafael%20Espericueta's gravatar image

Rafael Esper...

Personally, I hope both initiatives are successful. My personal preference in format leans toward Udacity at the moment, but it's still early. As they grow and are able to build larger teams of developers and designers, I expect to see a lot of changes on both sides. Right now, though, I'm just excited to have access to these incredible instructors and I'm looking forward to learning as much as I can for free.


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:01

David%20Harris's gravatar image

David Harris

I am currently taking courses on coursera, MITx and obviously udacity. So, I guess I can talk about their strengths and weaknesses!

I definitely prefer the udacity course over all the courses at coursera. The obvious reason is that in udacity, you can actually learn step by step and when you get stuck, you know exactly where you are in the material. In coursera and MITx, it's not this way. The videos are much longer in both coursera and MITx.

Also, in udacity, you actually feel more engaged in the lectures. It's like having a tutor by your side! You see the instructor's hand as he explains the concepts, and you get to do lots of quizes. You actually retain the material learned at udacity better.

Having talked about the good sides of udacity, I'll honestly say that the MITx course is also very good and (In my own opinion) better than udacity in some ways (although, these can easily be fixed).

Firstly, MITx's course actually gives you a book which you can read to gain more understanding. Secondly, MITx's course provides a 'playground' where you can play around with concepts. You can actually build circuits and see how they work. Thirdly, MITx's course videos are much sharper than those at both coursera and udacity. Also, I must confess that the formating, color and presentation of the MITx page and course is just great! They really put in lots of hours into making their course. Although I think MITx is great, I still prefer udacity to MITx because udacity is more 'hands on' compared to the other courses. I've had a better experience at udacity because they actually give you the important material and not unnecessary detail (Coursera and MITx are really found of giving such detail). I believe it's easier to follow the udacity course more than the others because it's just awesomely structured!

In the future, I see udacity being better than coursera and MITx for one reason - they are still under the control of the various institutions, while udacity is free to teach nontraditional courses (like the one about self driving cars! I must confess that that's a brilliant idea for a class.)
If those four things I said about MITx previously are implemented in udacity, udacity will definitely be much better than any online education system I know of.

If I was to change two things about udacity to make it better, the first will be the formatting (and color) of the pages and then I will add a 'playground' for practicing at anytime. Just doing these two things will significantly improve the user experience. One suggestion for the udacity team is to teach using books which are freely available on the web so students can refer to sections to read up what they don't fully understand.

In general, if I had to rank the three learning systems from best to worst, it will be Udacity, MITx and Coursera.


answered 27 Mar '12, 00:37

Obinna%20Okechukwu's gravatar image

Obinna Okech...

Well said! I definitely feel the sense of community so far. What I find most interesting is how quickly one can become so entrenched in one system. I thought Coursera looked better on paper, but when I started taking classes on both platforms I just got much more out of Udacity. Now that I'm almost done with CS101 and have started CS252, I sort of feel like a Udacian for life - I think this is going to be on my resume forever (or whatever Udacity turns into).

(22 Feb '13, 23:10)

Stephen Gilc...

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How come nopbody has said anything about the people (other than teachers)? Or perhaps I missed it, so I'll say it:

The community in Udacity, at least in this course IS GREAT. I feel like more warmth, both from the teachers and students. The Udacity community is muc much more alive and active than the one at Coursera, at least in the NLP course. I feel like people are just studying there, here people are helping each other. For example, I saw a post about unenrolling there, people just told the poster how to do it. Now, people who want to quit here have been encouraged not to do so. The example is trivial but it shows how there is more warmth here. I like that.


answered 20 Mar '12, 03:58

Andr%C3%A9s%20Quintero-3's gravatar image

Andrés Quint...

Spot on hazzulad! The atmosphere is fantastic. That's why i think i'm gonna stick around for a long time. The community really is great, so much so that I think in future i'm gonna keep taking courses, if for no other reason, as an excuse to hang around. I know (i'm positive) Sebastian and David are gonna succeed in building a top class online university but they've also inadvertently(??) developed a special social network of sorts.

(27 Mar '12, 06:02)

Leks Mak Ste...

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i'm taking the course on MITx. it's definitely more challenging and it's obvious they put alot of work into it. what i can say for both platforms is the lecturers are great, and i think that's what's most important. at the moment i have a soft spot for udacity. i'm primarily taking the MITx course because i thought it would be cool to have an MIT certificate.


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:42

Leks%20Mak%20Stephen's gravatar image

Leks Mak Ste...


One of the neat features of the MITx course is that one can speed up (or slow down) the videos... which is really convenient.

MITx has a really professional design to its site, too. (As does Udacity)

Thing is, there is a lot more material to the current MITx class, and involves a lot more work to get all the assignments done.

(20 Mar '12, 13:52)

Mary Pat Cam...

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Thanks for posting this the3rd. I have signed up for the Circuits and Electronics course and it looks like a great course and the MITx platform looks quite professional as well.

(26 Mar '12, 20:41)


jwjb's gravatar image

There really is alot of material in the MITx class. Hope you both stick through to the end. i"m doing ok now, but ther's a long way to go. Wish me luck

(27 Mar '12, 06:11)

Leks Mak Ste...

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I feel like the questions asked are very involved and require knowledge beyond what you learn within the lecture videos. They assume you have a grasp over AP Physics and other subjects.

(03 Apr '12, 22:14)


ConAntonakos's gravatar image

Udacity wins by a significant amount, namely:

  • Just videos -- coursera videos and book approach is daunting for full-time employees
  • Learn-practice immediately approach -- the way that immediate practice is builtin into udacity makes it really engaging
  • 2-4 min class chunks -- it's great to fit the learning in your small amounts of free time: "You are waiting for a meeting that was delayed half hour? Let's to do some classes."
  • browser based homework -- coursera requires you to install a VM which a loss less practical
  • everything works -- coursera homework instructions are still buggy and it results on alot of waisted time for students

The only aspect that coursera is better is the on the grader feedback tool. However that can be emulated by using python on your machine.

I'm looking forward to the CS 253 -- Web Application Engineering.

Thanks Udacity!


answered 18 Mar '12, 12:42

Marco%20Alves's gravatar image

Marco Alves

At least for what I've done so far at Coursera, the assigned reading was more of a supplement than something necessary to follow the main thrust of the course. So I'd consider it a feature.

(18 Mar '12, 13:14)

Robert Szarka-4

Robert%20Szarka-4's gravatar image

"coursera requires you to install a VM which a loss less practical"

That's not true of coursera as a whole, only for a particular course (SaaS) may be. Both Design and Analysis of Algo, and Crypto (which I am doing) do not have any requirement like this. In fact, no specific prog language required for DAA prog assignments.

Also, regarding books as @szarka mentions it's not necessary but good for referring.

(18 Mar '12, 15:08)

Kartik Singhal

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Both of them are excellent.

The right step Udacity is taking is teaching a basic level course such as CS 101 that is absolutely required for newbies. After completing this course, we can move to any other courses.

Most of the Stanford courses are advanced level meaning they require a certain level of expertise in programming. I wish they could have started with their CS 101 course.


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:32

ilikeudacity-2's gravatar image


edited 20 Mar '12, 02:01


This is important. Coursera is currently tapping into more existing programmers. Udacity is training the next wave of students who will soon be qualified to take more of their courses.

This should give Udacity a lot of momentum over time.

(16 Mar '12, 19:21)


Graeme's gravatar image

There is a CS101 course, but it hasn't started. I plan on tackling that one before they re-open this one.

(20 Mar '12, 03:37)

Andrés Quint...

Andr%C3%A9s%20Quintero-3's gravatar image

Udacity vs. Coursera

  • Video Host: Coursera

    There are a lot more options than YouTube.

  • Grading: Equal

    Really, grading doesn't matters.

  • Design - Coursera

    Better integration.

  • Forums - Coursera

    There are more focused content in each of the subforums. Udacity forums are a mess!

  • Content/Difficulty - Tie

  • Teachers - Udacity

  • Overall - Udacity

    Teaching makes the difference, and I'm here for learning. All others aspects come in second place.


answered 16 Mar '12, 17:40

macjohn's gravatar image


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Asked: 16 Mar '12, 16:55

Seen: 17,791 times

Last updated: 28 Feb '13, 16:34