Design Critique: Coursera (Web Version)


Coursera is an online education provider that offers online courses, popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses, from top universities and companies around the world. If learners earn a certificate for each course in a Specialization, they will receive a Specialization certificate.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.”— Don Norman

Among all of the online education website, I’ve tried several and even they’re focus on different trajectory, the one that hooks me and motivate me to complete is Coursera which delivering a very “flow” experience. User-centered design employs empathy and in turn increases satisfaction of the end-users. This design critique will be using Norman theories from “The Design of Everyday Things” to analyze the good and bad designs Coursera utilizes.

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Coursera Certificate Example

Preview of Courses View

Coursera Landing Page I
Coursera Landing Page II
Coursera Landing Page III

Coursera provides with a range of categories and courses before the logging in step, which allows users to scroll through the page to see the courses they might interest in. The landing page has several key signifiers, giving users easy clues to follow on whether they want to proceed any task successfully. And the “Join for Free” button has the high discoverability for first time users to join the Coursera.

However, it entices users to get lost into a bunch of choices which let a Gulf of Evaluation arises and create a disconnection within the conceptual model. Every time users logging in, it lacks of signifiers to point them to continue their courses but instead with new courses recommendation.

Logging in On Coursera

Log in Figure

Coursera follows a very standard format in terms of the login process. It makes use of the concept of knowledge in the world, which lets the users log into the account effortlessly, The “login” button acts as a signifier and informs that the website affords logging in.


Coursera Course View

Logged in Figure

The function of starting a course is made discoverable. The text button “Go To Course” tells you that it affords going to the class, wherein the button itself acts as a signifier. However, when users click on the button and were lead to a new page, a Gulf of Execution arises and multiple signifiers lead to the same function would misguide users. Users would become frustrated at the visceral layer of processing to the course and it would lead to learned helplessness.

Learning Progress View

Weekly Progress Figure

The learning progress of the website is easily discoverable. It follows a good conceptual model. Users come across the concept of natural mapping when viewing the progress of their courses. However, there’s an existing issue within Coursera which is the learning progress would easily lost and causing the miscalculates of the deadline reminders. This results in the passive experience relating to Gulf of Execution and something wrong within the conceptual model.

Individual Session Progress Figure I

Each course session section follows a good conceptual model and the progress is made discoverable. The timeline of the course tells users that it affords pausing, dragging and locating to a specific time spot. And the progress at the left side acts as a signifier. However, sometimes when users complete a session on the website, it wouldn’t update synchronously on the mobile version which creates a Gulf of Execution and the user makes an action based slip.


Individual Session Progress Figure II

The notes session on the right side affords highlighting notes and taking screen shots. The “save note” button below the video screen acts as a signifier informing where to capture as responding to the timeline. However, the highlighting on the transcription might bring redundancy and violate the concept of knowledge in the head since users are not familiar with that.

Video Figure

The English transcription affords highlighting notes while there’s no signifiers for users to realize that. And the setting button affords adjusting video quality and speed. However there’s no signifiers which acquires users to use knowledge of head to realize the functions list on the drop up menu.


Coursera now owns a popularity within the online education field and people use it for a variety of purposes. However it has room for improvement on the usability and accessibility in some areas so as users would have more delight experience learning and completing tasks online.