Defining Your Goals for Your Coursera Course

When planning your Coursera course you will likely want to start by defining your goals for the course. Those goals may be similar to or different from those you have for the classroom. What would you like participants to be able to do and know by the end of the course? What level of expertise do you hope they develop? Alternatively, are you more interested in their participation in the process than in the outcome? To answer these questions, you’ll want to think about both the purpose of the course as well as the intended audience. Once you’ve established your goals, then you can think about how to achieve these goals through your presentation of material, what you ask participants to do, the structure of your discussion forums, and the various other aspects of your course.


Because a Coursera course need not fit into Penn’s curriculum and because of the wide range of potential audiences, you have considerable flexibility in imagining the purpose and scope of your course, You may choose to define the purpose of your course much as you define the purpose of your Penn courses. For instance, you might want students to master certain skills, become comfortable with particular intellectual approaches or ways of thinking, or understand a body of information. Alternatively, though, some faculty think of the primary purpose of their Coursera course to be encouraging student engagement in ideas and the creation of a community around those ideas. To do accomplish that, you might use the discussion forums heavily, encourage the use of social media, and reduce the emphasis on quizzes. On the other hand, many see their Coursera courses as sources of information on a topic of public interest – as a way to foster civic awareness. Here you likely want to spend a lot of time thinking about how to present course content and focus less on the rigor of the assessments.

Intended Audience

Anyone in the world with a computer and an internet access could potentially become an audience member for your Coursera course. But that does not mean you have to meet the needs and interests of all possible students. You can decide for yourself – based on the purpose of your course – who your target audience is. Keep that group, however broad or diverse, in mind as you decide how to structure your course to make it rewarding for your students. Remember, with enrollments of tens of thousands of students, many will inevitably drop the class. Consequently, overall retention rates may not be the best measure of success; providing a valuable experience for your target students may be a more useful goal. Some things that you might want to consider in defining your audience for the course include:
• How much background knowledge and skills should your intended audience have?
• What would motivate your audience to take your course? What do they want to get out of the course?
• How much time do you think your intended audience would be willing to put into your course?
• What expectations would the audience have of you and the class?
Based in part on the answers to these questions, you can determine the appropriate level of difficulty of your course, what assignments and assessments your audience should complete, how to frame your lectures, and what support materials you want to provide in your course (i.e., homeworks, outside readings, bonus lectures, etc.).