Learning in this virtual world: Masterclass, Coursera, Edx review.

As an economics lecturer and lifelong learner, I am constantly searching for new materials. Since the emergence of Udacity in 2012, MOOCs (massive open online courses) has become an incredible alternative to brick-and-mortar classrooms. Learners can access to billions multidisciplinary courses from leading universities online.

With regards to its business model, MOOCs proved to be profitable platform thanks to the (almost) zero marginal cost.

"Stanford University courses cost approximately $10,000 to $15,000 to put online. Courses with video content can cost twice that amount. But the marginal cost of delivering the courses to students is simply the cost of bandwidth, which is nearly free. The marginal cost is between three and seven dollars per person—about the same as a large cup of coffee and a cookie at Starbucks.” - Rifkin (2014)

Number of users showed no sign of decline. In 2019, MOOCs attracted 110 millions of users. From 2015 - 2019, Coursera has been the most popular and largest platform following by EdX, Udacity (Chart bellow).

Source: Class Central (2020)

MOOCs has developed greater association with corporates help them recruit and provide on-job training to their employees.

Source: MOOC report (2019)

Among those platforms, I am a frequent user of Coursera, edX, and Master Class. Chart bellow shows the popularity of the three platform during 2012 - 2020.

Coursera gained greatest buzz during the period of 2012 - 2014 and remained the most popular site. During October 2019 - January 2020, Masterclass is attracting greater attention (surpassed edX) thanks to its Thanksgiving - Chrismas 50% off promotion and heavy invested Youtube promotion. Each site has its own strengths and weaknesses. I would love to share my experience using the three sites. Hope it helps some of you.

1. Coursera

I have never spent money on Coursera or finished an economics module in the platform! I might spend my first dime on the data specialisations for my PhD application. Yet for now, I do not have any reason to spend around $49 to prove my employability to others.

The economics modules in the platform are pretty basic and flat. I tried Microeconomics Principles by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Microeconomics: The Power of Markets by University of California, Irvine and Microeconomics: The Power of Markets by University of Pennsylvania. As someone who specialized in economics, I am not impressed by economics content from Coursera: straight from textbooks (mostly Mankiw) without much of real life application.

Talking of something rather than economics, I am the biggest fan of professor John Covach from University of Rochester. His course on History of Rock was my all time favorite online course. Coursera seems to do great with its business and art content.

Other great courses in Coursera are:

Yuval Noah Harari's A Brief History of Humankind

Moralities of Everyday Life by Paul Bloom from Yale University

Financial Markets by Robert Shiller from Yale University

2. Edx

Edx was also formed in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. And by far, it is my favorite learning platform. I remember building my syllabus based on Jonathan Gruber's Microeconomics Principles module. His module reminds me to put my own spin on teaching materials. Even at the beginner level, Grubber encourages his students to think of important political issues such as food stamps, kidney donations, health care system etc. via microeconomics lens. If you are interested in Economics 101, I highly recommend Introductory AP® Microeconomics from MIT University. Totally refreshing! Since Edx only choose to cooperate with leading universities, the content are more research oriented. Some great lectures from the Edx you can find:

From MIT: Introductory AP® Microeconomics, Microeconomics, Data Analysis for Social Scientists, Political Economy and Economic Development

From Harvard: Justice, Science & Cooking

3. MasterClass

This December, I finally bought the full access for $90. After a month of diving into the content, I finally came to my conclusion: If Youtube ads consistently lure you to buy the subscription, don't! Skip the ad.

I did not learn anything major from the platform. What disappointed me the most was Krugman's lectures: No explanation just statement after statement. The business and politics sections are disappointing too. Most lectures from Anna Wintour, Sara Blakely, v.v are stories extracted of their lives. It was like going through an abbreviated autobiographies filmed and narrated by them.

MasterClass, however, can be a good investment if you are down for casual talks. Some instructors are pretty insightful. Gordon Ramsey taught me to make perfect poached egg. Bobby Brown motivated me to make up again. Neil deGrasse Tyson was interesting as a person. Interesting enough to persuade me to finish all his lessons within one play. All in all, those lessons are perfect to play as background music. Lower your expectation and enjoy some famous people from the internet dress up and talk to you.


1. Shah, D. (2019), Coursera’s Monetization Journey: From 0 to $100+ Million in Revenue, link: https://www.classcentral.com/report/coursera-monetization-revenues/

2. Shah, D. (2019), By The Numbers: MOOCs in 2019, https://www.classcentral.com/report/mooc-stats-2019/

3. Rifkin, Jeremy. “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism.” Apple Books.

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