Khan Academy and Coursera are, without a doubt, two of the leading online platforms. They offer virtual courses of high quality and wide variety. But when it comes to deciding which of the two is better, it takes more than a passing glance.
TL;DR: For STEM specific courses and training, Khan Academy is the better overall option in our testing. HOWEVER, for all other (non-STEM) courses, the more complete training and certification is provided by Coursera here.
In many ways, the two are on solid footing in similar categories. Both Khan Academy and Coursera have made the best of online courses lists. They both have ample customer reviews, and both are platforms where students can learn with far more flexibility, and far more affordability, than more traditional learning environments.
However, Khan Academy and Coursera are not equal. As we dig into which one is the better platform, we’ll be taking a look at many different factors, as well as considering different types of students. We hope that this review will help you decide if either Khan Academy or Coursera suits you and your educational goals–and, if so, which of the two is the better fit for you.
To do that, we’ll do a back to back comparison in some of the most important categories you need to consider when looking for a good online learning platform.
While your priorities as to what factors are most important to you may vary from you to the next person, the important thing is to take a good look at Khan Academy vs. Coursera in each area to see which one, in your mind, adds up to the better learning platform.
Main Differences Between Khan Academy vs Coursera
The main differences between Khan Academy and Coursera are:
- Khan Academy is more casual with searchable video lessons, whereas Coursera offers multimedia modalities
- Coursera offers more job training and certifications, whereas Khan Academy is more purely learning based
- Cousera partners with more traditional university partners, whereas Khan Academy has more original lessons
- Khan Academy offers more STEM specific courses, whereas Cousera offers a full spectrum of learning
When comparing two online learning platforms, the first thing you want to do is get your hands on as many ratings by both customers and experts that you can possibly find. An important asterisk to this, however, is that the reviews should be external–that is, reviews should come outside of the platform’s own site.
While this is not to say internal reviews are always worthless, they should be read with caution. A good sign internal reviews are reputable is a good variety of ratings, even if those ratings do trend a certain way. Only five-star ratings, for instance, is at very least questionable. Even if there is a variety of ratings, however, you also ideally want comments with those ratings. Ratings with commentary are not very helpful, because they do nothing to indicate the reasons for the rating, nor can we tell if concerns came from the actual courses offered, billing issues, or any number of other factors.
Nonetheless, we’re going to focus on external ratings with commentary to better compare Khan Academy vs. Coursera. Luckily, both have ample ratings to compare against one another. It’s best to rely not only one on external review site but at least a few, as we have, so you can get a more holistic and nuanced view of how well these platforms are received.
Khan Academy has even more ratings available than Coursera.
- On Common Sense Media, a review site propelled by parents, it holds a 4 out of 5-star rating based on expert review, but an average 3-star rating amongst parents and customers.
Do understand that Common Sense Media looks for different criteria–such as appropriateness for children and the inclusion/exclusion of elements such as graphic sexual and violent themes. But they also focus on overall quality.
Experts rated it at a 4 for overall educational quality, praising short but informative videos, a conversational style, and nearly unlimited resources such as practice quizzes, consistent feedback, and progress data.
Parents and kids, however, had a slightly more critical opinion. While some users praised extensive material, as well as interactive learning materials, such as games, less satisfied users pointed to some inconsistencies in the material presented on video lectures vs. what appeared on quizzes. And while even some less satisfied users noted the general organization and structure of the platform, they also pointed to lower quality videos than they would like.
- Consumer Affairs currently only lists a total of 9 reviews for Khan Academy, with an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars. Users praised how easy videos were to follow and understand, the overall course selection, and the attention to key concepts. The sole 3-star rating (the rest were all 4-star ratings) did not have any criticism either, making these reviews arguably substantially different in tone than those posted on Common Sense Media.
- G2 Crowd: Users on G2 Crowd gave Khan Academy just a tad higher rating (or perhaps it simply allows for more precise ratings), at 4.6 out of 5 stars. With a substantial 138 ratings, users mainly praised the video instruction being accessible and easy to follow. Some also noted incentives, like games and earning badges, that made learning more enjoyable. Criticisms included an outdated community forum; a slightly overwhelming interface for younger students; and a lack of more advanced or specialized coursework. And some users also noted that the videos and technology behind them seemed a bit outdated.
While there is slightly less regarding ratings for Coursera, that isn’t to say that there aren’t still ample ratings to take a look at.
- G2 Crowd: On G2 Crowd, Coursera scores a comparable average of 4 and a half out of five stars, though this is less evenly distributed than it was with Khan Academy and includes some higher and lower ratings. Users praised the quality of material, the connection to distinguished faculty, and the flexible ways you can take courses. Some users were less than happy with the brevity of some courses, courses lacking depth, and lectures without much to make their entertaining.
- PC Mag: Coursera has a 4 out of 5-star average on this featured review, with the single expert reviewer noting it as the “largest and most eclectic catalog for online higher education,” with “lively” discussion boards and courses that can be audited for free. On the downside, they mentioned a lack of feedback, and too many barriers (financial and time commitment) to many courses.
- Consumer Affairs: This is where there is the most significant departure from Khan Academy, with the average far lower and lower than other review sites, at a 2 out of 5-star rating (out of 31 reviews). While users did again praise the material of the courses themselves, they cited tenuous customer support, the pricing of subscriptions, and issues with billing.
Winner: Khan Academy. While Coursera does have a number of fans, it does not have nearly as many complaints. Regarding professional materials, Coursera has the edge, but if we’re going off ratings alone, we have to give this one to Khan Academy.
This category is a little trickier, in that it’s not nearly as easy to compare. For one, Khan Academy and Coursera, as we will see, are aimed at different types of student populations and for different purposes. Still, we’ll take a look at the amount, diversity, and depth of courses offered.
First of all, understand that Khan Academy is aimed towards younger students vs Coursera. They have a very niche set of courses, aimed at students from kindergarten through early undergraduate years. They provide typical subject areas, meant to supplement regular or homeschool work, as well as test prep materials, AP courses, and some materials for careers and college admissions. Courses are divided by one of six categories.
- Math: There’s actually also an option to search for math courses by grade, making it seem like Khan Academy is especially promoting its mathematics courses. Early math, arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra 1 and 2, trigonometry, precalc, statistics and probability, AP Calculus AB and BC, AP statistics, Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra are the courses offered.
- Science and Engineering: Select from physics, AP Physics, cosmology and astrology, chemistry, AP Chem, organic chemistry, biology, AP Biology, health/medicine, and electrical engineering.
- Computing: This more limited category includes computer science, computer programming, code (one hour course), and computer animation.
- Arts and Humanities: U.S. History/AP, world history/AP, government and civics, art history/AP, grammar
- Test Prep: Test prep is available for a few major standardized tests, including SAT, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and a few others.
- Economics and Finance: A.P. Macroeconomics/macro, microeconomics/ A.P., finance, and capital markets
It appears that there is adequate coverage in terms of what someone could ostensibly take in high school or early college (with a strong bias towards high school above elementary and above college), though many of the courses are meant more as a general survey.
There is nothing specifically wrong with that: it appears that Khan Academy has a very sharp focus on helping students stay up to date in school, prep and review concepts. And it could potentially be a resource for adults who want to brush of concepts they may have forgotten. Outside of test taking, it’s more generalized than specialized, and there is a heavy emphasis on testing as well as math and sciences; the humanities do not have courses currently.
Finding courses on Coursera is admittedly a little more complex. Instead of distinct subject areas, you’ll find that courses are lumped in a number of popular categories, including:Popular Topics, Master’s Degrees, Trending Courses, Popular Free Courses, Data Science Foundations, Cloud Computing, Business English (ESL),Top Rated Courses, Python Related Courses, Most Popular Certificates, Best Selling Authors and Thought Leaders, MBA Help, Digital Product Management, and Digital Marketing. It’s also far harder to find courses because of the sheer volume, which also, of course, could be looked as a favorable thing.
- Unlike Khan Academy, Coursera is a more general online platform, with an emphasis on older students looking to supplement professional careers, hobbies, or just continuing education.
- There is far more in terms of humanities: while Coursera does emphasize areas in IT, business technology, computer science, and Python courses, they do have a decent humanities offering, including coursework in history, music, art, and philosophy.
- You’ll find that these courses are less general and more specialized, though there does not appear to be anything in the way of test prep or many materials for younger students.
Winner: Draw. While it’s tempting to award Coursera this one, the simple fact is that both offer courses of variety for different audiences. If you are looking for a younger student, Khan Academy is much better; Coursera wins for educating adults, though feasibly some teenagers could take some courses here as well. While Coursera has arguably a more impressive catalog, Khan Academy is a bit less overwhelming and more specialized.
Course Materials and Resources
While it’s hard to expressively say exactly what each course will give you, by taking a look at the general course curriculum and features, we can compare what an experience will be like taking courses on Coursera vs. Khan Academy. What we’re looking for is interactive and engaging materials; expert instruction; and accessible use. Depth is a factor as well, but as we’ve already discussed that Khan Academy is more survey courses vs. Coursera, which does have a survey, but also more in-depth courses.
Courses are well organized and provide you a step by step guide for different mini-lessons. Each course comes with practice exercises, a teacher dashboard with performance summaries, though it is unclear exactly what kind of activities are included. For the most part, it seems fairly straightforward. Instructors lead courses with content specialties and degrees specific to what they’re teaching; most have education degrees with specializations.
Courses also have specific curriculums, a bit more formal for the simple fact that Coursera offers not only general education courses but also degree programs. Faculty includes professors from some top-tier universities and professors who specialize in specific subject areas. Along with courses, you’ll get access to mobile apps, course mentors, a support team, and video subtitles are also available.
- Winner: Coursera. This was very close, and it’s not entirely fair, as we mentioned that Khan Academy is catering towards a different set of students. That said, while the content specialists are great for Khan Academy, Coursera edges it out with well-known professors, but mostly because of the additional course resources and more in-depth study.
Pricing and Plans, and Customer Service
Of course pricing, plans, and customer service are all important considerations when it comes to selecting the best online platform possible. In this category, there is a large distinction between Khan Academy vs. Coursera, but how you interpret it really depends:
Khan Academy Prices
Khan Academy is actually a non-profit organization. Even better? Resources through Khan Academy are actually free of charge, and they don’t even inflict your screen with pop up ads. Donors and volunteers are responsible for keeping the resources available. You’ll also have access to a general help center as well as a support community.
Since Coursera, like many online learning platforms, is for profit, and thus, some courses are not free. While there is a small category of free courses, Coursera also offers certificates and even online degrees–so it makes sense that it is not entirely free. Unlike Khan Academy, Coursera is meant to be used at least in part in hopes of career advancement.
With the exception of degree programs, courses cost around $29 to $99 per course. There are various subscription plans, some more costly than others. Regarding customer service, there is a Learner Help Center, but it’s hard to find out how to contact them otherwise.
Winner: Khan Academy. While it’s hard to compare directly, it’s hard to push aside a non-profit organization. And we’d like to see more customer support information and resources with Coursera since there are many courses you have to pay for, and even because you may be working towards a degree. Until that’s fixed, there’s some weakness in this area.
For STEM Courses: Overall, if we are judging on these standards alone and ignoring the very different types of students each learning platform caters towards, we have to crown Khan Academy, the winner when it comes to STEM courses specifically.
More transparency, no cost courses overall, and generally more positive reviews made it edge out some of Coursera’s excellent features, including expertly led courses and in-depth study with leading professors.
However, for Advanced Training in Non-STEM: Go with Coursera as the better option here.