Is this the peak of flawed online UX certification programs?

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion and experience, and no one else’s. The experiences of others might be different.

I enrolled in the Google UX Certification course hosted on Coursera with great hope of learning the ins and outs of User Experience from one of the biggest tech players in the world. Their story seemed very promising: 6 units, graded assignments (big emphasis on the word “graded”), and graduating not only being more knowledgeable but also having some shiny new portfolio pieces under my belt. Practitioners from Google will be checking my work and provide precious feedback, this is amazing! It seemed like an actual decent alternative to overpriced university degrees. So, I came, I saw, I started paying £28 per month to Coursera.

The first unit, also called “Foundations of User Experience (UX) Design”, was just as expected: straightforward. I had done another UX bootcamp before, so I was not completely new to the topics there. “No problem”, I said to myself, “I will keep on going till I get to the meat and potatoes of it”.

But as I was progressing, something started to feel odd. It felt like it was not living up to the promise. All in all, after completing only 2 units (and won’t be continuing) I can say that there were quite a few wrong things about the course, but in this article, I’ll focus only on two of them: peer reviews and self-reflection exercises.

1. Peer reviews

Turns out those “graded assignments” are actually peer reviews, i.e., people taking the course at the same time are marking the submitted work. There was no Google instructor checking the work, there was no qualified 3rd party checking the work. The very same students that presumably know as much as me about the field are assessing the quality of the assignments.

You might think “Come on, it can’t be that bad”, but trust me, it is. I decided to test how flawed the course execution really is and I submitted the most awful customer journey map in the history of mankind. It took me 5 whole minutes to come up with the most atrocious ideas to include. Basically, I thought about a food delivery service, and the user actions I included were:

- Thinks about food

- Hunts for food

- Checks website

- Picks something good

- Orders

Genius, right? Wait, it gets better. Here are some tasks I jotted down:

- Is this a right moment?

- Debate whether it’s a right moment

- Decide it’s right

I also added some improvement opportunities in my horrible customer journey map, and some of those are, in no particular order:

- Offer ads for weight loss programs

- Big, bold overlay on the screen that says “call us now and get a discount”

- Establish clear tipping procedures

What does that have to do with the design? Nothing, it is a terrible customer journey map created as such on purpose. The saddest part was that I submitted it and I passed with a full score. It was peer-reviewed. I was one step closer to being “UX certified” with the lousiest of deliverables.

I was fully aware that I had submitted a substandard assignment, but I cannot help but wonder how many people submitted something just as bad, passed, and genuinely thought they were heading in the right direction? Are we doing these assignments to tick a box or to actually acquire a deeper level of knowledge? There are plenty of people on the Internet sharing their disappointment in this peer review system, as they have uncovered cases of cheating as well. They are a couple of clicks away if you want to know more.

2. Self-reflection exercises

Each unit has several self-reflection exercises, and it entails the student answering a particular question on a particular topic. Nothing unusual so far, except that you can type absolutely anything in the response box, and you will pass. Here is a screenshot of one of my purposefully awful answers.

This is one of the deepest episodes of self-reflection I’ve ever experienced in my life

I hid the question, as it is not relevant, it is my response that matters: it is not even incorrect, it is gibberish. Yet, I managed to pass with a full score again. I wonder if I had pressed the spacebar for 10 seconds straight and submitted, would I have received the same feedback? How is this helpful for curious people wanting to hone their skills?

All in all, I am deeply disappointed in this course. I expected so much more from this. It could have been a fantastic opportunity to revolutionize the online learning space and to bring some much-needed quality into UX bootcamps. Alas, it is another product that feeds the unrealistic frenzy of overnight perfection, also seen on the Internet as “become an expert in [insert job of your choice here] in [insert unrealistic timeframe here]”. And it is a shame.

What I love most in life: my husband, pasta carbonara, and dogs.

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