March 28, 2013

Coursera Wrap-Up

Meg Burke

Meg Burke

Sr. Academic Program Coordinator

Center for a Livable Future

Our course had an above-average completion rate

Earlier this month, the Center for a Livable Future’s foray into the strange, new world of massive open online courseware came to an exciting close. On average, Coursera courses generally experience an approximate completion rate of 7 to 10 percent, but CLF’s course had a completion rate of 15 percent! By traditional classroom standards, a 15 percent completion rate may seem low—but in the end, several thousand students completed the course, earning a 75 percent or more on every quiz. We at the CLF really enjoyed being a part of this new trend in online education and are looking forward to offering the course on Coursera again in the future.

Johns Hopkins University partnered with Coursera to host eight courses on the site—CLF’s course is one of them. Taught by CLF Director Robert Lawrence and Keeve Nachman, PhD, the course, “An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health” enrolled more than 17,000 students from around the world. The course brings together experts from the fields of public health and agriculture to share and discuss stories about the food we eat every day, the path that food travels to reach our plates, and the impacts on public health.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the course from our perspective was the use of the discussion forums as an avenue for students to ask questions, discuss the course material and share their experiences with us and each other. With such a large number of students, the varying perspectives on food and the active exchange of ideas in the 7,786 individual posts that were viewed more than 82,000 times was an exciting experience for the staff.

As the course approached its end date, we were able to survey students to learn more about their perceptions of the food system before and after the course, and their reactions to the course.

  • 97 percent responded that the course has increased their knowledge of the role that food production and food systems play in public health.
  • 90 percent of students responded that the course has impacted how they personally think about food, and food purchasing and consumption habits.
  • 10 percent disagreed, but most indicated that they were already thinking about these issues, were vegetarian/vegan or that the course reinforced their existing beliefs.
  • 93 percent anticipated incorporating information learned in our course into their personal lives, including when making decisions about food purchasing and consumption.

We were thrilled to see this response to our course and are very excited to have so many students thinking critically about their food choices, and “voting with their forks.”

Additionally, we were encouraged to learn that the most cited reason that students felt compelled to change their own approach to food was how the food system impacts the environment. How the food system impacts students’ personal health was the second reason, closely followed by how the food system impacts farmers and rural communities.

We at CLF really enjoyed the opportunity to partner with Coursera and offer our course on their innovative platform. This course was certainly a team effort, and we are grateful to our colleagues who participated  by sharing their lectures, answering questions on the forums and providing supplemental materials.  We are also grateful to the CLF staff members that provided expertise on many different topics. We’re looking forward to next time!


  1. Posted by Bill Monaghan

    I completed the Introduction to the US Food System and absolutely loved it. It gave a brilliant yet terrifying insight into how our food is grown and produced in the USA. So sorry I did not go down this route when I was younger, I hope that a follow-up course becomes available.

  2. Posted by Debra Cohen

    I thoroughly enjoyed this course and look forward to keeping in touch and connected with CLF and other organizations I learned about from taking the course. I will do my best to pass the information to others as I believe we all have to wake up and make some kind of difference. Thank you and looking forward to more!

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