“Human-computer interaction” on Coursera.org review

According to UX Mastery, the first step to a UX designer’s career is education. We can obtain it by e.g. reading books and blogs, attending conferences and workshops or taking online courses. Some time ago I wrote a post about it, where I promised you I would get into detail with one of the courses – Human-Computer Interaction from UC San Diego conducted by Scott Klemmer.

What is it and who’s behind it?

Scott Klemmer

Scott Klemmer, author of the course. Source: Stanford.edu

Coursera.org is an e-learning platform currently offering 673 courses from 110 educational organisations (universities, institutes, associations) from all around the world. The University of California, San Diego is being represented on the plaftorm by, among others, assistant professor Scott Klemmer, a specialist in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). Prior to that, Klemmer was working at the Stanford University the most important academic spot of the Silicon Valley. Up till now he has conducted 4 editions of the HCI course and I had the pleasure to finish the last one.
Our lecturer supports the material with various examples and case studies , what definitely enabled to digest the knowledge easier. It’s helpful for the beginners, because along the course, tons of terms appear. It could be problematic, especially for non-native English speakers. However, subtitles for each lesson make everything clear enough.

Lesson list

Each lesson can be downloaded or watched online with subtitles in two languages.

The course is 9 weeks long. It consists of 33 lessons grouped in 7 sections (each goes with a week of the course, except for the two of them which are thought to take 2 weeks each, there we have the 9 weeks). The curriculum includes:

  • the history and nature of HCI,
  • user analysys, needfinding, defining users’ goals and tasks,
  • storyboarding,
  • prototyping (tools, fidelity levels and their purpose),
  • heuristic evaluation,
  • mental models, cognitive psychology,
  • visual design,
  • testing your design – various methods of user testing.

As you see, the curriculum covers wide range of UX aspects, what is in my opinion a big advantage – it enables the participants to know each of them and maybe find the one which fits them the most. And there were a lot of attendees – 16623 have watched the lectures!

Theory is not enough – you have to do some work.

Of course the lessons don’t just levitate in the outer space of theory. There are quizzes and assignments, which qualify you to course’s statement of accomplishment. There are two ways to finish the course – the Apprentice Track is earned by doing quizzes and the Studio Track is earned by doing both assignments and quizzes. Each way requires a minimum of 80% of the points, what isn’t that easy in the Studio Track…

There are 6 assignments and each one of them demands a fair amount of time and work. The course is supposed to take 10-12 hours per week, however if you count it the time to understand the assignments and grade the work of co-attendees, it can incalculably grow.

The assignments are successive phases of a design project –needfinding, wireframes, fully interactive prototype, evaluation and usability testing. The participants have an opportunity to realise what challenges can emerge in the process of creating an application and how much can change since the initial thoughts throughout the process until it reaches the final stage. The key element of the course project is peer grading – the attendees have to grade each other’s work. Of course you can’t start the grading just like that – there are test grading sessions on every assignment. Until your test grading is accurate enough, you can’t start giving ‘real’ feedback. Complicated, but (I guess) better safe than sorry. My attempt of visualization of an assignment below.


The deadlines are fixed, what can be a headache for the ones asleep on the job. Well, I’ve skipped one of the quizzes what resulted in even harder work to catch up with the points… Keeping deadlines could be problematic, because of the inclarity of both the assignments and the rules of grading them. The course’s discussion board was full of questions on that subjects.

Since we’re talking about the board – what’s worth mentioning is the impressive community that grew strong in such a short time -the forum was packed with questions, replies, advice and requests for feedback. The course staff was helpful too – to be honest, the response time wasn’t of the shortest, but it’s always good to know that there’s someone who can help you with your problems.

Lessons learned

Completing the course was a challenge (only about 2% of the participants have finished the Studio Track – and that doesn’t mean they reached the 80%), so you get to know a little more about yourself, how persistent you can be. It’s also very informative and eye-opening how different people can perceive designs from various perspectives. Below you can find some of the lessons I’ve learned by taking part in this course. Some of them may be not revealing, but having them in mind can’t do me any harm.

  • Human-computer interaction is a very diverse area that is valuable to be known as a whole in order to have a general understanding of everything that affects human experience.
  • It’s a field already so rich and resourceful that it’s helpful to use already existing methods and tools instead of reinventing the wheel.
  • You always want to think through the choice of a research method –wrong input data in equals wrong data out.
  • Hearing out people talking about their problems can be very inspiring and encouraging work, as soon as we realise that we can influence their lives through design
  • THERE’S NO WAY you can create a perfect design right from the start – people tend to find things that don’t fit or are not usable in just couple of minutes.
  • Every person take something else for granted – the way we perceive an interface and the feelings it brings up is the sum of our experience, expectations and current emotiona.
  • Testing the interface on every production stage is a good practice. Observing both mine and projects of the other I’ve noticed how much a product can change throughout the process.
  • Design projects must be planned, because in some magic way the deadlines get closer.

To wrap it up, taking such course is not a waste of time, no matter if we have the time to finish it in the Studio Track or just want to watch the lectures. It’s a solid portion of valuable knowledge on human-computer interaction, which can help beginners to establish a base to further learning about the topic. Experienced designers can find something for them too – free progress can cost us nothing but time!

The main photo source: coursera.org
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