Coursera certainly deserves praise for opening access to higher education, especially since they also offer courses in the humanities, unlike competitors like Udacity or EdX. Solutions to exercises in mathematics or computer science can easily be graded because there is an expected correct answer at undergraduate level courses, but assessing the relative merits of an essay in, say, literary studies isn’t quite so straightforward. Coursera attempts to solve this problem by letting students grade the essays of their peers.
I do see some issues with automated grading even in code submissions, but that’s a topic for another article. Right now I am more concerned with the peer review system Coursera has implemented. I am sure they will attempt to modify their system eventually, but at the moment there are some serious issues. Please note that I am not speaking as an observer on the sidelines. I have sampled numerous courses, and finished finished three so far. Especially in more technical courses, the content seems to be very good, and for a motivated self-learner you could easily substitute a course at a brick-and-mortar university by one of Coursera’s, if you are more concerned about learning something new and care little about getting a paper.