Putting to the test Google’s plan to disrupt the university degree

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A UX design and ethical analysis of Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate Course.

Photo of the course instructor besides his computer screen
A screenshot of Google’s UX design course on Coursera

I usually only binge-watch Netflix shows. But after reading about Google’s plan to disrupt the college degree, following an announcement from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, on March 11 to launch four new career certificates, I decided to put it to the test. I binge-watched one of their courses on UX Design.

In terms of content, I am interested in integrating what I learn about UX design into different projects I am currently involved in. As someone trained in ethics, I am also curious to know more about the process of UX design and to examine what role ethics could play in the process.

In terms of format, even though I have taken other online classes before, I wanted to learn more about this new format because I am part of a governmental consulting group currently exploring the opportunity to launch a new university in Switzerland. Having worked in higher education and innovation for many years, I am always interested in new pedagogical approaches and tools.

I did all the exercises and passed all the tests. After 12 hours of intense learning, I got my certificate of completion on March 13. I felt like Neo in the Matrix.

Screenshot of the course homepage on coursera
Screenshot of the Coursera website

While it was an introductory course, I already had some background materials I could use and knowledge of ethical design and design thinking I could reference. I started at 8.03 am and finished at 23.33 pm. I had some breaks during the day for food and some business meetings and spent time with my family. I spent 12 hours dedicated to this course in one day, with regular breaks. On their website, it says it would take “approx. 24hours” for this first course. Since I watched the videos on 2x speed and had some basic knowledge of the topic, the numbers add up.

Image of my course certificate
Screenshot of the course certificate. Yay!

A UX Design Analysis of the Product

Overall, it was a very remarkable user-experience, which is not surprising because the course was on “Foundations of User Experience (UX) Design.” The delivery, the design, and the exercises were excellent for what I wanted to learn.

The course mentions that:

For the user to have a good experience, the product needs to be useable, equitable, enjoyable, and useful among other things.”

Since these UX design categories were introduced in the course, I thought it would be good to use them to analyze the course itself. I suspect there are other UX methodologies out there to assess a product. But for the time being, I decided to use the tools taught in this foundation course. In this article, I examine this new online course using these four UX categories. I then outline some general ethical reflections regarding this continuous shift toward online education.

1. Useable

The product is straightforward to use and navigate. All the content is well-structured. On the top-right menu, you can always navigate through the next section of the course, thanks to an easy-to-spot button.

The menu on the left is accommodating, as one can easily navigate to different sections of the course and know exactly where they are in the class.

Screenshot of the menu for the course

The design is responsive, so I could also follow part of the lessons on my mobile phone. I did not try it on a tablet.

Another helpful feature is to have a visual summary of how far I was in the course. It helps keep track of my progress.

Screenshot of the visual summary that tells where you are in the course

One of the best features is the “save note” button. It takes a screenshot of the current slide and automatically records the content in a notepad. I wish this feature would be available for all parts of the course, including in a text format. At this point, it is available only when watching a video.

Screenshot showing the button  to save notes during the lectures
I love this feature to save notes that I can revisit later.

On the negative side, it was unclear at first that there were different modules for the course. I was confused between the certificate from one course versus the certificate for the entire curriculum, which consists of 7 courses to finish the professional certification.

Summary of all the course left to finish the entire course
The confusion has been lifted. Lots of work still ahead.

2. Equitable

The product is equitable for at least two reasons: it is financially accessible and accommodates different learning styles and abilities.


“Most enrollees will finish in six months or less, putting the cost at about $240 for U.S”.

For now, I am still in my seven days free trial. So in terms of cost and what I was able to learn, this is indeed a revolution. Google also provides financial aid with 100,000 scholarships. This is a fundamentally different approach than the traditional education programs that rely on heavy student loans. For this specific certification, Google identified that USD $58,600 is the average entry-level salary in UX design and that there are currently about 113,700 job openings in the field in the US alone. This will motivate a lot of future UX designers.

For people with different learning style

The product is equitable, thanks to features like subtitles, written transcripts, and videos. These make it accessible to a wide range of people from different backgrounds and learning abilities.

A screenshot showing the subtitles available during the lectures
Example of optional subtitles
Screenshot of the live-transcript feature
Example of a live transcript

3. Enjoyable

The excellent mix of video lectures, short questions, quizzes, and tests gave great dynamism to the classes. Also, we were given curated additional information to deepen our knowledge of different topics. Because the course is divided into different sections, where you can get certificates for each of them separately, it increases motivation to get going.

The integrated feature at the end to be able to share your accomplishment is quite rewarding as well.

Screenshot of sharing buttons
Let’s celebrate success together by sharing our victories with the world

4. Useful


This course solves two critical problems regarding the education of tomorrow’s workforce: a lack of digital literacy and reskilling due to the pandemic. Google has seen the need for specific digital skills needed not only for their company but also for the industry in general. The digital divide is highly problematic to create the workforce of today and tomorrow.

With more businesses embracing digital ways of working, it’s estimated that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.”

Covid has accelerated the digital transformation. Instead of waiting for other institutions to educate their future workers, Google has decided to deliver courses to help anyone learn these skills. Virtual courses were already a game-changer. This confirms the trend.

Not only is Google hiring these certificate graduates, we’re using the certificates themselves to upskill and reskill Google teams, from IT support techs to data analysts.”

Educational institutions where I received my formal education (Calgary, Zurich, Vancouver, and Oxford) are all design products of the pre-digital area. Google and Coursera are a designed product of the digital revolution. Since I just learned more about UX Design, I can confirm they put the user at its center and understood that the user could learn anything, anywhere. Long gone is when one acquired a degree or a specific skill and could then stop learning for the rest of their life.

I am not sure whether this will disrupt the university degree, but it will challenge it for sure. Online learning already has. Nonetheless, it could also be seen as a complementary tool for people to keep on learning throughout their lives. I see it as an excellent product for continuous education or apprenticeship. A company could probably benefit from bringing in new workers and offer them to enrolling in such a course while working on the side.

Ethical Questions

Besides these four UX categories, I would add a series of ethical questions to complement the product’s assessment.

We are design subjects of tech giants

Is it worrisome that Google — a private institution — can disrupt traditional educational institutions? Or is it about time? Is it disconcerting that Google and other tech giants shape so much of our lives and now the education system? Especially considering an essential element from the course:

The strange thing about UX design is that you won’t really notice it if it’s good design.”

Google and other tech giants have been dominating the world of design in ways we don’t even notice. This opens up vast ethical problems regarding dark patterns and unethical design. However, I was thrilled to see different course sections covering ethical aspects, such as inclusive design and equity-focused design. This confirms once again that no design and design processes are value-neutral.

Can we keep up with the speed of change?

Is it sustainable for us, humans, to live in a world that moves at an incredible pace/speed and we need to learn and acquire new skills constantly? Drawing from my doctoral work, I would say that we as humans are indeed becoming obsolete in light of the digital revolution. Some argue we should enhance and even merge with machines to keep up. But to what end? I would suggest an alternative: accepting our human vulnerability and co-designing a world where we do not need to upgrade constantly to compensate for our shared vulnerability. (See Éloge de la fragilité à l’ère de l’Homme augmenté)

Close-up of Neo from the Matrix downloading information


Both in terms of content and format, I do think this product is of very high quality, this is not surprising knowing that Google and Coursera are top design companies. Both are design products of the digital revolution. The disruption of the pre-digital models seems inevitable. Let us make sure ethics is integrated at the start of other models that will follow these digital trends in education.

As someone who regularly hires people, I can confirm that it makes a massive difference if you have certificates that show your on-going learning journey. It tells us (the recruiter) that you are a curious mind that understands how the world is changing and that you are willing to acquire new skills.

I decided to continue the series program on UX-Design with six other modules and upgrade my skills to design better services, products, processes, or innovation ecosystems for my clients at Conexkt. I am convinced that this is a game-changer for our education system. It might not disrupt the university degree entirely, but I see it as an excellent product for continuous education. I will, however, not binge-watch the rest of the course.

The UX Collective donates US$1 for each article published on our platform. This story contributed to Bay Area Black Designers: a professional development community for Black people who are digital designers and researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area. By joining together in community, members share inspiration, connection, peer mentorship, professional development, resources, feedback, support, and resilience. Silence against systemic racism is not an option. Build the design community you believe in.

Putting to the test Google’s plan to disrupt the university degree was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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