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How Coursera Uses Algolia to Make Learning More Accessible to Anyone, Anywhere

Algolia helps us achieve our mission by matching our learners to the right content. A huge part of our discovery story is the search experience.

Chris Liu

Software Engineer, Growth @ Coursera

Summary

Partnering with top universities and organizations, Coursera’s mission is to make the world’s best learning experiences accessible to everyone. Its online users visit the platform to discover and enroll in world-class programs, which help them learn new skills and open their minds to new ideas. True to its roots, Coursera is constantly working to build a more seamless experience that helps learners find the content that’s most relevant to their interests and goals — and find it fast.

Coursera
Use case

Media

Headquarters

Mountain View, California

Customer since

since 2019

Key results
  • 10x faster search

  • +10% degree description pageviews

  • 30% of enrolled students come from search

The challenge

  • 1.

    Needed more flexible discovery mechanisms

  • 2.

    Search system was no longer meeting their needs

The solution

  • 1.

    Elevate their search UX

  • 2.

    A search solution that their engineers could easily customize and iterate on

The result

  • 1.

    10x faster search 

  • 2.

    +10% degree description pageviews 

  • 3.

    30% of enrolled students come from search

The challenge

Founded in 2012, Coursera offers over 2,800 courses and has more than 36 million registered users. From learners who know exactly which course they want to take, to those who want to browse the site first, Coursera works to match the right people to the right content by surfacing the best classes for them. 

But Coursera found that it needed more flexible discovery mechanisms, and a solution that could evolve with the company as they added more content, learners, and business lines. The Growth Engineering team at Coursera realized that its search system was no longer meeting their needs. The previous solution, built on Solr, was incurring debt and making it difficult to iterate and innovate on the progress they’d made.

The solution

Coursera was seeking a solution that would elevate their search UX to meet the standards set by leading search players. In the age of Google Search, mobile friendly features like search-as- you-type and typo tolerance are to-be-expected, as well as flexibility to search across various content types. Coursera needed a solution that their engineers could easily customize and iterate on without steep learning curves or heavy developer resource investments. In other words, the company wanted to focus on investing in cutting-edge discovery experiences that would create value for their customers, without the need to spend time implementing a complicated system. 

In the end, that’s why Coursera was drawn to Algolia, which has a strong search ecosystem and an infrastructure that doesn’t require an in-house expert to set up. Algolia’s out-of-the-box search experience was also quick to implement. Coursera was able to get up and running and achieve parity with its old solution — which had taken years to build — in just two weeks.

The result

With Algolia, Coursera quickly found itself liberated from previous search restraints of Solr, a tool they found workable, but inflexible and time-consuming, even with very specialized search knowledge on the team. With its old system, the platform was unable to implement federated search, which allows users to search across multiple resources at the same time. Coursera can now add search functionalities that its engineers had previously been forced to hack together, and do a lot of hand tuning to maintain. 

The ability to iterate and implement changes easily allowed Coursera to push out a brand new search UX, complete with highlighting snippets, and tags. And the best part? It was completed in under three months—and with limited engineering resource. Algolia’s search solutions are also helping them better serve their learners. In addition to providing a better experience by reducing search speeds from hundreds of milliseconds to under 10 milliseconds, Algolia has helped Coursera increase degree description pageviews by 10%.

Looking to the future, Coursera is excited to use Algolia to achieve even greater results on their platform. As a member of Algolia’s Personalization beta group, Coursera Software Engineer Chris Liu is “excited to be able to cater search results to learners’ interests, whether by exposing them to a broad selection of courses, or by precisely matching content to a very specific intent.” 

“Algolia has allowed us to think bigger and unblock us,” says Chris. “We’ve been liberated from the restraints of rudimentary search, and expect to see more great results in the years to come.”

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