Meet Ken Cotter, a workforce management specialist who’s learning and teaching on Coursera while living in Ireland. In a recent interview, he spoke with us about how he’s using Guided Projects—Coursera’s new short, hands-on learning experiences—to continue building relevant career skills. 

Ken, thank you for taking the chance to talk with us! Can you start by sharing with our readers a little bit about your learning philosophy, and about your commitment to lifelong learning?

With the technological age we now live in, lifelong learning is not just an aspiration but a realistic way of life.  Give your mind a treat in the form of new knowledge, you won’t regret it.

That’s great advice, thank you for sharing that! Can you tell us about how Guided Projects fit into your approach, and why you might recommend them to other learners?

I can definitely recommend Guided Projects, and I can do so from three different perspectives:

As a student that has completed 60+ courses on Coursera, the projects are an excellent addition to the platform, and the Guided Project format is a great new tool for learners. They can serve as a supplementary learning and practice resource in combination with the longer-form courses, as a bridge between courses of Specializations, or as a refresher of rusty skills.

As an analytics professional, the prospect of having access to a repository of specific use-case notebooks—with videos containing detailed explanations of the methodology, from the author of the notebook, that you can turn to when you hit a wall trying to implement a work task—is tantalizing.

As a management accounts person, I would be happy with employees in my company having access to Coursera as a learning resource. You get a return on investment from the platform in the very short term (literally one day) from the projects, as well as in the medium-to-long-term from the upskilling that is possible through courses and Specializations.

You have an interesting background in both the B2B and adult education space—can you tell us a bit more?

A former boss used to describe me as “a generalist in diverse specialist areas,” which I’ve always felt was as good a way as any to categorize my broad skill set. For the past four-plus years, I have predominantly been working as an instructor in classroom-based courses (co-funded by the Irish government and the EU). I help groups of unemployed individuals learn technical skills that will assist them in gaining employment in the tech sector, from software development to network engineering and everything in between (depending on the specific course). However, my core area of expertise is as a workforce management (WFM) specialist in contact centers. My background also includes roles in customer service, and management accounts in the aviation industry. Being very adaptable, and having the ability to understand and learn new technical things relatively quickly, is an essential trait in my work, as is being able to explain and apply those things clearly for any audience.

What were some of your goals as you started to do Guided Projects on Coursera?

With some of the projects, where I had exposure to the skills previously, I was just looking to brush the dust off some shelves in my brain, as I had not practiced the skills recently. For others, I was hoping to learn to utilize a new methodology (or library) for implementing something I had done at previous stages in my career, or which I’d studied in longer-form Coursera courses I’d previously taken.

What are some of the Guided Projects you’ve completed?

Here’s a list:

Predict Sales Revenue with scikit-learn

Basic Image Classification with TensorFlow

Build Data Analysis tools using R and DPLYR

Predicting House Prices with Regression using TensorFlow

Multiple Linear Regression with scikit-learn

How would you describe the learning experience in a Guided Project? 

I would describe it as a focused, instructor-led learning and tutoring session in a virtual environment. 

Can you tell us a bit about why you like that kind of experience?

I am quite a visual learner, and am generally very happy when deconstructing and reverse engineering things as a method of learning, so this type of learning resource is fantastic for me. I’ve tried my own DIY version of this in the past with longer-form Coursera courses by logging into my account on two different screens and having videos running on one screen while I had the notebook / IDE open on the other screen, so when I experienced the project format for the first time, I was delighted. This delight was there in equal measure on the fifth project.

That’s really great to hear. Learner feedback was a big part of our process as we created Guided Projects, and it’s really gratifying to know that you’re benefiting from the experience. So, what’s next for you? Do you have some new personal and career goals in place?

On a personal level, I want to continue growing on a daily basis. As to my professional goals, in an ideal world, I’d like to find a role that utilizes as much of my skill set as possible, while simultaneously requiring me to add to my knowledge. My overriding goal, both personally and professionally, is to keep learning. 

Wonderful! One last question, unrelated to Guided Projects—what’s a fun fact about you?

I have lived and worked (unpaid) in a biological station (without electricity) in a rainforest collecting biodiversity data for use by the Costa Rican government, and I have also worked pruning grapevines (paid) in Australia!

It sounds like we’ll need to have another interview soon, to learn more about those amazing stories!


All of us at Coursera would like to congratulate Ken on his learning accomplishments and to thank him for being so generous with his time and insights. Lifelong learners like Ken are proof positive that learning truly is a source of human progress.