Twenty Coursera courses to help you study for the FSOT

Coursera AH Purple Design 2Coursera is an exciting opportunity to both study on the subject areas the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) will ask questions on, and complete courses with the potential of receiving a degree from highly accredited colleges.

Oh, and did I mention that a lot of it can be done for free? Sign me up!

Some background, I learned about Coursera through work. For those who do not know, I work for state government and do education policy. We are currently developing new training for a very important population of the education team, paraeducators (i.e., teacher aides or instructional aides). In my search of online courses that are currently out there, I learned about Coursera. Now, even though the material on Coursera does not work for our purposes, I immediately saw potential for the FSOT.

If you are interested to learn more about the online platform, I welcome you to read more and let me know what you think.

What is Coursera?

With over 2,700 online courses available, there is a course on Coursera for just about anybody… and there are over 35 million learners who have gone through the platform and agree.

Coursera, the world’s biggest provider of MOOCs (massive open online courses), has been a leading e-educator since its creation in 2012. Where they excel is with their partnerships. Coursera works with universities and other organizations to offer online courses, specializations, and degrees in a variety of subjects, such as engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, digital marketing, data science, and others.

You better believe there are courses, specializations, and degrees in Coursera that can help you prepare for the FSOT, and more generally become a more knowledgable Officer.

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the internet. In addition to traditional course materials, such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive courses with user forums to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants, as well as immediate feedback to quick quizzes and assignments.

Since its first introduction in 2006, MOOCs have been expanding rapidly as a leading and accessible platform for learning. Since MOOCs, by definition, leverage online learning communities that are globally based, a student can attain education on a subject for free or at a reduced rate. This lower cost is especially relevant when compared to traditional learning and instruction at a university.

In looking specifically at Coursera, their courses are typically 6 to 10 weeks long, with an hour or two of videos per week. In addition to the snap quizzes, they feature weekly exercises, ranging from problem sets to spreadsheets to design projects or essays, and sometimes a final project or exam. For all quantitative courses, the platform uses artificial intelligence to evaluate each more extended exercise, with instant results. Students can keep trying until they get the right answer. For humanities courses, Coursera is testing a form of peer grading.

Coursera and the Foreign Service Officer Test

There is a LOT of material that is covered on the FSOT!

This is the main reason why you will hear people, including myself, tell you that the test is all about “breadth and not depth”. For example, you do not need to know who the main diplomats of the Treaty of Paris were, though I am sure they are some interesting people! What you need to know is that the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolutionary War between the U.S. and Great Britain.

But even when you take away the depth of a subject, there is still a lot of breadth in the test subjects that are important for you to know or be able to infer to answer the job knowledge questions. And if you are out of school, then it may be challenging to determine where you should start to learn this knowledge.

This is where Coursera can help you.

Coursera has several courses on a variety of topics that can help you in the FSOT. Is there an FSOT course? No. But there are courses on the different subject areas and knowledge areas that are commonly asked on the FSOT.

The best part is that the training for these courses can take place on your own time, at home, with guided instruction from professors from highly accredited institutions, and many of them are provided to you for free.

This is a winning combination if you have the time and know where you need to focus your study. How can you determine the job knowledge subject area to improve on? 

You can take a practice test like the one on FSO Compass.

If you do take the one on FSO Compass, then the rest is pretty easy. Based on how you score on the practice test, the results page will provide suggestions to you on what subject area(s) you can improve on. You then go and focus your limited time on that before the test.

Easy peasy.

Courses/Specializations to help you on the FSOT

The following list is not expansive, as it is just a taste of what Coursera has to offer. 

What I have done is found courses for each knowledge area of the FSOT, not including math and computers. 

If you decide to study with Coursera, I look forward to hearing your experience.


Communication Strategies for a Virtual Age

Offered by University of Toronto

Communication has changed! The traditional rules for speaking and presenting, meeting coordination, influencing people, negotiating and selling ideas no longer apply in a world of skype, messenger, video and teleconference. This course will act as an overview on several concepts each of which could be a course of their own and our goal is to give you tools that you can practice and perfect on your own.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Apply communication principles and techniques for in-person and virtual teams
  • Use a science based approach to create impactful presentations
  • Refine your communication style to better persuade and influence others
  • Run more effective and impactful meetings
  • Incorporate strategies to have positive difficult conversations and make people feel valued and listened to

Improving Communication Skills

Offered by University of Pennsylvania

Learn how to communicate more effectively at work and achieve your goals. Taught by award-winning Wharton professor and best-selling author Maurice Schweitzer, Improving Communications Skills is an essential course designed to give you both the tools you need to improve your communication skills, and the most successful strategies for using them to your advantage. You’ll learn how to discover if someone is lying (and how to react if they are), how to develop trust, the best method of communication for negotiation, and how to apologize. You’ll also learn when to cooperate and when to compete, how to create persuasive messages, ask thoughtful questions, engage in active listening, and choose the right medium (face-to-face conversation, video conference, phone call, or email) for your messages. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to understand what others want, respond strategically to their wants and needs, craft convincing and clear messages, and develop the critical communication skills you need to get ahead in business and in life.

Intercultural Communication and Conflict Resolution

Offered by UCI: Division of Continuing Education

Intercultural Communication and Conflict Resolution is a growing area of importance considering the pace and volume of global transactions. The ease of global communication using technology, the abundance of cheaper transportation costs, and the frequency of businesses using cross-border talent is fostering millions of interactions a day between people of different cultures. Examine how the process of communication can be further complicated during interactions between people of different cultures. The topics of stereotypes, generalizations, communication styles, communication strategies, and communication orientations will be explored.

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:

  1. Explain the dimensions of intercultural interactions that add to conflict
  2. Analyze the dynamics of intercultural interactions
  3. Plan strategies for success in intercultural interactions

Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling

Offered by Northwestern University

Storytelling is an essential part of leadership. Effective leaders communicate to inspire talent to excel; to partner with investors and communities; to engage with customers and clients and to grow their impact in the world as part of a global community. Cultivating an authentic, trustworthy and compelling narrative is vital to a leader’s success. This course helps leaders find their own story through personal branding; develop storytelling success with all constituencies; initiate an effective voice for crisis; interact well through social and third party media; and communicate a vision for innovation.


Country Level Economics: Macroeconomic Variables and Markets

Offered by University of Illinois

This course discusses how macroeconomic variables affect individuals’ personal, professional, and public activities and lays the foundation for the analysis of the mechanisms that drive macroeconomic variables. It start in its first module by introducing the key macroeconomic variables and explaining how they are defined and measured in order to enable the students to interpret macroeconomic data properly.

In the second module, the course offers a perspective for separating out various parts of the economy driven by different processes and for combining those components to develop a richer view of the whole. In particular, it applies this approach to the analysis of the relationship of the trade deficit with the budget deficit and private savings, offering insights about some key determinants of the balance of payments.

The third and fourth modules focus on the analyses of the foreign currency and money markets to provide fundamental models of the interest rate and exchange rate determination. They also discuss how these variables interact with each other and with the macroeconomic conditions, particularly monetary policy and the expectations about the future trends in the economy. These analyses lay the foundation for more comprehensive models of the macroeconomy in the next course of the Managerial Economics and Business Analysis Specialization.

At the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Systematically assess the national and international economic environment in which you live and work.
  • Analyze macroeconomic issues using key tools.
  • Be a more effective professional in your line of activity.

Country Level Economics: Policies, Institutions, and Macroeconomic Performance

Offered by University of Illinois

This course examines macroeconomic performance in the short run and the long run based on the economy’s institutional and policy environment. The first module develops a model of macroeconomy in the short run when the price level has its own momentum and does not respond much to supply and demand forces. The model enables one to see how GDP, interest rate, and exchange rate are determined in the short run and how they respond to macroeconomic shocks and policies.

The second module starts the analysis of long-run equilibrium by examining the foreign exchange market. It then connects the long-run outcome with expectations about the future trends in the exchange rate at each moment, which constitute a key driver of the spot exchange rate in the short run. The methodology developed for this purpose can be applied to expectations concerning other macroeconomic variables as well. Finally, the long-run foreign exchange model is employed to derive a number of important lessons for the long run trends in currency values and competitiveness of producers in various countries.

The third module examines the drivers of aggregate output in the long run and the mechanisms of adjustment from the short run to the long run. The model provides insights about why some countries are much richer than others and why some economies grow faster than others over decades. The analysis also sheds light on why inflation varies across countries or over time in the same country. The model is employed to analyze the sources of macroeconomic instability and the roles of fiscal and monetary policies in stabilization or destabilization of the macroeconomy.

The final module discusses the characteristics of desirable macroeconomic policies and the reasons why actual policies deviate from them. It connects these deviations to country characteristics that one needs to take into account when assessing a country’s long-term macroeconomic environment. The module ends with a discussion of the institutional conditions that help bring about better fiscal and monetary policies.

At the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand how the market for aggregate goods and services interacts with the money market to shape the macroeconomic equilibrium that determines income, interest rate, and exchange rate in the short run.
  • Understand the links between the short-run and long-run processes.
  • Assess the dynamic effects of macroeconomic policies and understand the roles of globalization, government policies, institutions, and expectations in macroeconomic outcomes.

English Expression

Academic English: Writing Specialization

Offered by UCI: Division of Continuing Education

The skills taught in this Specialization will empower you to succeed in any college-level course or professional field. You’ll learn to conduct rigorous academic research and to express your ideas clearly in an academic format. In the final Capstone Project, all the knowledge that you’ve gained over the span of these courses will culminate into an academic research paper on an issue of your choice.

Learn English: Advanced Grammar and Punctuation Specialization

Offered by UCI: Division of Continuing Education

This specialization follows our Learn English: Intermediate Grammar specialization and includes more advanced grammar concepts such as noun clauses and conditionals. You’ll also learn how to blend verb tenses effectively and how to punctuate sentences correctly. This specialization is useful for non-native English speakers who want to improve their fluency or native speakers who want to improve their accuracy in using English for academic or professional purposes.


Management Fundamentals

Offered by the University of Pennsylvania

People are the most valuable asset of any business, but they are also the most unpredictable, and the most difficult asset to manage. And although managing people well is critical to the health of any organization, most managers don’t get the training they need to make good management decisions. Now, award-winning authors and renowned management Professors Mike Useem and Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School have designed this course to introduce you to the key elements of managing people. Based on their popular course at Wharton, this course will teach you how to motivate individual performance and design reward systems, how to design jobs and organize work for high performance, how to make good and timely management decisions, and how to design and change your organization’s architecture. By the end of this course, you’ll have developed the skills you need to start motivating, organizing, and rewarding people in your organization so that you can thrive as a business and as a social organization.

Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization

Offered by the University of Minnesota

This specialization provides a robust introduction to the key principles, policies, and practices of human resource management. The specialization begins with a foundational course that considers alternative approaches to managing human resources, provides a background to the U.S. legal context in which employees are hired, fired, rewarded, and managed, and outlines the different reasons that people are motivated to work. The remaining three courses tackle three core areas that all managers should understand: hiring employees, evaluating their performance, and rewarding them. Throughout the courses, an accessible, scientific approach is embraced such that best practices and practical tips are informed by research, but presented in accessible, applied ways.


Introduction to Psychology

Offered by the University of Toronto

This course will highlight the most interesting experiments within the field of psychology, discussing the implications of those studies for our understanding of the human mind and human behavior. We will explore the brain and some of the cognitive abilities it supports like memory, learning, attention, perception and consciousness. We will examine human development – both in terms of growing up and growing old – and will discuss the manner in which the behavior of others affect our own thoughts and behavior. Finally we will discuss various forms of mental illness and the treatments that are used to help those who suffer from them.

United States Government

Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases

Offered by University of Pennsylvania

This course offers an introduction to the U.S. Constitution and landmark Supreme Court cases interpreting it. It explores the Constitution’s origins, its amendment over the years, and methods of constitutional interpretation. Topics include the nature and structure of the federal government, the powers of the federal government, and individual rights.

United States History, Society, Customs, and Culture

America Through Foreign Eyes

Offered by Rice

The United States has always been a source of fascination — both attraction and repulsion — for the people of France, Mexico, China, and African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Sudan. “America Through Foreign Eyes” is a rich, interdisciplinary, international course that features Rice University faculty from a variety of disciplines and area studies. Focused on perceptions of America abroad, the course is a cross between World Cultures and American Studies. The course features four modules, each covering the perceptions and interactions of particular regions with America, Americans and Americanization.

World History and Geography

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice

Offered by Universiteit Leiden

Terrorism has arguably been one of the defining factors of our age. It frequently makes headlines, threatening or attacking governments, private business and ordinary citizens. And in many parts of the world, it has been one of the most important threats to peace, security and stability. But what does this exactly mean? What is the nature of this threat? Who or what is threatened, how, by whom and why? What can be done about it or how can we at least limit the impact of terrorism and make sure that terrorists do not make headlines and manage to scare us?

These are just a handful of questions that will be addressed in this course that consists of three parts. First it focuses on the essence of terrorism as an instrument to achieve certain goals, in addition to an exploration of this phenomenon and the difficulties in defining it.

The second part provides an overview of the state of the art in (counter) terrorism studies. Since ‘9/11’ terrorism studies have grown exponentially, reflecting the rise in perceived threats. But what has academia come up with? What theories, assumptions and conventional wisdom has it produced that could be of help in understanding terrorism and dealing with it? The most interesting results are examined and compared with empirical evidence with the aim to either stress their importance or to debunk them as myths.

The final part looks into the implications and possibilities for policy making. The course ends with a module specifically designed to address one of today’s most topical issue: the foreign fighter phenomenon.

The Changing Global Order

Offered by Universiteit Leiden

How are international power relations changing and how can global peace and stability be maintained? This course familiarizes you with some main theories of international relations, shows how the global order is gradually changing and discusses how selected international and regional organizations contribute to the maintenance of global peace and security. You learn what research findings tell us in terms of the capacity of international organizations and actors to help prevent or stop violent conflict, what tools are used to negotiate agreements and how foundations for sustainable peace are best created. We will also focus on the role of the European Union in terms of diplomacy and efforts to prevent conflict, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the contribution of organizations such as the African Union to the prevention of conflict and war. We will study the United Nations Security Council and see in which ways its membership could be adapted to more accurately reflect the power relations of the current global order. Through quizzes and exercises testing your knowledge of these subjects, you will understand crucial concepts and get insights into how the academic study of international relations and international organization contributes to the search for global stability and peace in practice.

The Emergence of the Modern Middle East - Part I

Offered by Tel Aviv University

This course will review the emergence of the modern Middle East from the fall of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of the First World War to the present. We will discuss the Ottoman legacy in the region and the Western imperial impact on the creation of the Arab state system. The course will review the rise and retreat of Arab nationalism, the problems of internal cohesion of the Arab states, issues of religion and state, and the evolution of Islamist politics. We will also focus on the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its impact on the region and will conclude with an in depth analysis of the “Arab Spring” by placing these contemporary revolutionary events in their historical context.

The History of Modern Israel – Part I: From an Idea to a State

Offered by Tel Aviv University

How did the State of Israel come to be? How is it that an idea, introduced in 19th century Europe, became a reality? And how does that reality prevail in the harsh complexities of the Middle East?

Presented by Professor Eyal Naveh, with additional units from Professor Asher Sussers’ “The Emergence of the Modern Middle East” course, This course will take you on a journey through the history of Modern Israel. In this 1st part of the course we will explore:

How did the 19th century idea of a Jewish state become a reality?

So the next time you hear about Israel in the news, you will be informed enough about the history of this area to comprehend the many sides and narratives that interact to shape the complex reality of Israel today.

The Modern World, Part One: Global History from 1760 to 1910

Offered by University of Virginia

This is a survey of modern history from a global perspective. Part One begins with the political and economic revolutions of the late 1700s and tracks the transformation of the world during the 1800s. Part One concludes as these bewildering changes seem to be running beyond the capacity of older institutions to handle them. Throughout the course we try to grasp what is happening and ask: Why? And the answers often turn on very human choices.

Understanding Korean Politics

Offered by Yonsei University

This course will select six most outstanding issues in contemporary Korean politics and will engage in an in-depth, interactive inquiry of those issue. They include Korean politics in history, institutional setting of Korean politics, and dynamics of political culture in Korea, profiles of political leadership, myth and reality of the developmental state and the Korean economic miracle, and debates on Korean unification. The course will expose students to contending theories and empirical reality at first hand.

After completing this course, learners will be able to

  1. Grasp the most salient and timely aspects of Korean politics.
  2. Place South Korean politics in comparative perspectives.
  3. Digest a delicate mix of theory and practice regarding Korean politics.
  4. Come up with new interpretations of political development in South Korea.
  5. Most importantly renew their genuine interests in Korea and Korean politics.

Russian History: from Lenin to Putin

Offered by University of California: Santa Cruz

In this course, Peter Kenez, Professor Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz, explains the events of modern Russian history and introduces its most significant actors—from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin.

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