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Learner Reviews & Feedback for Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity by Stanford University

2,147 ratings
723 reviews

About the Course

In this course we will seek to “understand Einstein,” especially focusing on the special theory of relativity that Albert Einstein, as a twenty-six year old patent clerk, introduced in his “miracle year” of 1905. Our goal will be to go behind the myth-making and beyond the popularized presentations of relativity in order to gain a deeper understanding of both Einstein the person and the concepts, predictions, and strange paradoxes of his theory. Some of the questions we will address include: How did Einstein come up with his ideas? What was the nature of his genius? What is the meaning of relativity? What’s “special” about the special theory of relativity? Why did the theory initially seem to be dead on arrival? What does it mean to say that time is the “fourth dimension”? Can time actually run more slowly for one person than another, and the size of things change depending on their velocity? Is time travel possible, and if so, how? Why can’t things travel faster than the speed of light? Is it possible to travel to the center of the galaxy and return in one lifetime? Is there any evidence that definitively confirms the theory, or is it mainly speculation? Why didn’t Einstein win the Nobel Prize for the theory of relativity? About the instructor: Dr. Larry Lagerstrom is the Director of Academic Programs at Stanford University’s Center for Professional Development, which offers graduate certificates in subjects such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, data mining, nanotechnology, innovation, and management science. He holds degrees in physics, mathematics, and the history of science, has published a book and a TED Ed video on "Young Einstein: From the Doxerl Affair to the Miracle Year," and has had over 30,000 students worldwide enroll in his online course on the special theory of relativity (this course!)....

Top reviews


Dec 09, 2019

Almost anyone can learn about the special theory of relativity from these lectures. I actually can't believe that I studied from a professor who teaches in the USA and in so simple way. I am grateful.


Aug 12, 2020

It was wonderful experience to know the special theory of relativity from Larry, who has presented the course in very simple way to understand. Thanks a lot to Larry for providing such a good session.

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51 - 75 of 710 Reviews for Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

By Nicolás F C

Sep 01, 2017

This course was exactly what I was looking for to get a good understanding of the Special Theory of Relativity for a non-specialist. The course progression was very good, building new concepts on top of the previous ones. The video lectures were lively and well presented. The difficulty level and the required math skills were exactly what the course description indicated.

I recommend future students to take this course at a steady pace, and to allocate enough time to take notes, to review the concepts and to go back if necessary. Don’t rush through it. It is very useful to try to solve the optional problem sets. The main difficulty is not related with the math, but with the relationship between the equations and the physical phenomena they describe.

I am 100% satisfied with this course. As a matter of fact, I plan to go again through my notes to make my own personal recap of the main concepts and formulas.

Thanks a lot to Professor Lagerstrom!

By Satish R

Apr 16, 2020

Very professional approach by Professsor Larry Lagerstrom. His patience in teaching is highly commendable. The key feature of the course is "Make Haste Slowly" This ensures that no matter what background of academics you come from, at the end of the course you will have understood the principle aspects of Special Relativity. The syllabus is designed very well. Both qualitative and quantitative elements are covered nicely. A participant will understand all the key concepts of special relativity like time dilation, length contraction, relativity of simultaneity etc He will also understand the most famous paradox of special The Twin Paradox and get some insight into the most famous equation E=mc2. I salute Prof Lagerstrom for his extreme patience in teaching a complex topic. I recommend this course to anyone who wants to know a bit about how the Universe works even for those without any background knowledge of Physics or Mathematics.

By Rajagopal G

Sep 13, 2020

I loved Professor Larry Lagerstorms beautiful and methodical derivations of the key results of Special Relativity. He made those wierd things like "time dilation" and "length contraction" look so simple and logical, with the step by step derivations, which a high-school boy can understand easily.

I really understood the Twin Paradox finally, which I never could find in undergraduate text books (even Feymann lectures does not come clean!) because none of them revealed or even mentions the handy concept " leading clocks lag".

Once this is and explained, (which the professor does with consummate ease, for the students!) this famous paradox can be explained within the concept of Special Relativity, without resorting to General Relativity, if you care to ignore acceleration) using the space time diagrams, without calling them Minkowski diagrams.

Just wonderful. Will take more courses by this master explainer.

Thanks Larry

By Nada A A

Apr 09, 2018

It is a very good course that is well organized and explained. The instructor was extremely great; he uses a lot of examples and thought experiments to help us imagine the situation. Although relativity is such a hard topic to learn for many people, the approach of instruction in this course makes it interesting and easy to be comprehended. After the course, you will find that you have learnt a great amount of knowledge about the topic and you can go into discussions about relativity related issues, even that you don't feel stressed during the course by the enormous amount of materials. Moreover, this course is suitable for anyone interested in the topic, even without much knowledge in physics before, because the course explains everything even the basic concepts.

I learnt A LOT from this course, and it encouraged me to love the topic, get excited about online learning and go even deeper in relativity study.

By Cory B

Jun 20, 2020

Prof is great. Methodical and precise. Try to follow a lecture with Whitten at the helm, and you will find your eraser worn fast. Not the case here. I took this as a refresher and found myself impatient and a bit frustrated at the hand-holding. Paradoxically, I was also comforted by the hand-holding ;) ...SR & GR are an odd pair because you do not get an intuitive sense of things until you bring gravity & acceleration & equivalency principle into the picture. Thus the need for hand-holding, I suppose... Anyone whom has a functional understanding of Newtonian physics needs to extend this to SR, then GR (at least qualitatively) to gain a more intimate understanding of the nature of nature. Don't be intimidated by Einstein. The man's insights were most likely due to single-minded focus and persistence. Armed with only resolve, I am confident that you will succeed in this course.


Nov 09, 2017

Mr. Larry Randles Lagerstrom is very knowledgeable and he is an excellent teacher. Course is very well designed and presented. The subject matter was enough to get incite into the 'Special Theory of Relativity' and also covered the history of Einstein 's era. I understood most of the things due to Mr. Lagerstrom's way of presenting the facts. Most interestingly, I understood the way things work in the realm of Special Theory of Relativity which was a big question in my mind for long time. Quizzes were very thoughtful and really testing the knowledge gained in the respective lectures. I have not solved the extra questions set given at the end of last few weeks yet but I will do that in near future and in case of doubts I would like to contact Mr. Lagerstrom via e-mail.

I enjoyed it thoroughly and I would like to attend many more such courses. Really thanks and appreciate.


Jun 03, 2020

The course provides insight to any beginner in the field of relativity and how Einstein perceived it. The fundamentals are presented in a very simple manner. All the concepts of relativistic motion are taught very well. Many ideas like length contraction, time dilation, etc. make the learners think their brains out much to their fun. The course also throws some light to the practical applications of the Special Theory of Relativity. The famous equation is also discussed (though in brief). Introduction to Spacetime diagrams, worldlines and related content is very well presented. Lastly, the course ends with a brief idea of the Equivalence principle which laid the foundations for the General Theory of Relativity. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn the concepts of relativity.

By Justin L

Apr 25, 2017

This course was truly an excellent way to learn about Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. The content covered most of the main aspects of Special Relativity, and the instructor did a top notch job of explaining how the various aspects of the theory are derived and many implications of the Theory. The maths involved in this course is no more than high-school level algebra with a few tricks, and as such the course should be within most people's reach with a bit of effort. Mind you, the concepts themselves are somewhat counter-intuitive, so be prepared to think a lot about the implications. However, all that being said, I highly recommend this course! It is a very well presented and accessible way to start to grasp Einstein's most profound work in his "miracle year" of 1905.

By Fabrizio P

Apr 24, 2020

Well, I wanted to finally tackle the famous theory that revolutionized 20th century physics as a matter of general culture, but going beyond the superficial cualitative explanations you found here and there. This course is absolutely great, and helped me accomplish that goal.

If the last year you dealt with algebra was many years ago, don't despair: the professor offers a clear review of all the math you need. The professor, by the way, is what makes this course great, as he is really exceptional at teaching.

The course requires patience and dedication (specially week 5), but at the end is greatly rewarding, and it allows you to go for harder material (meaning undergraduate level books on the subject).

I would suggest you do all the problem sets.

Thank you very much, Stanford.

By Ronald N

Nov 13, 2016

Professor Larry Lagerstrom is an exceptional teacher. He explained the Theory of Special Relativity in such a manner that the theory became easy to understand. Not only has the Theory become understandable, he also managed to convey the beauty of the theory. I cannot find words to describe how I have enjoyed the series of lectures. From very simple concepts of the property of waves, he led to a very deep understanding of the principle of Light Constancy. From that principle, it became very easy to understand Time Dilation, the Length Contraction, and then Lorentz Transformation, and finally, the Invariant Interval. The journey he has planned was brilliant. Once one has a firm grasp of those principles, the explanation of the Twin Paradox became a "piece of cake".

By Robert E K P

Aug 21, 2017

The course was fantastic. I have struggled for years to understand the Special Theory of Relativity and I finally have a good grasp of the theory. The course is not difficult for anyone with at least a fundamental grasp of algebra and should be no problem with more math in their background. I would really like to see a course on the General Theory of Relativity taught by Professor Langerstrom. The lectures were clear and well documented and the short quizzes at the end of each subsection of the class materials really helped to make understanding the material presented easy to comprehend. I'd also love to see a book written by Dr. Langerstrom based on the course. I have a couple around home and they aren't as clear as the material presented in this course.

By joseph s

Jul 29, 2020

This was my first time taking a course in this format from Coursera. The course exceeded all of my expectations. The course was very effective and I can’t wait to attend similar courses. The instructor, Larry Lagerstrom, was very knowledgeable. Larry provided a wealth of information about Einstein and the Special Theory of Relativity that were easy to follow and comprehend. I cannot express how great the instructor was and how great the overall content of the class material was. All of the videos and related documents were very clear and easy to follow. Larry Lagerstrom made it very easy to understand a very difficult subject otherwise. He was able to demonstrate and explain the various topics with relative ease.

By Collin O

May 24, 2020

I enjoyed every bit of the course and cannot stress how much I appreciate the work that went into this. I especially like the lecturer; Larry Randles Lagerstrom, and how he was able to execute such perfect teaching as well as sticking true to the the saying 'festina lente'. This course has managed to drive my curiosity and engage me thoroughly. In fact, time went by so fast during the course that I wonder if the effects of special relativity somehow managed to play a part in it. I started the course with the hopes of learning something new but it wasn't the outcome I loved the most it was the struggle and the journey to get there. Big props to the University of Stanford for making this a free course. I rate this a 5/5

By Niaz A

Sep 06, 2020

Great course! Well structured, builds up prerequisite concepts nicely, and ties it all together well. Dr. Lagerstrom looks at the ideas from different perspectives: conceptually, diagramatically with space-time diagrams and quantitatively with Lorentz' transformation. The multiple representations supplement each other and reinforce our understanding. In the end, I was able to finally get a good grasp of the basic ideas of special theory of relativity, which was a lifetime goal for me. And wrap my head around the "paradoxes" that are its consequences. These paradoxes made no sense to me in the past, but they did during this course, and it was a joyful experience. Just glad I found the course and completed it.

By zhu w

Jul 24, 2019

Great experience! I watched dozens of videos regarding special relativity but failed to understand. This course led you step by step with patience and you will have your big bang in the week 3rd. If you can pass week 3rd, you will probably grab the course successfully. My confusion is about the speed limit of light and the concept of relative speed. I raised my questions probably over a dozen rounds and Mr.Larry always give me help with 24 hours. What a great help. My suggestion to the course is : Please add a little bit more about relative speed. Can relative speed exceed C? Because such concept is crucial in my view to go through WEEK 3rd. A/w, great experience and Solute to THE TEAM. Thank

By Anna O

Oct 11, 2018

Literally the BEST course I've ever taken online! Perfectly structured, very detailed, very accurate and informative. I am a dozen steps closer to my dream of getting properly educated in the field of physics and the realm of exact sciences about the Universe. I enormously admire Prof. Lagerstrom as he's obviously put a lot of effort in preparing all necessary materials, making it all vivid and human with the help of quotes, stories and remarks about Einstein, always making sure the students understand the material and receive and remember it logically structured. Prof. Lagerstrom seems extremely charismatic and engaging to me, I regret this is the only course of his on Coursera. Thank you so much!

By Wenxin D

Dec 23, 2017

Thank You Professor Lagerstrom, the course is outstanding. I loved the way the course was taught, everything was linked to real life situations and easy to follow. At first I felt that the course was going a little slow but then I realised that a solid foundation is absolutely necessary in order for future understanding. If you skip too much of the first part you might lose some insight and not capture the fundamental ideas. I strongly recommend this course, specially for those who aren't too sophisticated with maths, since this course does not rely on mathematical derivations, but rather on diagrams, thought experiments and logical reasoning. It is definitely worth of 5 out of 5 stars.

By david w

Oct 21, 2017

The tutor is excellent, the pace of the course is good, the material is sufficient and everything proceeds logically and succinctly. Lots of interesting ideas and context. Understanding Special Relativity, objective met.

I was surprised to learn that the idea follows from some simple premises and so anyone with an interest can follow along qualitatively to appreciate the idea. Math ability is not essential but a modest ability I suggest would help to follow along. For anyone who wants more, and has the time, there is plenty of optional extra study material to work through.

I will return to the course in a few months and review the material as there is a lot to take in.

By Francois K

Apr 23, 2019

Clear and detailed introduction to the Special Theory of Relativity, including deriving the basic formulae involved on the topic, and advanced work made optional but available for most weeks' topics. The basic introductory analogies are simple to follow along but stunning in their implications, such as the famous light clocks not only in Alice and Bob's frames of reference but also in an elevator to touch upon the General Theory of Relativity at the end. After being a physics and relativity geek all my life, this course actually crystallized relativity and I finally understand precisely the strange effects of the theory.

By Paola S

Jul 12, 2019

Thank you Prof. Larry Lagerstrom! This course has been a great experience. Having a background in Banking & Finance, I was not sure to have the proper skills to go through such a complicated topic, which has always fascinated me. The structure of the course is perfect, the explanations are very clear. I appreciated introduction, summaries and handouts, quotes and real life examples. I also find it very effective that the teacher writes on a whiteboard instead than using slides. I would really suggest everyone to take this course. It helps understand, as was mentioned in the course, "the marvellous structure of reality".

By Phillip H

Jun 23, 2020

Excellent class on the Special Theory. The instruction was clear and methodical which made for a good understanding of Einstein's theory. Enjoyed the quotes of the week by Einstein. The phrase "leading clocks lag" is forever stuck in my head and I can recall the Lorentz transformation as well. The analysis of the Twin Paradox 3 ways was especially good, but this came later in the course so that the required tools could be taught first. Included a brief dip into the General Theory. Highly recommended if you have a desire to get an in-depth understanding of the Special Theory.

By Siddharth Y

Jun 10, 2019

I had just completed my Indian Grade 12 exams and decided that since Special Relativity was something I wanted to learn about, I should go ahead and do it. I chose this course and have no regrets whatsoever. Prof. Larry explains everything in the simplest way possible and avoids complicated mathematics wherever unnecessary. After finishing this course, I have a very good idea of how Special Relativity actually works and it will immensely benefit me given I am planning to major in physics in college. Anyone who is even remotely interested in doing this course, just go for it.

By Damien B

May 05, 2019

I found this course very stimulating in terms of thought experiments and conceptual understanding—a good deal of brain rewiring was necessary! Though I wished the quantitative approach was pushed a little farther (e.g., using matrices for the Lorentz transformations, and getting into Maxwell's equations when it came to the invariance of the speed of light), it was not a prime goal of this course to rely heavily on "advanced" mathematics. Thus, I still think it deserves five stars; I definitely recommend it as an introduction to the special theory relativity! :)

By Richard Q

Jan 10, 2018

Great introduction course. The teaching skills of Prof. Lagerstrom are really great. I studied a long time ago relativity (special and general) and this refreshing course was in some ways better than the one I had at the University. It does not require any high mathematical skills. I particularly appreciate the historical surrounding of the theory clearly highlighting how ideas and theories grow (not at all as usually explained in school). I do hope Prof Lagerstrom will pursue his teaching with general relativity and/or maybe a course on quantum mechanics.

By Francois L

Oct 23, 2017

I really enjoyed the quality and pace of this course. The weekly pace was reasonable for someone like me taking this course out of personal interest and doing so after work in the evening. The quality of the video courses was excellent but I understand that this is tied to the individual quality of the professor. Support materials (notes and problem sets) were very helpful to complement the videos. I like the structure of the course and the tool itself which I ran conveniently from my tablet. Overall great experience and looking forward to my next course.