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

2,252 ratings
772 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

Aug 11, 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.

Mar 21, 2020

Thanks for helping me understand the Special Theory of Relativity, covered a lot of ground but repeated it so it really could sink in. Like your style and want to thank you for your assistance. Thanks

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76 - 100 of 761 Reviews for Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

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 Gary S

Nov 2, 2020

Having no physics background other than self-taught, I have to say I was thrilled by this course. It was just the right level, focusing on concepts and being walked through some very consumable math (algebra level). Just the right level of challenge, with support in the forum when questions arise.

The instructor is awesome! Methodical and very cognizant of the fact this is a course for beginners. He walks you through everything step by step.

I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in gaining a more firm understanding of what the Special Theory is all about.

By Damien B

May 4, 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.

By Sandhra J

May 6, 2020

Such an amazing course with an exceptional teacher!! I was mind blown with the way such a complicated topic was handled and taught. Einstein is properly explained and his topic of relativity is explained even better. This course has given proper respect to Einstein and has respected his views and thoughts.

The moment I hear 'Einstein', I get Mr. Larry's face onto my mind, that's how amazing and wonderful he as well as this course is. I get the feeling of learning more from him, be it any topic.

Thanks a lot for this fantastic and meticulous experience!!!!

By Sandeep k

May 1, 2017

feels great, to know about such a renowned personality like Einstein. feeling like i came closer to Einstein and his work, but more than that it i feel closer and connected to the universe. this all has become possible only because of professor Lary Lagerstrom's unique teaching skills and presentation of subjects. myself being from science background found it very easy to get hold of what is actually going, but i'm 100% positive that any person from any background can understand and successfully complete this course. thank you professor.

By Lucas S

Oct 28, 2020

Before the course I had practically no knowledge on the Special Theory of Relativity and I had just the math from highschool. Now, two months later, I believe I was able to follow everything (Professor Lagerstrom is clear and careful - he takes the time needed to explain things whitout rushing, but also without becoming monotonous); I certainly learned a lot of intriguing stuff and I feel motivated to continue to study Einstein's Special Theory, to work on my math skills and to build the necessary to learn more about the General Theory.

By Antara R

Jul 23, 2020

Fabulous course. Concepts were explained in rigorous detail and hand-outs and lecture presentations were impeccable. The professor makes sure no stone is unturned in this lecture series and provides insightful analysis into the theory.

Things to improve: I would suggest a shorter course for students like myself who have previous mathematical experience. Additionally it would have been nice to get a printed certificate- after paying £38.

However these things aside- a detailed well-thought through course, ANYONE can complete. 5 stars.

By Stephen C

Mar 4, 2018

Larry Lagerstrom is excellent. He speaks clearly -- and repeats concepts. He is very experienced at this, applying models to illustrate points, understanding where the student might have difficulty, and going over points to make sure we have got the idea. I realized quite early that if I did not understand the concepts of this course, it would certainly not be his fault.

I enjoyed this course. It got me to think in a different way -- stretched my brain in addition to increasing my knowledge about the specific subject.


By Donald R

Feb 9, 2017

Professor Lagerstrom does a superb job of presenting Einstein's special theory of relativity. There is a good balance of history, high school level mathematics and thought experimentation. I have been studying Einstein's special theory of relativity, mostly by reading books, for over 60 years and this course solidified the theory in my mind. I actually have two good friends named Alice and Bob, who are unrelated to the course heroine and hero. The real heroes in the course are Professors Einstein and Lagerstrom.

By Miljenko N

Nov 6, 2020

Nothing but excellent. Methodic, simple, clear. Professor looks also as a calm and eloquent person with a broader knowledge of historical events. He added some flavor to the lectures, giving interesting historical points and thoughts supported with Einstein's and other quotations from that time. Historical context just enabled easier understanding and memorizing of the matter and was dosed just not to move the focus from the main goal. I can only wish that the next courses I'll attend, will be on the same level.

By Wai H C

May 3, 2020

Excellent course, covering a basic fundamental understanding of special relativity and the historical context within which Einstein made his discovery. The math required to understand the concepts are also straightforward high/secondary school level math. I took this as a refresher, having took a class back in undergrad college on the same subject and it helped me recall the core concepts of the subject. Recommended as an excellent introduction for anyone interested in physical science in general

By Nancy B

Aug 10, 2020

Extremely interesting course. It is challenging but Dr. Lagerstrom's pledge to "make haste slowly" benefits students and covers the material thoroughly. The material is presented from a variety of viewpoints, which should make the concepts clear for everyone. The amount of data covered is impressive. It illustrates the degree to which Einstein had command of his subject matter. I will likely never use the information presented in this course but I'm really glad I took the journey to acquire it.

By Lawrence K

May 22, 2020

I really thoroughly enjoyed this course. I felt that Professor Lagerstrom is an excellent teacher who made the complex much easier to understand. I particularly liked the “class notes” and his philosophy of Festina lente - make haste slowly.

In college many years ago this whole subject was too mind bending for me to approach so my education when I other directions. It is nice that so many years later I could revisit that challenge a gain a better understanding. Thank you so much for that.


Nov 23, 2020

Awesome experience! The complex theory is presented and taught by Professor through so many video-lectures with examples and explaining so nicely that I was engrossed totally and completed successfully in advance. There are quizzes at the end of each section - this helped me to understand the subject thoroughly. This is my best experience in online learning. Knowledge on the subject, efforts, and presentation by respected Professor is highly commendable, My whole-hearted regards to him!

By Xin H

Jan 21, 2017

Professor Lagerstrom takes it slow to approach the theory, making it available to anyone with very basic math skills. While the equations are important, building the mental model around the strange world is way more essential to comprehending the special theory of relativity, and that is where this course shines. Professor Lagerstrom will look at the same problem in many different angles, cross referencing between them constantly, making sure the fundamentals of the theory sinks in.

By Douglas R

Sep 8, 2017

Oddly, given subject matter, this is a very old school course - professor lecturing before a white board. Yet it works! I finally understand the Special Theory of Relativity and am convinced that time dilation and length contraction are real. Course is well paced. Outlines provided for taking notes for each session are very helpful. Quizzes and tests are appropriate. Highly recommend to anyone who has ever wondered if on might actually travel to another galaxy and return alive.

By Michael B

Jan 18, 2018

This is truly one of the more interesting (and fun) courses at Coursera. The presenter takes the student step by step through the intricacies of understanding the special theory of relativity such that, even with a very limited background in math and physics, you will be able to appreciate the impact this theory had on scientific thinking back when it was published and how it, and its 'big brother, the general theory of relativity, shape scientific endeavors presently.

By Dr. S R

Aug 17, 2020

The wonderful presentation of the origin and comprehensive concepts of this special theory of relativity with good examples and problems by Professor Larry Langstrom, is beyond and excellent and would rate the best by a physics professor. I would love to attend the general theory of relativity course if run(?), by him in the future, kindly inform. I rate this course 5 stars if that's the limit of stars one needs to put for an appreciation/rating.

-Dr S S Raghuwanshi

By Titas C

Jun 7, 2018

This course is the best place to learn the concepts of special relativity as a beginner. The instructor is awesome. Although he goes quite slow, it helps because the concepts in the latter part of the course are counter-intuitive and may need a bit of time to be understood. I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in learning more about the principles of relativity. I hope to see a general relativity course taught by this professor soon!!!

By Carlos G

Apr 2, 2018

A very thorough and complete explanation of the Special Relativity theory. Finally a really good pedagogical approach is used to explain to plain people like me concepts that are proven for more than a century but still a mystery for most. Having very important scientific concepts explained to our society can mitigate the terrible challenges we shall confront in the coming decades.

Thank you very much to Stanford University and specially to Dr Lagerstrom.

By Dario K

Aug 1, 2020

Amazing course! Great pace, starting slowly from the basics and advancing step by step, building up to understand the Special Theory of Relativity to a level that I find is (much) more than good enough for someone who's just curious about it. Math included but, again, it is presented step by step so it's easy to follow even for someone with not much scientific background.

Really wish a part 2 with General Relativity taught by same professor would come :)

By Allan E B

Aug 20, 2020

About sixty years ago, I remember discussing the various formulas regarding special relativity in one of my advanced college physics courses. There was very little background presented regarding the historical development of the formulas (e.g. Lorentz transformation, Gamma). I really enjoyed the time spent on the space time diagrams. Those diagrams have provided me with a much deeper understanding of the foundational elements of special relativity.

By Patrick F

Sep 7, 2017

It is amazing to have access to such an interesting, well taught class through this free app. Prfessor Lagerstrom takes material that is often considered extremely difficult and explains it in such clear and concise terms that it can be understood by just about anyone. The required math is not much beyond basiic algebra and you can come away with a much deeper understanding of the way the universe works as well as a nice look at Einstein as a person.