Education is important, but the path to education is changing rapidly. Earning a degree is still important, but in a 21st century economy, it is not the gold standard it used to be.
You will need to study for the rest of your life to keep up. You may even need to change careers several times during your life. Unfortunately, for most working people, dropping everything and going back to school is not the best option.
The good news is, you no longer have to put off your life (or empty your bank account) to get a college-level education. Thanks to the open education movement and advances in e-learning, you can take free online college courses from the comfort of your home. Many of them are often free!
Below are the top ten sites for free online college courses. Keep in mind that some of these sites also host paid courses or paid add-ons, but you will find many free courses to take your knowledge to the next level.
A note on evaluation and certification
One important thing to mention before we get to the actual websites of free online college courses is accreditation and assessment. The college course has three components. The first is educational material. The second is the assessment of your knowledge. The third is school accreditation.
In online courses, these three components are usually separated. Most of the time, course content is free. This is perfect for anyone looking to learn something new. Assessment of your knowledge, when offered, is often free as well. You will either pass a computerized exam or receive a grade for your work.
Accreditation is a different story. It is the process by which an institution certifies your grade and formally evaluates your knowledge. Depending on the nature of your accreditation, you can usually use it for a job, college credit, or other formal purpose.
Where accreditation is offered, there is usually a price tag. Most people wanting to study online don’t need accreditation, but if that’s exactly what you need, then this is something you won’t get for free.
MIT OpenCourseWare is special for several reasons, but the most important is that it is a groundbreaking project that pioneered free college-level learning on the Internet. Back in 2001, Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to publish all of its course materials on the Internet for free.
Using the Creative Commons licensing framework, students and educators can read, modify and reuse educational content from one of the world’s most elite educational institutions.
Given MIT’s reputation and technology specialization, you were right to expect many great courses in fields such as computer science and engineering. However, the college has free online courses in liberal arts subjects such as linguistics, philosophy, and even gender studies.
Unlike many of the sites below, MIT OpenCourseWare is purely content-oriented. In fact, you cannot “take” these courses. Instead, you can download all course materials and go through them yourself. Sometimes this includes assignments with answers, and for some later courses it also includes videotaped lectures.
If you want to know what makes MIT special and are interested in their specialized subject areas, MIT Opencourseware is an essential resource. However, if you want something more interactive, let’s move on to the other worthy contenders on this list.
Coursera is one of the early pioneers of MOOCs. That is, Massive Open Online Courses . It was started by two former Stanford University professors back in 2012, and today it contains material from universities such as Princeton, Duke, and Stanford. I will name just a few of them.
If you are willing to pay the fee, you can get an accredited certificate or even an advanced degree! However, you can learn some of the most relevant skills of modern life here completely free of charge. Coursera is especially useful for learning hot, new in-demand skills and areas.
Free online college courses here are usually self-paced and compiled by some of the best teachers in the world. You can get a certificate of completion for some courses like this one.
It’s not accredited, of course, but that might not matter to your employer or anyone else, you want to show that you’ve put in the effort to learn something new.
Like Coursera, edX is a pioneer in the MOOC revolution. Launched in 2012. The site is a joint venture between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, free materials for edX online college courses come from many reputable organizations.
There are college-level courses in just about every subject area you can imagine, including those as complex as engineering and medicine. The quality of the food is exceptional, and the menu contains many suggestions for self-study.
Although the course is free, you can get a â€œverified certificateâ€ for a fee. This can be used as proof that you passed the certification and that you were the person who completed it. While this is not considered any official accreditation, you can include it in job applications or any other relevant applications to show that you have done your job.
Khan Academy started for Salman Khan as a way to help family members understand their math homework. It is one of the best educational resources on the Internet today.
While most of the topics covered here relate to pre-college school years, there are also college prep and college-level materials here. It’s also a great way to brush up on things like high school math. This is useful if you want to go to college at a later age and school days are a little hazy. According to their white papers, their coursework covers all of K12 and early college.
Everything on the site is free, and the creators have created one of the most intuitive systems to assess your current level and guide you along the learning path that suits your needs. This is especially useful in complex subject areas such as mathematics.
Udemy was founded back in 2009 and was just picking up steam in the online learning world. A key innovation with Udemy is that it makes it relatively easy to create a course for anyone with a lot to teach. If you’re an expert who can pass on your skills to others, then Udemy is a great place to do that, while making some money.
Yes, many courses on Udemy do pay, but the platform also has hundreds and hundreds of great free online college courses. Often times, instructors make introductory courses free, charging only intermediate and advanced levels. This means that you are free to learn the basics of various subjects.
While these courses generally should not be the equivalent of college course modules, many are taught by retired educators or professionals in these fields. So this is a good way to get skills and knowledge from the field directly, less formally.
On the other hand, Udemy does not have strict curation standards compared to the likes of edX or Coursera, so you will always have to take any course on the site critically. We also believe that Udemy has one of the most user-friendly and advanced mobile apps of any online educational website today. Well worth a visit!
Not to be confused with the eponymous Udemy, Udacity was founded by Sebastian Trun and remains a key player in the online education world. When Udacity was first launched, it focused on copying college courses, but as competition in the sector increased, Udacity evolved into a more professional skills-focused platform.
Udacity has many great free online college courses, but if you’re willing to pay, you can enroll in Udacity‘s innovative “nanodegree” programs, which are comprised of various small courses and are formally accredited so you can use them to apply for jobs and for other official purposes.
Udacity courses are not stand alone and you need to sign up and start with everyone else. That being said, there is an extensive archive of past free auditing courses. Knowledge can be taken!
Open Education By Blackboard
Blackboard is one of the world’s leading providers of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and their Open Education site provides a platform for educational institutions to offer free courses. It’s a pretty basic site, but just as easy to use.
All you have to do is either enter a search term or browse the course catalog using various filters. This includes searching by institution, subject area, and language of instruction.
The platform is a bit slow, but Blackboard itself is a very robust LMS, and there are many very useful courses in the catalog that you can take as much as you like for free.
OpenLearn is the Open University’s best-known Open Learning Resources project. It is also one of the oldest open learning resources on the Internet, dating back to 1999. Long before the revolution, MOOC, based on sites like Coursera or edX
OpenLearn offers a ton of resources for those working in the education sector, but the part that interests budget-conscious students looking to study is the catalog of free online college courses on offer. They cover just about every subject area you can imagine, with courses clearly marked in terms of their length and level of difficulty.
As this is a collection of open source courses from various sources, the level of polish varies, but it is a very user-friendly site and an important learning resource.
Carnegie Mellon Open Education Initiative
Carnegie Mellon is another world renowned university that has contributed to the open learning movement. However, not all courses on this site are free. Fortunately, courses are labeled “open source and free” when applicable.
What’s more, you don’t even need to register an account to access the course content. Although, of course, you won’t be able to save your progress, settings or work if you don’t.
Futurelearn is one of the more interesting entries on this list. It was created from the ground up to focus on MOOCs rather than adapting existing college courses. FutureLearn makes MOOCs in the specialty.
The quality of the products and the design of their courses are head and shoulders above the competition. FutureLearn is partly owned by The Open University, but offers courses created by over 100 institutions.
FutureLearn is a little more commercialized, which makes sense since these glossy courses also cost a lot of money. The good news is that they charge one annual subscription, which gives you access to hundreds of paid short courses. However, we want free courses, and FutureLearn has effortlessly consolidated all of its free courses into one directory.
Get your learning!
The Internet was born out of the support of academia, so it is right that today it can provide free education to millions of people around the world.
With these ten sites, you have access to what appears to be the sum of human knowledge, along with user communities and often access to expert educators. So do you really have a reason not to upgrade your qualifications? It’s time to learn!