Free online courses are a great way to boost your employment prospects: they add a little extra something to your CV and are a great talking point in interviews, as well as being a great way to spend your free time.
The demand for online learning in higher education has gained momentum in recent years. Students who are looking for convenience, accessibility, flexibility, and low-cost schooling are considering remote alternatives to conventional learning.
The good news is that you no longer have to put your life on hold (or empty your bank account) to get a college-level education. Thanks to the open education movement and advances in eLearning, you can take free online college courses from the comfort of your home. Many of these are often free!
The following are ten of the best, free online college course websites. Be aware that some of these sites also host paid courses or paid add-ons, but you’ll find plenty of free courses to elevate your knowledge to the next level.
1. MIT Open Courseware (MITx)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), through its MIT Open Courseware (MITx), offers free online college courses that explore a variety of subjects in many disciplines. The university gives you the ability to download and follow their archived courses through its OpenCourseWare platform.
These Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide comprehensive coursework that includes videos, discussions, and exercises to ensure a student understands the material presented. Most MITx courses are provided without college credits, while other free courses online with certificates are available. Many MIT MOOCs are self-paced, downloadable, and require no registration.
Choose from nearly 200 available free courses that include Education, Global Warming, Mechanical Engineering, Game Development, and Quantum Information, among many others. Here’s a selection of their online courses:
Number theory I: This graduate-level course will cover a range of topics in algebraic and analytic number theory.
Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy: If you’re interested in learning economics, why not learn from one of the best? This course uses microeconomic theory to analyze public policy. It will teach you the basics of economics and you are free to take the course at your own pace.
Making Books: The Renaissance and Today: For people looking for something a little different, this course explores the impact of new technology on the recording and distribution of words and images during the invention of the printing press in 1450, the adaption of electricity to communication technology in the 19th century, and digital media today.
2. Harvard University
If you’re interested in courses from Harvard University, the institution offers many through its online portal. While some of these courses are paid, there are dozens that are also available for free.
Harvard University offers lifetime learners an opportunity to take free online college courses that can facilitate the advancement of one’s career or simply allow students to pursue their personal passions to the next level.
Harvard University offers over 600 free online courses and enables you to get a taste of an Ivy League education for free. Some of the university’s free courses include religious studies, game development, app development, and data science. When you filter according to free courses, over 50 are available, so look at which ones might interest you. Here are just a few of their courses you might enjoy:
Shakespeare’s Life and Work: Learn how to read William Shakespeare’s plays, while also learning his biography over the course of four weeks. The course also covers Elizabethan and Jacobean history and modern performance.
Justice: An introduction to moral and political philosophy, Justice explores critical analysis of classical and contemporary theories over this 12-week course. You will read texts by Aristotle, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Jon Stuart Mill, and John Rawls.
The Health Effects of Climate Change: Climate change is more topical than ever. In this seven-week course, find out how global warming impacts human health and how we can help to diminish its effects.
3. Stanford University
Stanford University offers free online college courses through their Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL) that are accessible by lifelong learners who which to further their careers or enrich their lives. Stanford’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer more than 175 free courses in a variety of cutting-edge fields that include the Tools of Design Thinking, Organic Semiconductors, Writing Adventures, and America’s Poverty and Inequality course.
The Stanford undergraduate program is considered the most selective school in the nation. Their alumni include astronauts, billionaires, and a plethora of congressional representatives. Here are some online courses that are offered by Stanford University:
Exploration of Computing: This course, designed for the non-engineer, will provide students with a solid foundation in the concepts and terminology behind computers, the Internet, and software development. It will give you a better understanding and insight when working with technology.
Natural Language Understanding: In this project-oriented course, you will develop systems and algorithms for robust machine understanding of human language. The course draws on theoretical concepts from linguistics, natural language processing, and machine learning.
Artificial Intelligence Professional Program: The Artificial Intelligence Professional Program is designed for working professionals who want to dive into AI topics at graduate-level depth, but with the additional flexibility of schedule and scope.
4. Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Professional Education offers free online college courses through its partnership with Udacity, edX, and Coursera. Students who complete these noncredit Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) study at their own pace, on their own time, tuition-free! Students have the opportunity to select from world-renowned coursework that includes Analytic Modeling, Linear Circuits, Health Informatics, Music Technology, and Engineering. Many of Georgia Tech’s online courses are available as CEU’s, for a nominal charge. Upon completion, online learners receive a digital badge, as verification upon completion.
Georgia Institute of Technology has been offering online courses since 2012. Since then, 3.3 million people have enjoyed these world-class courses, on a wide range of topics. Here are a few you might enjoy:
Data Analytics in Business: This course helps you to understand data and business analytics. It then gives you the opportunity to apply these business analytics algorithms and methodologies to real-world business datasets.
Innovation Leadership: A six-week course for anyone looking to become an innovation leader. You’ll learn why innovation leaders are essential for growth and how to become one.
Supply Chain principles: This 15-hour course is a great introduction for anyone looking to pursue a career in the supply chain. It will help you gain an understanding of the extended supply chain and make you aware of the career paths available to you.
5. University of California – Irvine:
The University of California, Irvine’s UCI Open platform offers free college courses online across a wide variety of fields and disciplines. Its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are provided through its partnership with Coursera. Should one decide to take free online college courses from UCI, course options include TEDx Talks by the University of California, Irvine faculty. UIC also offers ZotTalks– perspectives in the evolving field of educators. Courses are offered as cohorts or on-demand.
The University of California, Irvine offers a variety of courses on a wide range of subjects. Here are several that might spark your interest:
Better Business Writing in English: This course promises to help you develop a personal voice in your writing, giving you the opportunity to practice your writing skills in different types of business communications.
Introduction to Electronics: Learn about the basic components of electronics: diodes, transistors, and op-amps. Perfect for those who want an insight into electrical engineering.
Games without Chance: Combinational Game Theory: A beginner’s guide to combinational game theory. The course covers the mathematical theory and analysis of simple games without chance moves.
6. Michigan State University
Michigan State University offers 28 different massive open online courses (MOOCs) thanks to their partnership with Coursera. The MOOCs are free courses that do not have credit or degree programs. They offer four different specializations and four courses that are project-based. MSU currently offers a specialization in Entrepreneurship, Journalism, photography, and game development and design. They also have project courses in music, infographics, writing scripts, and transmedia.
One of the largest universities in the United States, Michigan State University offers a selection of online courses. Here are a few that might appeal to you:
Art for Games Specialization: This beginner-focused course will teach you the essentials of 2D and 3D game art production over a period of six months.
7. California Institute of the Arts
California Institute of Arts offers massive open online courses (MOOCs) in collaboration with Coursera and Kadenze. They offer programs called specializations which include certifications. These programs have a small fee associated with them. The fees are based on per certificate or there is a premium membership. They also offer free courses without certification. None of these courses offer college credit or degrees.
Ranking 20th worldwide for Art and Design in the QS World University Ranking by Subject 2020 is the California Institute of the Arts. The school offers several creative courses:
Graphic Design Specialization: This six-month course teaches the fundamental skills needed for graphic design. You will also complete a project which can be used for a professional portfolio.
The Language of Design: Form and Meaning: You will carry out an objective analysis of a work of graphic design in this course, critiquing its effectiveness. This is a course for beginners and will take approximately eight hours to complete.
8. Ecole Polytechnique
École Polytechnique is a leading French institute that combines top-level research, academics, and innovation at the cutting-edge of science and technology. The school produces socially responsible professionals who excel in leading complex and innovative projects which address current and future challenges facing our society.
École Polytechnique, also known as l’X, is a historic institution. Founded in 1794, it holds a leading role in the French academic tradition – Poincaré, Ampère, Schwartz, and Fresnel are just a few of the prestigious scientists to have studied here. It offers 29 online courses, 10 taught in English and 19 taught in French. Here are a few that might interest you:
Silicon Thin Film Solar Cells: This course consists of a general presentation of solar cells based on silicon thin films. The general aspects of the photovoltaic field are treated in “Photovoltaic Solar Energy”. And the detailed description of the crystalline silicon solar cells can be found in “Physics of Silicon Solar Cells”.
How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: Designed for students with previous experience in academic research, this course will do exactly what it says in the title. Taught in English, you will learn to accurately write and publish a full scientific paper in four weeks.
From Particles to Stars: If you’ve ever wondered how the Universe was formed, how it has evolved in the last 14 billion years, or even what the universe is made up of, then this is the course for you. The course lasts for ten weeks and is taught in French.
9. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is a world-class international research university excelling in science, technology, and business as well as humanities and social science. Internationally renowned for its academic rigor and accomplishments, the University promotes interdisciplinary studies and provides a holistic education, nurturing well-rounded graduates with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, innovative thinking, and relevant skills to thrive in a knowledge economy.
Browse free online courses in a variety of subjects. Here’s a selection of the online courses they offer:
Introduction to Fintech: Learn about the innovations, technology, and regulation driving the transformation of finance in Asia’s first FinTech MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). This course begins on May 15 and will be taught by leading experts.
Making Sense of News: This six-week course will develop your critical thinking skills to allow you to better identify reliable information in news reports and become better informed.
State, Law, and the Economy: If you’re interested in learning about economics, this course is a great place to start. The course teaches essential economic concepts relevant to the study of political economy.
10. University of Colorado System
The University of Colorado System offers nearly 100 noncredit free online college courses through their Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) division– noncredit, tuition-free through Coursera. The University of Colorado System is a system-wide effort by the school to provide free noncredit courses open to students across the globe. Lifetime learners across the world taking advantage of these open online courses hail from more than 190 countries.
Students can choose to take free online college courses in the areas of sustainability, programming, business, palliative care, cybersecurity, engineering to name just a few. Here are a few that might interest you:
Algorithms for Battery Management Systems Specialization: In this specialization, you will learn the major functions that must be performed by a battery management system, how lithium-ion battery cells work and how to model their behaviors mathematically, and how to write algorithms (computer methods) to estimate state-of-charge, state-of-health, remaining energy, and available power, and how to balance cells in a battery pack.
Applied Cryptography Specialization: This specialization is intended for the learners interested in or already pursuing a career in computer security or other cybersecurity-related fields. Learners will build the logic and the pseudo-code for the widely used cryptographic primitives and algorithms, which will enable them to implement the cryptographic primitives in any platform/language they choose.
Computer Communications Specialization: This specialization is developed for seniors and fresh graduate students to understand fundamental network architecture concepts and their impacts on cybersecurity, to develop skills and techniques required for network protocol design, and to prepare for a future of constant change through exposure to network design alternatives. Students will require prior knowledge of C programming, an understanding of math probability, and a computer science background is a plus.
Online summer college courses
For many college students, a summer break means sleeping in, relaxing in nature, and returning home to visit family and friends. For others, summer brings a chance to hit the books in a way that’s different from fall, winter, and spring semesters.
While summer brings a welcome break from the rigors of academics for most students, enrolling in online summer courses could be the ticket to improving your college experience—without sacrificing your summer vacation. Some students sign up to get ahead on the next semester or grab a seat in a popular class that has a waiting list during the regular school year. Regardless, having the option to take summer classes online gives students the freedom to enjoy the summer months and continue learning.
1. Summer Online Course in Innovation and Creativity
This course is created for students who aim to master responsible innovation development principles thanks to tools and who wish to develop their creative potential to innovate. Regardless of the type of company in which they desire to work for, they will be able to generate innovative ideas and support their creation and launch.
Duration: 6 weeks
2. Summer Online Course in International Communication
This course is created for students who aim to master responsible, effective, and inspirational communication skills in order to be more impactful Managers and Leaders especially in an International environment and when working across different generations and cultures.
Duration: 6 weeks
3. Summer Online Course in Luxury Marketing Strategy
This course is created for students who wish to understand the marketing strategy of luxury brands and want to master tools and strategies in the dynamic and unique luxury sector. This course aims at providing students with current know-how and practical insights into the real issues faced by luxury brand managers.
With an approach based on both lectures and workshops, students will learn how major luxury brands reinforce their desirability.
Duration: 6 weeks
Online courses for Science students
Several schools offer free online science classes, such as OpenCourseWare programs that generally do not require students to register to gain access to course materials – but they also do not award college credit for completion.
1. Science & Engineering Program
Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP) is a four-week residential program for exceptional young women with strong interests in science, engineering, and medicine. After the program, participants return to high school better prepared to tackle tough science courses and understand what to expect in college.
2. Fundamentals of Neuroscience
Fundamentals of Neuroscience is a three-course series that explores the structure and function of the nervous system—from the inner workings of a single nerve cell to the staggering complexity of the brain and the social interactions they enable.
Duration: 5 weeks
3. Quantitative Methods for Biology
For beginners, Quantitative Methods for Biology takes a unique approach, giving you an inside glimpse of a course and its learners. You’ll study alongside students who are also learning to code. All learners will be able to access a copy of MATLAB that they can use during the run of the course, free of charge. There will also be opportunities to put code directly into assignments so that you can test your skills and work on authentic projects.
Duration: 10 weeks
The number of online learners has reached a new peak at more than 3.1 million. Some 79% of Americans found web-based learning platforms to “better than” or “equal to” the traditional face-to-face education. With so many established higher education institutions now offering free online courses, it can be a challenge deciding which one you should go for.
We’ve rounded up just a few of the most popular free online courses from some of the best schools in the world. This is by no means an exhaustive list – it just gives you a glimpse of the many schools offering online learning experiences.