Free Online Course Options For Students – Forbes Advisor

Free Online Courses To Help You Continue Your Education

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Whether you’re gearing up for a big career change, or you’re just looking to learn something new, free online courses can help jump-start your journey.

What is the? value of free online courses? Well, they can’t replace a traditional educational program, but these courses still offer a variety of benefits. Our guide reviews the top online courses that are free and can help you make a decision about a new educational experience. Let’s get started.

What are the benefits of an online course?

One of the best parts of a free online course is that it’s—well, free. When you don’t have to weigh the cost, there’s less risk involved with trying out a new subject. You can relax, enjoy, and explore.

You can find free online courses that will help you rekindle the joy and excitement of learning. These courses can help you make concrete steps towards your professional or educational goals. Online classes are free for learners to explore a new career, learn skills to advance or refresh their knowledge before returning to school.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are a group of free online classes. MOOCs allow thousands or hundreds of learners to access a single course for free or at a very low cost. MOOCs are accessible and low-risk because they don’t require formal entry requirements.

Who Should Consider Taking Online Courses for Free?

  • Career-changers.Online courses are free and can help you gain knowledge in new industries, as well as qualify for entry-level roles. These courses can’t replace traditional degrees, but they can help you stand out in the job market.
  • Professionals in the workplace.It’s easier to keep up with industry trends by taking free online education. When applying for a job, you can also take advantage of free online courses that will show off your drive and dedication.
  • Students.Free classes are available to help students prepare for exams, review difficult concepts, and reduce learning loss during breaks from school. Through MOOCs, users will find study materials for elementary school through graduate school.
  • Learn for life.There are many online learning opportunities that can help you gain perspective on the world, learn a new hobby, or explore a topic of your interest.

Online Platforms Offering Free Courses


edX, a pioneer in the MOOC model was founded in 2012 with 155,000 participants. It now has over 42 million users.

This site aggregates free and paid classes, as well as micro-credentials and professional certificates. Founded in Harvard University by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, edX was a nonprofit organization until it was bought by 2U, an education technology company.

edX has over 160 partners that offer diverse course content, including Ivy League schools like Cornell University and international institutions like Oxford University. It also includes prominent companies such as Google and non-profits like the Smithsonian Institution.

Students can study arts, sciences, social science, and humanities. They can also study law, tech, and healthcare. edX’s micro-credentials and degrees focus on business, technology and social services.

Auditing classes is free for learners, but they need to pay $50 to $300 per course if they want to receive graded assignments and verification of completion. Qualifying students can receive financial assistance.


The world’s largest MOOC provider, Coursera delivers programs that reach over 100 million learners worldwide. The company was founded in 2012 by Andrew Ng, a Stanford University computer science professor, and Daphne Koller (a Stanford University computer science professor).

Coursera, like many MOOC platforms offers content from multiple educational partners. Coursera users can access classes offered by universities such as Yale and companies such as Microsoft. Coursera’s learning pathways include standalone courses, degrees, short guided projects and micro-credentials.

The course topics include arts and humanities, business, science, technology, and mathematics. Learners can learn multiple languages and explore personal development topics such as mindfulness. Coursera’s tech-related MOOCs are particularly robust, with classes in areas like web development, data science and cybersecurity.

Most courses are free for learners. A certificate of completion costs $49 – $79 per course, or students can purchase annual or monthly memberships. Coursera partners with organizations to provide education access for underserved communities.


FutureLearn, a London-based company, emphasizes social learning. To make it easier for other learners to interact with them, users can create a profile. Courses often include peer feedback and discussion.

This MOOC hub’s academic partners include several U.S. universities but primarily include international institutions, particularly those from the UK, Europe and Australia. You can also find course content from private and non-profit organizations.

FutureLearn students have the opportunity to explore STEM fields such as engineering, mathematics, and computer science. Individuals can learn business skills, as well as literature, politics, and history. Creative arts courses cover areas such as fashion and film. Language classes include less-common offerings like Irish and Norwegian.

FutureLearn courses can be taken free of charge by participants. Upgrades are available to obtain certificates of completion as well as extended access to course materials. ExpertTracks, microcredentials and online degrees require payment.

Canvas Network

Canvas is a popular learning management system (LMS), that is used for both K-12 education and higher education. Canvas is well-known among parents and students, with over 30 million users in 2019. Canvas also offers online classes for free, which focuses on career development resources for educators.

Learn strategies to help at-risk students, teach remotely, navigate copyright issues, and use the Canvas LMS. Instruction can be provided in English, Spanish or Portuguese, depending on the class.

Canvas Network offers free, self-paced courses. The site only offers short courses and does NOT provide certificates of completion. Individual instructors may offer this option.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy, a nonprofit, focuses on elementary and high school education—unlike many other MOOC platforms. The platform has over 61 million users in more than 190 countries. Its mission is to improve educational access worldwide.

Khan Academy offers courses on subjects such as language arts, science, economics and art history. Levels vary depending on the topic. You can also take prep courses for the SAT and LSAT, Praxis Core, MCAT, or MCAT.

Classes are entirely free, and the site provides resources to help teachers and parents support their students’ success.

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Udacity, a technology educator, publishes its own courses. The site is a for-profit and develops classes with industry leaders like Amazon and GitHub.

Udacity offers eight schools that are focused on one tech discipline, such as programming and development, data science, or artificial intelligence. Short courses and longer nanodegree programs are available to students. The short-course category includes free options that last between two and 16 weeks.

Nanodegree programs are paid and require participation. They include career and academic support, discussion forums, and project reviews. There is no free certificate option, but credential-seeking students can save through Udacity’s discounts and scholarships.


Many MOOC Hubs offer only curated content provided by partner organizations. Udemy however allows anyone to upload, teach and create courses. Udemy users will need to screen potential classes more carefully than students who are using other MOOCs. Udemy courses have many highly qualified instructors who teach a wide range of subjects.

Udemy’s courses are divided into 12 broad categories: IT and software, business and lifestyle, design, and business. TikTok marketing and tarot reading are just a few of the niche topics.

Most of Udemy’s over 204,000 classes require a fee, but the platform also offers more than 500 free options. Udemy offers many sales and course prices range from $19.99 up to $199.99. Classes include lifetime access and a certificate proving completion. Udemy also offers a subscription option.

Cognitive Class

IBM’s Cognitive Class delivers free, self-paced online training in data science and cognitive computing. To show off their skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, Python, and JavaScript, learners can earn badges.

Cognitive Class offers individual classes that typically last three to 20 hours. It also offers 10 learning paths in areas such data science fundamentals and deep-learning. These courses allow students to learn more about a topic through three- to five-course series. You can refine your class search by using factors such as topic, experience level and preferred language (English, Chinese).

Students must complete review questions and pass an exam for a badge.  Cognitive Class allows unlimited auditing for many courses before students can apply for their badge.

General Assembly

This career education provider focuses exclusively on high-impact and in-demand skills training. General Assembly’s programs cater to both beginners launching new careers and professionals seeking to enhance their resumes. There are also career preparation bootcamps available online and at more than 30 campuses around the world.

General Assembly’s bootcamps cost $3,950 to $15,950. You can also find some resources on the platform. Live streaming webinars can be accessed by learners to explore topics such as design, data, and digital marketing. The free Dash web design course is a great way to start programming HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. General Assembly also offers career development classes for free and e-books.

MIT OpenCourseWare

Through OpenCourseWare, MIT has provided free online access to the university’s curricula since 2001. OpenCourseWare materials can be downloaded, used, shared, and adapted free of charge, thanks to a Creative Commons license. OpenCourseWare began as a pilot website that featured 50 courses. It has since expanded to include the entire MIT catalog.

OpenCourseWare doesn’t issue credit or certificates. However, learners can chart their own path through a wide range of topics, including engineering, sciences, and humanities. Students can search for courses by topic or department, as well as their level. Users can filter classes by whether or not they offer online textbooks, lectures videos, exams, and so on.

The Open University

The Open University was founded in 1969 and is a pioneer in using technological innovation to increase educational access. The Open University launched online instruction in 1990s after initially reaching students via television and radio. The UK-based college offers diplomas, certificates, and standalone modules as well as courses.

Launched in 2006, The Open University’s free learning platform OpenLearn provides over 1,000 courses ranging from one to 100 study hours. Access to videos, games, quizzes, and articles is also available. OpenLearn is used annually by more than 6 million people.

There are eight categories that cover a range of academic topics. Some courses allow learners the opportunity to earn digital badges and statements of participation. Students can’t contact instructors, but they can communicate with peers through each course’s comments section.

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