If you’re anything like me, you love learning new things. Maybe it’s something related to your current career path. Or maybe you have a list of new things to learn that’s about a mile long. If I could, I’d just be a full-time student for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, they don’t pay you for that.
But with today’s open-sourced college courses, learning new things–for free–is easier than ever. More and more colleges, even very elite ones, are participating in Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These courses are college-level classes that you can go through for free. Some of them even offer real certifications for a small additional fee.
So whether you’re looking to level up your career or just spend your spare time learning something new, check out these places to go for free online college courses.
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This website is one of the pioneer databases of MOOCs. It’s got several ads on it, which you’ll just want to ignore. However, it’s a good place to go to find open courses in various areas of study. But, again, it’s more a database than anything.
You can search Academic Earth by subject area, and then find links to open courses from a variety of online sources. For instance, the Systems Engineering subject offers links to an Introduction to Systems Engineering course and a Communication Systems Engineering course from MIT.
Coursera is sort of an upgraded version of Academic Earth. It offers a directory of courses from a variety of universities and colleges. Some of the courses are incredibly practical, such as Python for Everybody, a programming course from the University of Michigan. Others are interesting, such as The Science of Well-Being from Yale University.
Coursera works in an interesting way. You can basically access lectures and non-graded material for any of their courses completely free. This is a good way to learn about new things for which you don’t really need any certification. But they also offer a variety of paid courses that give you graded assignments and a final certificate.
Some of these courses are grouped into specializations, which also give you a certification. For instance, you can get the Google IT Support Professional Certificate from Google. It takes eight to 12 months to finish and is made up of six courses.
While you can access the free material on your own timing, you’ll have to enroll in the specializations and certification courses as they begin. But they tend to begin often and on a rolling basis.
Coursera is a great way to learn new things for free or to add to your professional skillset with certifications from accredited providers.
Similarly to Coursera, edX offers a mix of free and paid options. You can enroll in the course for free, but if you want a verified certificate of completion, you’ll have to pay a fee for each course. Some of the courses are also eligible for actual credit hours from accredited universities.
With edX, you can search courses by school or by area of interest. Or you can participate in longer options with programs like professional certificates and micromasters programs. These include programs like Business Analytics from Columbia University and the Internet of Things from Curtin.
Again, edX can be a great way to learn about completely new and random things for free. Or you can pay a small fee for the certificates to add them to your resume. Just be sure you’re paying for certificates that will actually impress potential employers!
Once again, this MOOC provider offers both free and paid options. (Are you noticing a trend here?) You can search Udacity for completely free courses. Their courses tend to be geared towards technology and design, though they also offer many on marketing and other topics. Free courses include things like Android Basics: User Input from Google and How to Make an iOS App.
Like the other options listed here, Udacity leans toward paid–but affordable–online courses. They call theirs nanodegrees. These groups of courses are capped by projects and give you real credentials from companies around the world.
For instance, the Data Science nanodegree program takes about three months and costs $500. The more involved Data Analyst program lets you learn to use Python, R, SQL, and Tableau to manipulate and analyze data. It takes about 6 months and costs $500 per term.
This socially-driven MOOC offers an interesting twist in the form of peer reviews and other social interactions during the courses. Many of the courses offer both a free and a paid option. The free option typically includes limited-time access to the course materials. But then you can pay to upgrade a course, which gives you access to all the course materials as long as the course is available on FutureLearn. It also lets you take tests to validate your learning and get a certificate of achievement when you’ve completed the course.
As with the other options listed here, FutureLearn puts together a variety of programs. It also offers access to complete postgraduate degrees if that’s something you’re interested in. Interesting-sounding programs include Finance Fundamentals and Exploring Culture and Heritage. Degrees include a variety of MBA options and even a degree in Nursing from Coventry University.
This option offers completely free data science and cognitive computing courses, including courses in a variety of programming languages. You can even choose to take a Learning Path, which puts together a few different courses into one longer path that can help you develop career-ready skills.
One potential drawback to Cognitive Class is that they don’t offer accredited certificates. You can earn badges for your portfolio, but these may not fly on your resume. However, many programming-related jobs look more at developed skills and experience than at your actual degree. So these could still be a valuable way to learn marketable skills for free.
Get The Most Out of MOOCs
With all these options, deciding what to study first might be your biggest problem. With that said, before you start taking MOOC classes, be sure to know how you’re going to use them.
If the goal is to simply expand your own horizons, you can take any free course that looks interesting to you. Don’t worry about paying extra for the certifications if they won’t affect your career aspirations. But if you’re looking to level up your own career or change fields completely, look for programs with accreditation. You might even talk with some people already in your field about which courses or microdegrees they’d recommend.
These days, changing careers is pretty common. So you may be able to get a job in tech, for instance, with a four-year degree in humanities and a few tech-related specifics. This route can keep you from having to foot the hefty bill (or take on more student loan debt!) for another four-year degree. MOOCs can be a great way to get this done, but be sure you do your research before you pay.