Whoever coined the phrase “nothing in life is free” never tried online learning with MOOCs (massive open online courses). While these virtual classes are just one way to get a free education in anything from tech to public speaking, they are incredibly popular.
The top free online learning sites offered more than 2,500 courses
from 450 universities in 2019. More than 10 million students have learned via this method, with some even earning certification and 100% online degrees.
The acceptance of MOOCs as an educational delivery tool is growing, especially for free audits of paid courses offered by top schools. In this guide, we’ll explain why someone would choose an online course and also provide a list of the top 25 free online classes available today.
Why choose free online courses?
In addition to the obvious point that free courses are priced for everyone to enjoy, there are a number of reasons to consider them along with, or even in lieu of, paid courses.
“Try before you buy” approach
For those who want to get a degree but aren’t sure if they will enjoy a chosen major, free online university courses can give you a taste of what you’ll be studying and the rigor of the coursework. Since most of the courses are hosted by colleges and universities that are open to traditional enrollment, it’s also the perfect way to see if you like learning at that particular school.
Similar to paid courses
Some, but not all, of the free university courses are similar (or identical) to ones you can pay to take for actual college credits. When you receive access to these courses for free, it's called "auditing." You can view the lectures, videos, and assignments, but you don't usually get individual instructor attention, access to some forum tools, or ongoing support beyond the class term.
Free online courses are not a substitute for the complete college academic experience, and you won't get credit or certificates without paying. They can be useful for learning skills, getting familiar with a degree program, or vetting a university you have been considering for some time.
Most free online college courses are available as ongoing, asynchronous courses. They feature pre-recorded lectures and can be accessed at your convenience. Some of the hosting sites may show start dates, but these tend to be a guide and many allow you to enroll at any point. Courses with limited enrollment windows are usually offered on a rotating basis. If it’s not open right now, it likely will be in a month or so.
Best free online courses
This list of classes offers a variety of subjects across a wide range of learning institutions. They are hosted on MOOC-specific sites, such as Coursera, Skillshare, and edX, as well as directly from companies Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. There are some from Khan Academy as well. Each hosting site has its own policies for enrollment and may have its own technical requirements.
Chinese is becoming increasingly relevant in our global economy. This beginner-level Chinese course is offered through Coursera from Peking University. It is designed for those who want to learn basic phrases, including how to ask for food, transportation, and pricing, as well as cultural norms. You don’t need any previous knowledge of the Chinese language or characters to succeed.
Did you ever wish you were a better negotiator? Whether you’re dealing with a landlord, boss, or a salesperson at a car dealership, having a confident approach toward getting the best deal can be incredibly useful. This Coursera offering is taught by the University of Michigan and promises to share the 4 steps of negotiation: preparation, negotiating, closing, and performance. Students will work through online videos and an offline, real-life negotiation to test their skills.
Being a modern parent is tough, and Yale wants to help with healthy approaches to today's most pressing issues. This Coursera offering is ideal for anyone who wants to see a change in their parent-child relationship or be more effective in their daily interactions. These videos are described as part of a toolkit for successful parenting.
This 27-hour-long course is one of the more comprehensive offerings from Yale through Coursera. It aims to give students an overview of how today's money markets and free enterprise works, as well as introduce participants to concepts such as risk management and behavioral finance principals. Expect to get background on how insurance and banking work, too.
Python is a go-to programming language for hobbyists and professionals alike. Learn from the experts about the role of Python 3.x in projects today. You’ll go through 4 sample modules within 4 weeks, even if you have no coding background. Those with some experience can complete the modules faster, if they wish. This Wesleyan University course is hosted by Coursera and gives you the tools to install, write, and debug at an introductory level.
Another popular Python course through Coursera, this University of Toronto offering gets high marks from past students. It’s a 101-level course so you can take it with no previous knowledge of coding.
Did you ever wish you knew what your dog was thinking? While this Duke University course through Coursera can’t help you read your furry friend’s mind, it can give you insight into how dogs think and feel. For those who want a better connection to their pup or hope to solve some basic discipline problems, this is a solid pick.
There are some very expensive leadership conferences available today, but this course from the Copenhagen Business School and Coursera is free. It seeks to equip tomorrow’s leaders with proven strategies for growth. Based on the book Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a 21st Century Leader by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan, and Shannon O'Donnell, the course guides students through a simulation to try to solve cash flow issues, personnel problems, and other common troubles relevant to today's businesses.
This 9-hour course from Coursera and the University of Virginia explores the legacy of President John F. Kennedy and how his life and death shaped our society. It’s enlightening for history buffs and anyone hoping to tie our current challenges to the actions of our past.
Aimed at high school students but designed for anyone with an eye for post-secondary education, this series of videos and lectures breaks down the mystery of how to choose a college, what the admissions process looks like, and even how to pay for a degree. This is essential viewing for parents and students, and it’s offered through the Khan Academy website.
Rarely taught in high school these days, personal finance is an essential concept that Khan Academy hopes to share before money blunders happen. Students will get an overview of savings, how to make a budget, compound interest, and buying a home. A section on keeping your sensitive financial data safe is a must-see.
This 4-week course from edX and the University of Pennsylvania shares the history of film, from Edison to webisodes and how law and finance have shaped the industry. You’ll explore the Hollywood influence on the world and media, as well as how to properly analyze a film.
The contract is an iron-clad part of business and life. This course from Harvard and edX walks you through the life cycle of a contract. Get the facts about creation, compliance, and cancelation.
edX and MIT offer this beginner-level course that guides you through how circuits work and their role in technology. From self-driving cars to computers, the building blocks of gadgets are taken down to the simplest level.
15. The Science of Beer (Wageningen University & Research)
From IPAs to the richest stout, this class will show you how beer is made, what makes it tasty, and why science plays a major role in its creation. Wageningen University & Research offers this intriguing course through the edX platform.
Getting a record deal sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Berklee’s edX course breaks down the truth about the industry, the legal and financial considerations, and what the experts recommend for those looking to get into it.
edX and Harvard partner to bring you this essential study of William Shakespeare’s plays and life. Learn how his works have been received through history, how to read them today, and why their modern influence matters.
This course takes a scholarly approach to one of America’s most iconic television series. From its creation to its influence today, students will hear from Smithsonian experts in this must-see edX course.
What makes a tweet go viral? How can you get your message out to the world? This marketing course from the University of Pennsylvania looks at social media specifically and shares some of the best examples of viral marketing done right.
Teaching is becoming even more complicated, thanks in part to the rise of distance learning
. This course, developed with traditional and virtual teachers in mind, shares the fundamentals of how Google’s G Suite tools can be customized for any classroom.
and artificial intelligence (also referred to as AI/ML) has many uses in business, education, health, and finance. This course takes users from the beginnings of this technology to some of the more robust ways it’s changing today’s tech landscape. Created for developers, this is a useful guide for anyone in a tech-purchasing or decision-making business role.
Microsoft’s Azure solutions give you so many ways to utilize the public cloud, but grasping all that’s possible can be overwhelming. This Microsoft-hosted course gives you the “how” and “why” of cloud computing, as well as the scoop on concepts such as Elasticity, Agility, High Availability, Scalability, Fault Tolerance, and Disaster Recovery.
We know that Alexa is an essential part of our modern world, but what else can happen in a connected home or office? This Internet of Things (IoT) introduction
provides context into Amazon’s role in the IoT revolution, along with fictitious scenarios where students can solve common business problems through Amazon Web Services (AWS)
and IoT solutions.
Novice and experienced podcasters alike will get something from this Skillshare course that shows the behind-the-scenes of making a podcast. Get tips for planning your first episode
, interviewing guests, launching to the public, and promoting. Tech advice for the best sound quality is included as well.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and that’s why many people use visually-compelling renderings to communicate their ideas. This Skillshare course gives you an introduction into the benefits of visual thinking, examples of how to use it, and ways to improve your productivity and creativity through these methods.
With so many free online courses to choose from, it can be hard to pick just one. One way to ensure that you’re successful is to have a laptop or desktop that’s set up for learning. HP’s top student computers
are made for learners of any age.
When buying yours, be sure you know exactly what your open courses will require, and purchase a model that’s made with distance course specifications in mind, including audio and video components.
About the Author
Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.