Free online courses to help you learn new skills and advance your career

Learning new skills, exploring new topics, and tackling new materials brings many rewards, including increased self-confidence, new career opportunities, and a sense of satisfaction.

During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, many adults used their newfound free time to learn something new. With traditional classrooms closed, more and more turned to free online courses from providers like online learning company Coursera, which saw 65% growth in registered users in 2020, serving more than 77 million students.

Free online courses allow you to learn something new, improve your skills, or try a new field in a short amount of time. These online courses can lead to new hobbies, new language skills, or a new career, especially in technical fields where programmers often need to learn new skills quickly.

Why take an online course?

Online courses offer an efficient and affordable way to learn new things — and providers offer courses in almost anything you can think of. The instructors can show you how to take better iPhone photos or create unique clothes with your sewing machine. Find courses on the science of happiness and well-being here. Or you can brush up on your career and job search skills such as business writing or job interviewing.

Online learning also provides opportunities for unemployed students to prepare for new jobs. Free online courses also allow you to try a new subject before committing to a longer and more expensive training option. Or you would like to brush up on your math or language skills before starting a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Some areas, like technology, are changing rapidly. Online learning helps technicians learn new skills in new technologies. Much of the workforce needs to learn new skills for today’s businesses. Free learning courses help to fill these skills gaps.

Benefits of online courses

  • Flexibility: You can access online courses almost anywhere you have an internet connection, allowing you to fit study into your schedule. Many platforms support mobile apps. Classes often do not have fixed meeting times. Many platforms offer instant access to course materials, so you can start learning as soon as you register.
  • Convenience: Choose courses that require a few hours to a few weeks of study. Instructors may include professionals in the field who focus on key skills or knowledge, allowing for more efficient use of your time. Many courses support a self-paced model, so you can move on to the next topic when you’re ready.
  • Costs: Free online learning courses often include videos and collected reading material. You also save travel costs. Many providers also offer paid memberships, with a richer course catalog and more interaction with classes and teachers, often at significant savings over more traditional learning options.

Online Course Providers You Should Know



Coursera offers college-level courses from more than 200 universities and corporate partners serves more than 82 million learners. The company was founded in 2012 to transform learning for students around the world. Today the platform includes more than 3,000 courses. Coursera has over 1,700 free courses to choose from. The company also offers certificates and degrees through its partner educational institutions.



Harvard and MIT founded edX after the two schools launched massive online open courses in 2012. The platform hosts more than 3,500 online courses from universities and organizations. Most courses offer free access to videos and study exercises with optional paid certificates and graded assignments. Many classes have a self-directed curriculum.

skill share

skill share

Skillshare offers courses in creative endeavors such as photography, music and web design and development. The range of courses also includes business skills, freelancing and lifestyle topics. Free courses include online videos. A paid membership provides access to a project-based curriculum and collaborative learning environment. The platform also welcomes educators who wish to share their talents with students.


Focused African American female student in headphones looking at laptop
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FutureLearn offers full online courses through partnerships with universities and industry experts. It serves 15 million students from more than 190 countries with a catalog of more than 3,000 courses. It offers short courses, microcredit programs, and degrees through accredited programs. The courses cover topics from the healthcare sector, business, IT and teaching. The ExpertTrack option provides online skills in a specific area. FutureLearn offers course, monthly, and yearly paid membership options.



Udemy connects learners with educators who want to share their knowledge in technology, business, marketing, and personal growth. The online platform offers more than 155,000 classes mainly through online video sessions. More than 40 million learners use the courses for skills training and lifelong learning. Several hundred courses are free of charge. Paid courses include one payment per course. The programs range from half an hour to several hours of video lectures.


Creative woman in white cotton dress holding coffee cup while working at wooden table with cozy living room as background.
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Kadenze specializes in creative education with courses in design, illustration, music and art. The company’s university partners include Berklee College of Music and Columbia University with faculty in arts and technology. A free membership gives access to many courses. The platform also offers a premium membership that allows learners to submit assignments and earn certificates. Microcourses provide brief insights into popular topics, while programs are a series of courses on a specific topic. Some programs offer college credit.

general assembly

general assembly.jpg
general assembly

Coding bootcamp provider General Assembly offers free courses in coding, data science, design, and digital marketing. They also include career development courses in subjects such as public speaking. The free online courses allow learners to explore new topics before committing to any of the General Assembly online or on-campus boot camp offerings. Courses are delivered online in a live stream session with instructor interaction.

Which courses can I take online?

Online learning providers offer thousands of free online courses. Tuition ranges from academic subjects such as English or history to technology training or creative classes. You can easily find online courses that capture your interest or align with your career goals.

What is the fastest certificate to get from an online course?

Many online courses support a self-paced instructional model. You can watch the videos, complete the readings, and complete all the required tests, sometimes in a matter of hours. Other programs may take several weeks or even months to complete. Check with the provider, as many only offer verified certificates to students with paid memberships.

Can I get my diploma online for free?

Several accredited programs offer online high school diplomas. Partnerships with state and local governments enable many students to qualify for free online courses leading to a high school diploma. Check with your local school system or state adult education department to learn more.

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