The best free online courses to learn something new

Do you miss homework? SAME.

Perhaps you’re someone who craves constant learning and upskilling, striving for knowledge with the library-destroying ferocity of Evie Carnahan (this is Rachel Weisz). The Mummy, keep going). Maybe you’re someone who feels like they could benefit from understanding things a little better, even if it’s just learning how the hell HTML works. Maybe you’re just really into the back-to-school spirit. Or you are seriously considering a career change.

Whatever it is you’re looking for, how can you be more productive with that precious time that separates work, family, friends, and binge-watching? Yellow jacketsand the practice of self-care as the noble pursuit of knowledge? Luckily nerds, there are quite a few reputable online learning platforms out there to help you learn a few new things.

Here’s a big list of places to learn for free, with some available for certification if that’s what you’re looking for. But most of these are just for fun, tbh, and if you need creative inspiration, try a few videos on the TED YouTube channel before committing to one. And remember, despite all the messages we’re getting, you don’t need to do anything productive with your downtime – these free courses are just the ticket if you need a little spark.

So prepare your brain because here is a big list of the best free online learning resources:

If you want to take free courses on the major academic platforms

Here’s what’s going on with some of these major educational platforms and how you can take classes for free (TL;DR Basically, you can take most courses for fun, but you don’t get a certificate — a verified certificate shows you’ve passed an official course, and you can add it to your resume or LinkedIn profile, which comes in handy when you’re on looking for a new job.) There is also a difference between accredited and non-accredited courses, which you can usually check on the site’s about page.

Everyone knows edX, the big name on the virtual campus. If you are looking for some seriously legit online courses from the best universities in the world, this is your answer. edX was founded by MIT and Harvard, but ceased to operate as a non-profit organization after 2U bought the site. edX is an education platform that aims to enable people to learn online without geographical restrictions.

If you have the coin, there are quite a few different types of courses on the site, and while yes, you can pay and get a MicroMasters program (starting at $1,200), a MicroBachelors program ($166 per credit), or a verified one Graduate certificate (varies), you can also learn for free just for fun (2U says it will keep things both free and paid for now). You can still access many of the courses for free if you’re just doing it for the benefit of your own brain. For example, there is a hardcore star trek Course to probably help you live long and prosper…

Courses to try:

If you want to learn a thing or two from cultural heavyweights like the British Film Institute, head here. Privately owned by UK public research body The Open University and job-seeking giants The Seek Group, FutureLearn has partnered with leading UK educational and cultural institutions for some niche courses for you to delve into.

There are short courses and online degrees, depending on what you’re looking for, and you can access course content for free for 14 days, pay to upgrade to a certificate, or have unlimited membership (which means you can get certificates and complete them that way as much time as you like to complete the courses), which costs $250 for a year. But if you just want to play as a student in a course for two weeks, it’s free online learning!

Courses to try:

Founded in 2012 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera not only works with the best universities in the world – Stanford, Duke, Penn, University of Michigan, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins – but also with technology companies like Google and IBM offers courses in computer science, data science, language, economics and other fields.


The 10 best free Coursera courses to learn something new

Coursera Plus is the platform’s paid annual subscription that gives you access to most courses and get those sweet certificates. It’s about $399 a year. That being said, most courses are free without accreditation but with all that delicious knowledge.

Courses to try:

Founded by Salman Khan, Khan Academy is one of Silicon Valley’s great educational success stories. The online learning platform has attracted big tech supporters including former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former Google CEO and Chairman/Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, the venture capitalists Ann and John Doerr and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Their best free classes include some gems, whether you’re catching up on classes you’ve taken or weren’t offered in high school.

If you want to upskill yourself with some of the talented talent that many employers are looking for in this digital age, the AGM is a powerful place to learn. Started as a humble co-working space in 2011, GA is now a global learning company trying to fill the “Global Skills Gap”. GA offers a whole host of online courses in programming, design, data, marketing, business, and career development, all useful stuff to stack up your resume, though GA notably isn’t accredited by the US Department of Education.

GA’s full-time and part-time courses are fairly expensive (some go up to a whopping $15,960 for a full immersion course), but other shorter courses are free, like the hands-on programming course.

Free courses to try:

Launched in 2010 by founder Eren Bali, Udemy was set up as a means for teachers and trainers to create and run their own online courses. Now it’s pretty massive, with 57,000 teachers around the world and 150,000 courses you can open on multiple devices — it’s even on Apple TV.

Most courses on Udemy are around the $15 mark, but they can go as high as $300. Luckily, free courses are popping up all the time – Mashable’s purchasing team often posts deals. Also, Udemy seems to be aware of the importance of online courses in this strange new world. In April 2020, the team released the Udemy Free Resource Center(opens in a new tab), a collection of 150 free online courses to help people improve their skills. In addition, her courses are taught in over 65 languages.

Free courses to try:

Calling all aspiring designers, artists, music producers and general trendoids. If you are looking for an online STEAM course, check out Kadenze. This platform specializes in courses in science, technology, engineering, art, design, music and mathematics, and collaborates with a number of the world’s leading institutions in these fields – Berklee College of Music, Stanford, Columbia University, Goldsmiths, Paris College of Art, Seoul Institute of the Arts and more.

Kadenze works primarily through membership, which allows you to get verified certificates and access to a whole host of online courses for $20 a month (not cheap, but cheaper than paying one-time course fees). It also depends on what type of course you’re taking — micro courses total around $25, while creditable courses can cost around $300. However, some courses are free if you don’t want the certificate.

Courses to try:

If you’re looking for course reviews before committing to one, Class Central acts as a handy search engine and review site for free online courses. You can check out what’s new on platforms like Coursera, edX, Future Learn, and more, or you can just browse Ivy League courses.

Learn something new! Your brain will thank you.
Photo credit: Getty Images

OK, can you please be more specific?

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