The best free online courses for learning something new

Do you miss homework? SAME.

Perhaps you’re someone who craves constant learning and upskilling, pursuing knowledge with the library-smashing ferocity of Evie Carnahan (that’s Rachel Weisz in The Mummy, keep up). Perhaps you’re someone who feels they could benefit from understanding things a little better, even if it’s just learning how the hell HTML works. Perhaps you’re just very into the back to school spirit. Or maybe you’re genuinely looking at a change in career.

Whatever you’re after, what more productive way is there to use the precious time that pops up between work, family, friends, binge-watching Yellowjackets, and practicing self-care, than the noble pursuit of knowledge? Luckily, nerds, there are a whole bunch of reputable online learning platforms dedicated to helping you learn a few new things.

Here’s a big list of places you can learn stuff 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 some creative inspiration, try a few vids on the TED YouTube channel before you pick one. And remember, despite all the messaging we get, you don’t actually have to do anything productive with your downtime — these free courses are just here if you need a little spark.

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

If you want to do free courses on the big academic platforms

Here’s what’s up with some of those major education platforms and how to enjoy classes for free (TL;DR basically you can do most courses for the fun of it but you don’t get a certificate — a verified certificate shows that you have passed an official course, plus you can add it to your CV or LinkedIn profile, which handy if you’re looking to find a new job.) There’s also a difference between accredited and unaccredited courses, which you can usually check in the About page of the website.

Everyone knows edX, the big name on virtual campus. If you’re looking for seriously legit online courses from the top universities in the world, this is your answer. Founded by MIT and Harvard but no longer run by them as a nonprofit after the site was bought by 2U, edX is an educational platform aiming to allow people to learn online without geographical restraints.

If you have the coin, there’s a whole host of different types of courses on the site, and while yes, you could pay up and do a MicroMasters program (upwards of $1,200), MicroBachelors program ($166 per credit) or verified certificate (varies), you can also just study for fun for free (2U says it’s going to keep things both free and paid for now). You can still access plenty of the courses for free if you’re just doing this for the good of your own brain. For instance, there’s a hardcore Star Trek course on there to presumably help you live long and prosper…

Courses to check out:

If you’re looking to learn a thing or two from cultural heavyweights like the British Film Institute, step this way. Privately owned by UK public research body The Open University and job-seeking giants The Seek Group, FutureLearn has teamed up with top UK educational and cultural institutions for some niche courses that you can sink your teeth into.

There are short courses and online degrees, depending on what you’re after, and you can access course content for free for 14-day periods, pay for an upgrade for a certificate, or an unlimited membership (meaning you can get certificates and take as much time as you like to finish the courses), which is $250 for a year. But if you want to just spend two weeks playing student on one course, it’s free online learning!

Courses to check out:

Founded in 2012 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera works not only with the top universities in the world — Stanford, Duke, Penn, University of Michigan, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins — but also tech companies like Google and IBM to offer courses in computer science, data science, language, business and other areas.

SEE ALSO:

Top 10 free Coursera courses to learn something new

Coursera Plus is the platform’s paid annual subscription, which lets you access the majority of the courses and get those sweet certificates. It’s about $399 per year. That being said, most courses are available for free without the accreditation but with all the delicious knowledge.

Courses to check out:

Founded by Salman Khan, Khan Academy is one of Silicon Valley’s big education success stories. The online learning platform has attracted Big Tech backers 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, venture capitalists Ann and John Doerr, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Among their best free classes are some gems, whether you’re catching up on classes you napped through or weren’t offered in high school.

If you’re looking to upskill with some of the preferred talents many employers are looking for in this digital age, General Assembly is a strong place to learn them. Started in 2011 as a humble co-working space, GA is now a global learning business attempting to close the “global skills gap.” GA runs a whole bunch of online courses in coding, design, data, marketing, business, and career development, so it’s all useful stuff in terms of stacking your CV, although notably, GA isn’t accredited by the US Department of Education.

GA’s full-time and part-time courses are pretty expensive (some up to a huge $15,960 for a full-on immersive course), but other shorter courses are free, like their handy coding course.

Free courses to check out:

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

Most courses sit around the $15 mark on Udemy, but can go all the way up to $300. Luckily, there are free courses popping up all the time — Mashable’s shopping team publishes deals often. Plus, Udemy seems to be aware of the importance of online courses in this new weird 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 upskill. Plus, their courses are taught in over 65 languages.

Free courses to check out:

Calling all budding designers, artists, music producers, and general trendoids. If you’re looking for an online STEAM course, check out Kadenze. Specialising in courses in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, design, music, and math, this platform partners with a whole bunch of the world’s top institutions in these fields — Berklee College of Music, Stanford, Columbia University, Goldsmiths, Paris College of Art, Seoul Institute of the Arts, and more.

Kadenze functions primarily through membership, which allows you to get verified certificates and access to a whole bunch of online courses for $20 per month (not cheap but cheaper than paying one-off course fees). It also depends on what type of course you’re doing — micro-courses cost around $25 all in, while credit eligible courses can cost about $300. But some courses are free if you don’t want the certificate.

Courses to check out:

If you’re looking for reviews of classes before you pick one, Class Central functions as a handy search engine and reviews site for free online courses. You can check out what’s new on platforms like Coursera, edX, Future Learn, and others, or you could look just at Ivy League courses.

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

OK, can you be more specific, please?

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