THE BEST free online courses are a convenient and flexible way to learn new skills and subjects remotely.
And with top sites like Coursera, EDX and Udemy offering some of the best online courses for nothing – online learning doesn’t have to be pricey either.
What free courses can I do online?
There are many free courses that offer an array of different subjects, which vary in depth and length and millions of people take the leap back into study every day.
And while you may not have a degree at the end of it, it's certainly a step in the right direction if you're considering further study, if you want to expand your knowledge in a certain area or delve deeper into a hobby.
You no longer have to sign up for a long-term course which costs money, and you can have some flexibility in studying at a pace which suits you.
What are the best free online courses?
The best free online courses are led by authoritative experts in the field and cover a good deal of ground in your chosen subject area.
From the outset, a course should outline what level of work is required and how many hours it will take to complete and will be from a reputable educational provider.
Many free courses have flexible deadlines to fit around your lifestyle and offer a shareable certificate at the end of the course.
But with a huge variety of free courses available, it can be hard to pick which course provider to choose for your online learning.
So we’ve studied what each offers in terms of options and areas of expertise to pick the best sites for free online courses around.
1. Best variety of online courses: Coursera
- Find free online courses on Coursera – here
The most well-known online learning site might be Coursera.
Coursera is partnered with universities around the world – including Imperial College London and Stanford.
It also partners with companies including Google and IBM to offer expertise in specific areas – for example, machine learning.
The provider has made headlines by making its entire catalogue of 3,800 online courses free to universities throughout the global coronavirus outbreak.
But Coursera also offers over 1,000 normally free courses across a wide range of subjects.
Whether it’s Social Media Marketing, an Introduction to Psychology, or Graphic Design there’s plenty of choice.
The company’s online courses cover 11 subject areas across beginner, intermediate, mixed and advanced levels.
2. Best online courses in humanities: EdX
- Find free online courses on EdX – here
EdX is another well-known online learning site, and it too partners with universities from around the world – such as Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
It doesn’t have as many courses available as Coursera, with it stating it has over 2,500 compared to Coursera’s 3,800.
But Edx does have a slightly different focus: natural sciences and the humanities make up the key courses offered.
Popular subject areas are languages and computer science.
Edx courses are generally free (to watch videos and take part in topic discussions), but professional courses come with a cost.
Courses often have a fee attached to any certificate achieved when you complete a course.
3. Best short online courses: Future Learn
- Find free online courses on Future Learn – here
Future Learn is part-owned by The Open University and offers a clear divide in its courses, between short courses, ‘microcredentials’, and online degrees.
Its short courses are its free online courses, providing no-cost access with a cost only attached to printable digital certificates.
Costs for the certificates depend on the course but can be quite affordable compared to other online course providers – starting from around £30.
Popular Future Learn courses change frequently, but the 14 subject areas provide a good range of options for quick or longer study.
Subject areas are diverse, including creative arts and media, healthcare and medicine, teaching, science and engineering, and maths.
4. Best variety of online courses: Udemy
- Find free online courses on Udemy – here
Udemy is an online learning platform with the feel of a marketplace.
There’s a huge number of free online courses on offer, and 100,000 courses available in total on Udemy’s platform.
Udemy encourages users to search for their course with a prominent search box, and the platform feels less formal than others.
Courses are run by experts rather than through direct association with universities.
But the range of courses and clear course reviews from users are both positives for Udemy.
The platform even offers occasional sales, dropping the price of courses with huge discounts – so you might find a course usually over £100 drop to just over £10.
5. Best for career development: LinkedIn Learning
- Find free online courses on LinkedIn Learning – here
Subscribed users of the 'social network for professionals' have access to its own dedicated learning platform.
LinkedIn Learning offers short courses to help professionals develop skills and abilities which support progression in roles and careers.
Trending and popular courses are highlighted, as well as more personalised individual top picks.
LinkedIn Learning also provides clear professional goals, so you can follow ‘learning paths’: for example, on becoming a manager, small business owner or digital marketer.
Companies can also offer access to LinkedIn Learning, but individuals are able to take advantage too.
You’ll need to have a LinkedIn subscription though, and the cheapest option is Premium Career at £24.98 a month.
But once you’ve subscribed, you can have your fill of online free courses from the service.
6. Best for youth and education courses: Open Learn
- Find free online courses on Open Learn – here
The Open University is one of the most well known online course providers.
And Open Learn is its platform dedicated to providing nothing but free online courses.
Open Learn has almost 1,000 free courses to choose from, and divides them by type, level and resource length.
You can choose from ebooks, badged courses and 'lunchtime learning'.
And there are three levels: introductory, intermediate and advanced.
Course lengths range from 1-3 hours to over 24 hours in total, but are limited in topic.
Childhood, youth and early years courses are a focus, as are education, learning and working with young people.
7. Best creative courses: Skillshare
Launched almost a decade ago, US-based company Skillshare has an array of video courses to choose from and they shine in the creative industries, covering creative writing, animation, illustration, film and photography to name just a few.
Unlike many other providers, skillshare is focused on learning a specific task, many in under an hour.
This makes it the perfect place to sharpen your Photoshop skills, learn some writing tricks of the trade and generally improve your knowledge in a specific area.
There are around 2,000 courses available for free, although many are locked behind a monthly subscription fee.
Skillshare often run 14-day free trials to give you a taster of what's on offer, but usually you have to pay for Premium membership for $19 a month, which is around £13.40.
8. Best global health courses: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
- Find free online courses on London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine – here
World-leader in research and postgraduate education in public and global health, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine offer free online courses in a really broad range of subjects.
People are able to tap into their Massive Open Online Courses, Open Study Courses and Open Educational Resources to educate themselves, with the first selection of courses being held by the Futurelearn platform, the second being self-study and the final being a collection of downloadable resources and learning activities.
On the Futurelearn platform, you can attend courses for so many health-focused issues, from Global Disability and Controlling Vector-Borne Diseases, to Diabetic Eye Disease and A History of Public Health in Post-War Britain.
Each of the courses involve discussion forums to debate ideas with fellow learners, learning about their different experiences and perspectives, as well as also including articles, videos, discussion tasks and quizzes.
9. Best all-free courses: Alison
- Find free online courses on Alison – here
Boasting positive reviews across the board, the Alison free online courses incorporate so many different topics, including mathematics, manufacturing, education, engineering and lots of care-focused courses, such as caring for the elederly.
It is apparently one of the world's largest platforms for both education and skills training, built upon the focus to improve society with widespread skills training and free online learning.
All of the Alison courses are free, but you might have to pay for your MOOC certificate at the end, although some are free of charge.
10. Best well-known online courses: Harvard University
- Find free online courses on Harvard University – here
Harvard's free online courses cover a variety of subjects and of course, you'll be able to say that you studied a course at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Covering humanities, social sciences, health & medicine, data science, computer science, programming, business and more, the courses range in length with some being just one week long and others being 15 weeks long.
As an example, the Principles of Biochemistry course requires around four to six hours of your week and to receive a verified certificate, it'll cost you $100.
You'll be taught by lecturers at Harvard University, which is a huge benefit too.
Enjoyed our edit of the best free online courses? Get a free audiobook fix with our roundup of the best free options to listen to now.
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