Written by: Thomas Broderick
Universities, colleges, and private organizations offer free online college courses to help students acquire new knowledge and skills. These courses cover a variety of traditional academic topics and other subjects that can lead to career advancement and personal enrichment. Courses occur online, allowing learners from all over the world to participate. At the end of a course, students may qualify for an official certificate. Some institutions charge a small certificate fee.
Featured Online Programs
Most online courses provide an introduction to a topic, although there are some intermediary and advanced courses. Online courses often run asynchronously, allowing learners to view course materials and complete coursework at their convenience. Synchronous courses require set meeting times that can involve a lecture or collaborating with other students.
Some free college courses use the term massive online open course (MOOC). In a MOOC, thousands of students learn simultaneously. Unlike some other free online college courses, many MOOCs post set start and end dates, as well as assignment deadlines. Unique student responsibilities in a MOOC can involve grading other students' work. Prospective learners can research MOOCs on websites such as edX.
Benefits of Open Courses
Free online college courses allow students to learn from home, a significant advantage for learners who prefer to eliminate a commute. Also, studying at home or another comfortable location can promote learning and lead to a better academic experience.
In a free college course, learners can explore new academic topics without incurring high tuition costs. Students can drop courses that do not interest them without worrying about debt. Even after students enroll in college, they can continue to take MOOCs and other online courses to get a head start on their future college's academic requirements.
Open courses can also expose students to new hobbies. Some hobby-related courses teach learners how to write short fiction, compose music, and discover their genealogy. As with other types of free online courses, individuals researching hobby courses can read prior students' reviews and preview course content before enrolling.
After finishing an open course, students can explore resources such as intermediate and advanced courses, supplementary materials such as books and articles, and links to relevant websites that explain the course's content more in-depth.
Should You Take Open Courses?
Free online college courses appeal to individuals who want to learn without going into debt or making sacrifices to their personal and professional lives. Professionals may need additional education to succeed with a new responsibility or attain a raise or promotion. Open courses can provide this training while allowing students to continue working full time. Also, as many open courses do not maintain start dates like traditional college courses, learners can begin learning as soon as possible.
Open courses also attract current high school and college students. Learners who cannot afford a tutor or attain a professor's help can take a refresher course on Khan Academy to master specific topics and succeed in class. Khan Academy courses help millions of students acquire new knowledge and skills through informational videos and other resources. As a result, many teachers incorporate it into their classroom instruction.
People all around the world take open courses for personal enrichment. Open courses can teach learners how to cook, create a personal budget, and perform simple maintenance on household items. Although the internet provides this type of information in other forms, open courses teach learners through guided examples that resemble the in-person classroom experience.
Popular Online Courses
|Accessibility of eLearning||Education||OpenLearn||Accessibility of e-learning introduces students to people with disabilities' unique online learning challenges. Course topics include different assistive technologies, accessible content creation best practices, and how to evaluate e-learning's success with different groups. Many of the strategies this free online college course conveys also work with learners without disabilities.|
|An Introduction to Complex Numbers||Math||OpenLearn||Students hone fundamental algebraic skills, learn how to analyze complex numbers, and find solutions to polynomial equations. The course uses audio files and a workbook to convey course content and allow learners to practice new skills. Additionally, this free college course contains three sections that take students from defining complex numbers to proving inequalities.|
|An Introduction to Data and Numbers||Engineering and computer science||OpenLearn||This course prepares students to identify daily activities that involve computers, explain the difference between information and data, and understand how computers interpret data. Learners can start this free college course at any time. Activities include using an internet search engine and performing advanced searches.|
|Art History: Modernisms 1900-1980||Art History||Khan Academy||Over 13 units, students learn about multiple art styles, such as surrealism, American modernism, and architecture. Learners can complete the units in any order, and each includes information guides about artists from around the world. Additionally, students can track their progress by creating a Khan Academy account.|
|The Science of Nutrition and Healthy Eating||Health and medical||OpenLearn||People who want to know more about the food they consume should consider enrolling in this course. Over eight weeks, learners examine food basics, what information food labels convey, and how hydration plays a role in nutrition. Course activities include viewing videos and analyzing diagrams. Finally, the course website provides students with additional resources.|
|Entrepreneurship||Business||Taylor's University||This course helps students learn business fundamentals they can use to start a business or make their current business run more efficiently. The course requires 14 modules and approximately 120 learning hours. Topics include creating value, selling like an entrepreneur, and inspiring employees. The first 500 students who sign up for this free online college course receive a certificate upon completion.|
|Modern Poetry||Liberal Arts||Yale University||A free online college course that dates back to 2007, this course covers major English-language poets from the 19th century to the present day. Over 25 lectures, students examine poetry innovators including Yeats, Eliot, and Auden. Course materials include The New Anthology of Modern Contemporary Poetry and multiple course packets. Each packet highlights a different author's work.|
|The Cell||Science||University of California-San Diego (UCSD)||Originally a 10-week lecture series, UCSD's course allows online learners to view informational podcasts that cover plant and animal cells, organelles, and different cells within the human body. This free college course does not involve activities or questions, and students cannot receive a certificate of completion.|
|The Evolving Universe||Science||OpenLearn||This course requires 12 hours and helps learners understand what occurred during the first minutes of the universe's existence. The course also conveys transferable skills, such as how to perform scientific notation and make advanced calculations. Learners answer questions and perform tasks to demonstrate mastery.|
|Introducing the Environment: Ecology and Ecosystems||Nature and environment||OpenLearn||An excellent introductory course for learners lacking an ecology background, this course emphasizes scientific terms and notetaking skills. Course activities include identifying interrelationships among species and examining different food chains. This free college course also provides links to related science courses.|
|Childhood in the Digital Age||Learning and development||OpenLearn||In over 12 hours of instruction, learners examine technology's effect on childhood development. Course topics include how to think in the digital age, how technology will change childhood education, and how children create a digital social identity. Additionally, this course does not require prerequisites.|
|Writing What You Know||History and the arts||OpenLearn||This free online college course helps learners hone creative writing skills. Outcomes include the ability to write from life experience, describe sensory perceptions using different forms of language, and detail everyday events. The course lasts eight hours, and learners can obtain a free certificate of completion.|
Open Courses FAQ
|What is an open course?||Both world-renowned schools and private organizations create open courses to help people gain new skills and knowledge. They do not charge a fee and occur online.|
|What courses can I take for free?||Prospective students can select from thousands of free open courses in various fields, such as creative writing, computer programming, history, and science.|
|Does Harvard offer free online courses?||Harvard offers more than 80 free online college courses. Popular courses cover web programming, the history of navigation, and religious literacy.|
|What are the best free online courses?||Although the answer varies depending on learners' interests and learning objectives, the best free college courses allow students to attain new knowledge for a job or personal enrichment.|
OEDb.org’s database houses thousands of free, open online courses on subjects ranging from Sustainable Business to Neuroscience. Each week, we hand-select a couple of courses to get you started. This week’s selection features an exploratory course about American film culture; then check out “Video 1: Principles and Practices” to learn the technical basics of filmmaking.