I’m in the process of updating this post on places to learn online for free or at low cost, so if you have resources you would like to see added here – or updates/perspectives on the ones already listed – please be sure to comment or contact me.
I wrote the first version of this post more than a decade ago, when the options to learn online were starting to grow rapidly but were still nowhere near what they are now. We’re now at the point where, if you are a self-directed lifelong learner who wants access to online courses, the sky is pretty much the limit. There’s no way to capture everything that is out there, so this point it just intended as a good jumping off point for exploration.
Before you dive in, I always like to remind readers that courses – whether online or off – are far from the only way to learn. Indeed, they aren’t even the most common way we learn. Most learning comes just from living life. Still, courses are helpful, and you are bound to find sources for them here that are helpful to you personally.
Table of contents
To be clear, this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. There are who knows how many sites out there, and for the purposes of this post, I have confined myself to sites that offer relatively formalized free learning experiences and state this as their explicit purpose. Truth is, there is almost no place on the Web where you can’t learn something.
The list follows. Please let me know any major gaps you see – I plan to keep adding new sites over time. So, let me know any sites you think need to be listed here.
Mission to Learn
There are starting to be quite a lot of these sites and you have to wonder just how many can manage to stay in business. Still, I think a probable upside of all the competition will be an increase in expectations and the resulting quality of the offerings.
- HighBrow (Get smarter with 10-day courses delivered in easy-to-digest emails every morning)
- ITunes University
- Khan Academy
- Make Magazine Maker Workshops
- Choice How
These are places where you can see some of your favorite gurus being gurus and add your two cents.
Upskilling and Reskilling
Technically, pretty much any site listed here can be about upskilling and reskilling, but there are a growing number of sites that focus on these trends specifically. Here are some of the key ones:
This list won’t come close to doing justice to what is going on out there in the world of open education, but suffice to say that between universities, NGOs, and foundation funded projects, there is practically nothing that you can’t learn online, and in many cases, take the underlying intellectual property and re-configure it to your own needs under an Creative Commons or other “copyleft” license.
- Annenberg Media
- Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative
- CourseBuffet (Find and compare hundreds of free online courses (MOOCs) from over 250 Universities)
- Iversity (select “MOOCs” for course type to get free courses)
- Johns Hopkins OpenCourseware
- MIT OpenCourseWare
- Open Courseware Consortium
- OER Commons
- OpenLearn from OpenUniversity
- Open of Course
- Oops – Opensource Opencourseware Prototype System (Taiwan)
- OpenStax CNX
- Open Yale
- Sofia: Sharing of Free Intellectual Assets
- University of California – San Diego
- University of Washington
I could post another 100 links just in this area alone. It is tricky terrain though. You have to pay attention to the fine print that tells you things like when the availability of credit expires or whether just the course/article content and not the credit (or vice-versa) is free. Particularly in the health arena, most of the “free” CE tends to be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and medical supply manufacturers–not necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind. Health-related CE also tends to be some of the less-inspired learning out there–often, for instance, credit is attached to nothing more than a journal article.
- FreeCE.com (Healthcare)
- FreeCME.com (Clinical Specialties)
- Power-Pak C.E. (Healthcare)
- RxSchool (Pharmacy)
- studentdoc (Healthcare)
- Meco Sports Medicine
- National Association of Social Workers
Not all free learning happens online. There are also some great sites for finding learning opportunities in your city or town.
All of the above links are for destinations where a wide variety of topics are covered, but there are also any number of Web sites or YouTube videos covering a single topic or a handful of related topics. The list below is admittedly a fairly eclectic collection of examples.
Acquiring a new language or brushing up on one you learned back in school is among the most common pursuits for people who want to learn online.
- Greek and Latin
- Hungarian Language Course
- iTalki (many languages)
- LANGmaster – Free Languages Online (many languages)
- Learn With Oliver (Flash cards for a variety of languages)
- Mandarin Chinese Online
- Polish Grammar
- Sharing Language (find a partner for practicing a language)
- Study Spanish
- Swedish Language Course
See also our post on the best language learning apps.
Coding is (and has been) one of the hottest skill going and there are many people who believe that everyone should know how to code at least a little bit. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites where you can learn to code online. Many of the onese already listed above have online coding courses, but there are also site where coding is the sole (or main) focus.
Please be sure to comment and share your favorite sources for free learning.